The Navhind Times (India)
Monday, December 13, 2004

Denis Boivin begins work on Blindsight

by Ronita Torcato

Canada's High Commissioner in India, Brian Dickson is gung ho that an Indo-Canadian film treaty is, finally, in the verge of being signed; while in his home country, award-winning reel-lifers whose works were screened at IFFI - Goa are rocking and rolling: David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan are shooting on home ground. Jeremy Peter Allen is ruminating over a couple of scripts and Denis Boivin begins work on his second feature, BLINDSIGHT a love story about a single parent and a blind woman who miraculously regains her sight.

French-Canadian film-maker Denis Boivin studied communications, cinema and theology but turned film - maker even before studying . A number of his short films have picked up awards at festivals the world over. His work has taken him from inside prison walls and transition houses which deal with the problem of social rehabilitation to the Vatican, where he shot an inspirational biography of Pope John Paul II. Born near a Huron village outside Québec Boivin has returned to his Native roots for inspiration as he offers an original look at an unknown aspect of life among Canada's First Nations. "Attache ta tuque! his first feature film. " I'm happy it was watched by an appreciative audience" says the burly, pony-tailed film-maker. "Attache ta tuque!" is a road movie about a man Sam who leaves home to visit his girlfriend and en route meets Tania, a young Russian woman, who he accompanies in her 2,500-kilometre-long journey across a difficult to navigate terrain. Boivin has been invited to the Pune Film festival in January where he will be showing Attache ta tuque!.

Flash back to 1996-97 when he made The Pilgrim, an intimate portrait in three languages- English, Polish and French - of Karol Wojtyla, better known as John Paul II. Boivin covered important ceremonial events, notably the Pope's pilgrimage to France, the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his priesthood, and his encounter with members of the Solidarity movement. But the documentary also looks at the private person, as seen through the eyes of his closest friends. Boivin also interviewed General Jaruzelski and Lech Walesa, who, like John Paul, experienced the collapse of the Soviet empire and its rout from Poland. The same year, a million youth in Paris celebrated the visit of Pope John-Paul II to the French capital on the occasion of the World Youth Congress where many contentious issues were discussed. But, says, Boivin," one was not: suicide."

Boivin interviewed several people: Isabelle, a young woman conscious of the problem, with Father Gilbert who was known as "the priest of the thugs", and others, and made "Youth and Suicide" (1999) a film may help young people to be expressive about their hopes and fears. Next, he shot folk dance, music and the costumes of 15 dance troupes from 12 different countries at the Beauport World Folkloric Children's Festival. "It was a memorable experience with 500 children who believe that tomorrow's peace begins with today's friendship. "

In the International year of the Child, Canada was shaken by the abduction, rape and murder of a pair of teenagers, Chantal Dupont, 15 and Maurice Marcil, 14, as they crossed a bridge on their way home. Their bodies were then thrown from the bridge into the river. The hideous murders stunned the country, but something "even more shocking" transpired next: The parents forgave the two men who committed the crime. Boivin recalls that journalists covering the story were shocked by the parents response. The meeting of the murderers with the dead girl's parents who offered forgiveness led him to make in 1992 the intensely moving (and award-winning) "FORGIVENESS a reflection on the human condition and "an invitation to viewers to examine the limits of their own morality."

His oeuvre includes a 1995 documentary titled MOTHER which explores the motivations behind the decision of a divorced mother of three sons in their early twenties, to become a cloistered Carmelite nun. The music for the film is composed by Kathy Kennedy, a member of the renowned Kennedy family which gave America a President and several Senators. Boivin also made a film on Queen Elizabeth's visit to the cathedral, and Fr Jean Vanier's L'Arche and the work for the physically handicapped which he has inspired in many places in the world from Canada and India to Israel.
Boivin's film OPEN HEART has won several awards including the Anthony Joaquim Testa Foreign Film Award. and First Prize at the Rhode Island International Film Festival 1999 It was also adjudged the Best foreign short at La Papiermühle this year at Saint-Avold, France.

