On the campaign trail with Gabrielle


Sitting down with director Louise Archambault at the Whistler Film Festival, it’s immediately clear she’s been fielding a lot of questions about her film Gabrielle lately.

“I do work on other things!” she exclaims, half-joking (half-not) when first asked about promoting the film, which was selected this fall by Telefilm as Canada’s foreign-language film entry at the Academy Awards.

“It’s an honour that my film has been selected to represent Canada at the Oscars but I don’t think of it every day,” she declares. “I don’t make films for that reason.”

However, with the next announcement of films that will make the cut just around the corner – it’s expected before Christmas – Archambault’s shot at Oscar glory can’t be ignored.

Despite travelling around the world with Gabrielle, which follows a young, developmentally challenged woman seeking love and independence, Archambault insists it’s less about promoting the film to Oscar voters than simply seeing her film come to life in front of international audiences.

“People cry and smile at the same time,” she says of audience reaction to the film. “Instead of ‘bravo’, it’s always like, ‘thank you.’ They want to hug me and they want to adopt Gabrielle (the actor for whom the film is named). It seems that the audience, people, feeling they can be intimate with you, with Gabrielle.”

It’s that intimacy and happiness that has Archambault, and the film’s producers, both elated and concerned about the film’s chances of making the short list.

“It’s a happy film,” Archambault notes. “And it’s rare for a happy film in that category.”

(Playback caught up with one of the film’s producers, Luc Déry, of Montreal-based indie micro_scope, later that weekend, who expressed hope that the fact the film is so different, and is screening later in the proceedings, that will make it stand out in a 76-film field.)

It’s a film with a distinct marketing challenge, Archambault is unafraid to admit.

“Half the actors are mentally challenged. And they talk about sexuality – is that something you really want to see?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s not a film where you [immediately] say ‘it’s going to touch people.’ We didn’t know. We wanted to tell the story with those people and it’s doing better than we thought.”

One aspect of the film that seems to be helping it internationally is its focus on music, Archambault says, a deliberate tactic.

“I didn’t want to make a film about mentally challenged people, I wanted it to be poetic. Music is something everyone could relate to at some point.”

Keeping Archambault’s thoughts off the Oscar hype are the other projects on her slate, which include a coproduction between Rhombus Media and Item 7 called After the End, a post-disaster tale based on a British play of the same name. They hope to shoot the film in Hamilton next year and post it in Montreal.

She’s also finishing a script called Tarmac, also with Item 7, set in Nova Scotia, New York and Tokyo, about a Canadian girl seeking the answer to a family mystery.  And finally, there’s a distinctly Canadian project, Il Pleut des Oiseaux (It was Raining Birds), an “ode to live and love,” shot in Abbotsford, Quebec, and with which she’d like to work with micro_scope again.

“The are all very different,” she says of the projects. “But at the same time, a lot of them, [focus on] social issues and, for sure they are all really character-driven films in which nothing is black and white – everything is shades of grey.”