Thursday, 21 April 2016

QUEBEC MY COUNTRY MON PAYS - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Master Filmmaker John Walker's Moving Personal Journey Through Quebec's Quiet Revolution

Quebec My Country Mon Pays (2016)
Dir. John Walker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Place defines us. It's our roots, our lifeblood, the thing that we can never shake free of, whether we want to or not. However, so many of us are/were forced to leave our homes. My Grandfather, for example, was forced to leave Ukraine. In the new reality after the revolution, he could no longer be who he was. Communism was linked directly to Russia and Russia imposed Russification upon the Ukrainian people - making it a crime to speak Ukrainian. If he had not left, he could well have become a victim of the Purges or the Holodomor (Stalin's genocidal murder of 10million Ukrainians). Ultimately, it was language and culture that was denied to him and millions of others. Not only was Russian imposed upon Ukrainians, but their own language was outlawed, eradicated and obliterated in favour of the Communists' tongue of choice.

This and a number of personal thoughts coursed through me as I watched veteran Canadian filmmaker John (A Winter Tan, Strand: Under the Dark Cloth, Men of the Deeps) Walker's deeply moving film Quebec My Country Mon Pays. Curiously, language too plays a part in the exodus of so many English-speaking people from Quebec.

Walker takes us on a very personal journey in which he examines how and why he left Quebec, in spite of the fact that it is the place that nurtured and in so many ways, defined him. This is no ordinary garden variety personal journey. It is a rather extraordinary personal journey which weaves Walker's own narrative with a bonafide history of Quebec's "Quiet" Revolution. My Grandfather's taste of "revolution" was not so quiet, but there are, for me, striking parallels between the narrative of my Eastern European ancestors and those from Quebec.

Anglo culture, language and business was a dominant force in this Canadian province. In fact, the City of Montreal, rather than Toronto was the centre, the heartbeat if you will, of Canadian business. Not so anymore.

Quebec is a distinct culture and though its distinctions used to include bilingualism, French has swallowed the province whole - so much so that provincial and federal parties were formed with the sole purpose of removing Quebec from Canada. Terrorism and violence via the FLQ was a big part of this once the revolution became less quiet than it had been.

Walker has chosen a delightfully original way into his own story of abandoning the place he loved (and still loves) more than any other. There's not only the deftly handled history of Quebec's "revolution", but it's presented with a combination of superb archival film clips, still images, interviews from Anglo-Quebecers who identify as Quebecers, Quebecers who want their province to separate from Canada and a myriad of the province's greatest artists and thinkers, including Oscar-winning director Denys Arcand, writer Paul Warren and screenwriter Louise Pelletier. Especially touching is Walker's exploration of his own family's generations-old history in Quebec and its relationship to his contemporary dilemma of loving a place that feels inextricably rooted in his soul, yet seems so distant all the same.

What links all of this is Walker's visual aplomb - gorgeously composed vistas of the countryside and cities with the same painterly qualities Walker has always brought to bear in his work - stunning, rich images worthy of John Ford of both the land and its people and highly influenced by the legendary Canadian feature film Pour la suite du monde by Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière and Pierre Perrault.

I responded personally to Walker's film, especially with my own exodus from my roots in Winnipeg which continue to haunt me. As Randy Bachmann wrote in his gloriously sad anthem "Prairie Town": "the prairies made me what I am today", those same prairies that offered my Grandfather visual reminders of Ukraine's glorious steppes that he had to leave behind.

Walker's created a film anyone can call their own. Who has not been touched by a sense of place and at worst, forced to leave it and at best, always fearing what one might do if forced to leave it behind? Walker's film is his history, Quebec's history, Canada's history and by the film's very structure, a history we all share - not just in Canada, but the rest of the world.


Quebec My Country Mon Pays has its World Premiere at HOT DOCS