Boivin has participated in several international festivals from the US and Europe to Australia. This is his first visit to India. His films have been shown in Sweden, Holland, Switzerland, Australia, France and the USA.

He tells me he was commissioned to make in 1987 his first ever documentary, L'Âge Dort ( the Age Sleeps ) by a producer "on a limited budget." The film picked up awards for best student and amateur film and went on to become the most televised documentary in Quebec, being shown 14 times between 1979 and 1985. In 1998, the Canadian Government acknowledged its responsibility for the ill treatment of children incertain residential schools and allocated 350 million dollars to finance community healing efforts. Healing Words, a series of 6 documentaries, shares with us the cruelty experienced by Quebec Aboriginal peoples, the social identity and cultural consequences of this treatment over three generations, as well as, initiatives undertaken to bring about reconciliation and healing.

He studied theology to research a full-length film on Marie Guyart-Martin (1599-1672), the first woman French missionary in the New World. In 1607, at age seven, Guyart is said to have had a dream in which she married Jesus. But she was married at age 19, only to be widowed after the birth of a son. Not long after, a new vision plunged her into a spiritual adventure which put her behind convent walls, despite her love for her son. From the cloister, a call pushed her to become the first French woman missionary in North America. he son wrote a best-selling biography which has been published 22 times. Boivin says, "I think people can understand me and my work better with this film. An Ursuline nun gave me the book; it took 20 years before I finally translated it into a film with assistance on the screenplay from Jean-Claude Carrière. I faced discouragement every step of the way. I was told nobody would want to watch it but I realised what a great woman Guyart-Martin was; it was a challenge to make the film in an age when there are few women to inspire us in politics and public life. "Today, it would be impossible for me to make such a film with the kind of mentality of the people, a generation which, after the Quiet Revolution, the Gentle revolution, became very aggressive and, even translated into a wish to kill Guyart-Martin because she stood, in their perception, for the belief system which was responsible for their oppression."

"We began to make the separation of Church and State which is how it should be. This was a very good thing for Quebec because in this period the mentality of the Quebecois developed; they saw that religion can be the opium of the people, and that we have to find an equilibrium between the religious and the secular."
Is he a spiritually inclined? One would think so from his oeuvre. "Spirituality, he says, "is like sport. In a dangerous situation, one can become aggressive on the field, especially if one never reaches out, one loses something, you know one could have the tendency to get glued to things like computers (I begin to wonder if this is a hint in my direction because I've watched only a handful of movies, having been stuck to the pc in the media centre. Peut-etre not.

Speaking for himself, he likes to travel, to "go fishing with mosquitos" and potter around his sprawling home, indulging in carpentry or even making wood crafts.
In French we joke and say, "it's for fun, sport "Il n"y en aura pas de facile " Film-making is not facile though. "When I began the film , I feel I can make it in two weeks, but it takes a year, as one discovers the subject deeply."

Which film is his most popular? He says, with a smile, "The next one." The most difficult to make was "FORGIVENESS" which took 3 yrs; "I was fighting with the TV distributors, the financiers - no one wanted to touch the film because it was too religious in their opinion. Many said to me, Denis, you are out of touch, old fashioned. At the Montreal festival, it was slotted at 11 pm but I got a full house because I was in France earlier and had won the prize there..." Asked about Hollywood he says, he has " no opinion, it is so very different from ours. But I would make a film in Hollywood as an indie film maker, if I found a producer."

After all the awards, it is still "not easy to get the money to make films." Asked by a Quebec TV company to send the scripts as soon as possible of two episodes of an ongoing serial, he gave the Aguada beach a miss, worked apace in his hotel room and despatched the first; "the second- I will send tomorrow." From IFFI-Goa, he proceeds to Mumbai where he will spend ten days.

He travels for four months of the year, going to festivals to meet producers, read screenplays, it's a fun job!" Back home at the moment he says, there are thunderstorms and blizzards. It's winter and 23 degrees below zero. Naturally, he likes Goa a lot.

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