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Jacques Godbout

Jacques GodboutNovember 27, 1933, Montreal

Jacques Godbout has been a provocative critic and commentator on mass media and Québécois and Canadian culture since the beginning of his career in the arts. A filmmaker, poet, essayist and novelist, Godbout had a novel in progress, published two collections of poetry (Carton-Pâte, 1956; Les pavés secs, 1958) and co-founded the magazine Liberté before he tried his hand at filmmaking.

After completing an M.A. in French literature at the Université de Montréal, Godbout travelled to Ethiopia where he taught for three years, returning to Canada in 1957. In 1958, he went to work for the National Film Board as a dialogue writer and translator, and in 1961, at the age of 27, he co-directed his first film, Les dieux, a documentary with Georges Dufaux. Since then, he has directed close to 30 films and documentaries, including five features.

Godbout continues to be a prolific writer, having penned over a dozen books, numerous volumes of poetry and countless essays and articles for a variety of periodicals and newspapers. He has also written radio dramas for Radio-Canada and French national radio. He has won numerous awards for literature, including the Duvernay prize in 1972 for his body of literary work, the Belgique-Canada prize in 1978 and the Prix du Québec (Athanase-David) in 1985. He was also the founder and first president of the Quebec writers’ union in 1977.

At the NFB, Godbout rapidly rose to director status, and was head of French production at the NFB for a brief period in 1970. His early documentaries tend toward the observational (À Saint-Henri le cinq septembre, 1962) and even ethnography (Rose et Landry, 1963). He took a different approach with Fabienne sans son Jules (1964) and YUL 871 (1966), paying homage to the French Nouvelle Vague. YUL 871 would establish his reputation as a stylish filmmaker. In both YUL 871 and the musical comedy IXE-13 (1971), Godbout was able to express his unique literary flair on screen; and these films remain among his most accomplished works.

In the 1970s, Godbout produced films that were eclectic in both genre and style, rang­ing from the baroque IXE-13 to the quasi-fictional Deux épisodes dans la vie d'Hubert Aquin (1979). During this period, his interest in mass media was evident in Der­rière l’image (1978), a carefully structured, probing look at television news; Feu l’objectivité (1979), a study of the French and English media in Quebec; and Distorsions (1981), about news coverage of Africa by Western media, and vice versa.

Godbout’s films demonstrate a continuing interest in the tensions between culture and people, and display his characteristic wit and sense of humour, highlighted in the poetic Alias Will James (1988) about the effects of U.S. culture and the myth of the “American dream” on Quebec society. His next film, Le mouton noir (1992), examined his personal views on the Canadian constitution after the Meech Lake Accord.

In his more recent films, Godbout explores the issue of how social and personal perspectives shape our understanding of history. Le sort de l’Amérique (1996), co-written with the Québécois playwright René-Daniel Dubois, takes on the infamous battle that decided “the fate of America” — the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. The film examines this historical event from the diverse viewpoints of historians; descendants of the key protagonists, Wolfe and Montcalm; and the screenwriters themselves.

Godbout left the NFB after producing The Fate of America, then returned to make Traître ou patriote (2000), which examines historical relativism through the records of his great uncle, Adélard Godbout, premier of Quebec from 1939 to 1944. Godbout examines his uncle's major contribution to establishing the foundation for the Quiet Revolution and, in contrast, his unpopular stance on conscription. Godbout then raises significant questions about how and why some people are remembered by history — and others, forgotten or reviled.

Film and video work includes

Bientôt noël, 1959 (producer)
Les canadiens, 1959 (writer)
L’extrême nord-canadien, 1959 (writer)
Marée au Ghana, 1959 (co-writer with Charles E. Israel)
Le prospecteur et la technique, 1959 (co-writer with Donald Fraser)
Travail d’équipe et recherches agricoles, 1959 (co-writer with Barrie McLean)
Les maîtres-sondeurs, 1960 (co-writer with Guy L. Côté)
Quand vient l’été, 1960 (co-writer with William Weintraub)
Le tir au fusil, 1960 (writer)
Les administrateurs, 1961 (co-director with Fernand Dansereau)
Les dieux, 1961 (co-director with Georges Dufaux)
Têtes blanches, 1961 (co-writer with Guy L. Côté)
36 000 brasses, 1962 (co-director with Georges Dufaux)
L’école des peintres, 1962 (co-director with Georges Dufaux; writer; editor)
Un air de famille, 1962 (producer)
Jacques de Tonnancour, une interview, 1962 (co-director with Georges Dufaux; writer; editor)
Paul-Émile Borduas, 1962 (director; writer; editor)
Pour quelques arpents de neige, 1962 (co-director with Georges Dufaux)
À Saint-Henri le cinq septembre, 1962 (editor; narrator)
Les petits arpents, 1963 (producer)
Rose et Landry, 1963 (director)
Fabienne sans son Jules, 1964 (director; writer)
Le monde va nous prendre pour des sauvages, 1964 (co-director with Françoise Bujold)
Huit témoins, 1965 (director)
YUL 871, 1966 (director; writer)
Kid sentiment, 1967 (director; co-writer with Ghislaine Godbout; editor)
Vivre sa ville, 1967 (director)
Les vrais cousins, 1970 (director)
IXE-13, 1971 (director; writer)
La gammick, 1974 (director)
Les troubbes de Johnny, 1974 (director)
Aimez-vous les chiens?, 1975 (director)
Arsenal, 1976 (director)
L’invasion (17751975), 1976 (writer)
Derrière l’image, 1978 (director)
Deux épisodes dans la vie d'Hubert Aquin, 1979 (director; co-writer with François Ricard)
Feu l'objectivité, 1979 (director)
Le Confort et l'indifference, 1981 (co-cinematographer with Gilles Groulx, Alain Dostie, Bernard Gosselin, Jacques Bensimon, Tahani Rached, Pierre Perrault) 
Distorsions, 1981 (director)
Un monologue nord-sud, 1982 (director)
Comme en Californie, 1983 (director)
Vivre en ce pays, 1983 (director)
Québec soft, 1985 (director; editor)
En dernier recours, 1987 (director)
Alias Will James, 1988 (director; writer)
Pour l’amour du stress, 1990 (director)
Le mouton noir, 1992 (director)
L’affaire Norman William, 1994 (director)
Le sort de l’Amérique, 1996 (director; co-writer with Louise Leroux, Philippe Falardeau, René-Daniel Dubois)
Anglo blues, 1997 (actor)
L’invention du stress, 1998 (director)
Cinéma vérité: le moment décisif, 1999 (narrator)
Anne Hébert, 19162000, 2000 (director; writer; narrator)
Traître ou patriote, 2000 (director; writer)
Une leçon de chasse, 2001 (co-writer with Jacques Drouin)

Note: Updated to January 2003.

Source: The Film Companion; Take One's Essential Guide to Canadian Film
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