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The article below is a tribute to Marcel Simard, a central figure in Quebec cinema who is barely known in English Canada. Last Saturday, Marcel committed suicide after a long depression. His death is a terrible loss to cinema throughout Canada because, as his friend Marquise Lepage says in the extraordinary piece below, he made provocative films often about the people society prefers not to see.
Marcel was both a director and a producer. He mentored many Quebec filmmakers and with the money he made from his major commercial success, Love Moi, he established Virage, a production company that was an invaluable resource for young, progressive filmmakers. He was also my friend and the husband of one of my closest friends, Monique Simard, a union and feminist activist and now the director of the National Film Board in Quebec.
I learned a lot from Marcel about the oppression of the Quebecois. He came from a large, poor family and remembered well the many insults a unilingual francophone experienced on the streets of Montreal in his youth. Marcel was a great filmmaker and a wonderful man. I hope some of you will get to know him a little by reading this article. The issues raised apply equally to film across Canada.
Marcel Simard, 1945-2010 -- I'm in mourning... and angry!
My friend Marcel Simard, director, scriptwriter, producer, husband, father and grandfather is no longer with us. His lifeless body was found Saturday morning in his car. He didn't die in a car accident, or of a heart attack -- he voluntarily ended his own life.
In choosing to bow out this way, he obliges us -- as he did so often in his work -- to face up to realities that society prefers to sweep under the rug. His tragic death directly confronts major taboos: first suicide and depression, still too often viewed as a shameful disease! His death also lifts the veil shrouding a subject that has become almost more untouchable, funding of audiovisual work in Quebec.
Marcel Simard was my friend for almost 25 years. After leaving university, it is with him that I first gained experience in film production at Les Productions du Lundi Matin and directed my first long feature Marie s'en va-t-en ville. We became friends working together and -- a rare thing -- our friendship withstood the 1,001 tensions it takes to make and produce films.
A sociologist by training, Marcel was a man with a keen social conscience. He was a committed artist and producer. It was with him, and Les Productions Virages, which he founded, that I was able to make difficult documentaries like Des marelles et des petites filles, as well as Des billes des ballons et des garçons about the treatment and working conditions of children around the world. More recently, it was again with Virage that I directed Martha qui vient du froid about the deportation of Quebec Inuit to the arctic in 1950.
Marcel was daring, and often, he won risky gambles by successfully producing films that no one else would dare make. His temerity and determination are legendary, as is his great humanity and empathy for ordinary people.
When Simard enlisted his compassion in the service of his director's talent, this provided poignant films of great beauty -- like Toujours à part des autres or Love-moi, as well as other unclassifiable works that never received the recognition they deserved.
In the films he created, as in those he produced, Marcel sought out strong content and subjects asking questions, ahead of prospects of financial gain.
A luminous personality
Personally, when I finished watching a film Marcel made or produced, I would always leave moved, more educated or open to a situation than beforehand. And isn't this the most beautiful quality of a work: its capacity to transform us a bit, and sometimes even, to make us better people?
It was with him, and later with his partner Monique Simard, who also joined the company, that a number of young filmmakers made their first works. Also, with what we know of many producers' reluctance to fund female directors, another remarkable fact is that les Productions Virage was among the production companies that produced the greatest number of films directed by women in Quebec.
This wonderful mix of boldness, humanism and creativity made Marcel Simard a person who was at once radiant and very humble. If these amazing qualities gained him the sympathy of a number of people, they also sometimes cost him dearly.
Marquise Lepage is a filmmaker from Quebec. This article first appeared in Le Devoir, and has been translated by Meg Hewings and Maria Stuart.