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Pierre Perrault

Pierre PerraultJune 29, 1927, Montreal – June 24, 1999


Born in Montreal, Pierre Perrault studied law and maintained his own practice for two years before leaving the field after Radio-Canada offered him the chance to direct radio documentary series. One of these, Au pays de Neufve-France Ka Ke Ki Ku, provided Perrault his first venture into filmmaking when the radio documentary was transposed into images (13 episodes, 1959–1960) with the collaboration of René Bonnière and Budge Crawley (producer).

In 1962, the National Film Board proposed that Perrault film a documentary on the people of the Île-aux-Coudres. The result, Pour la suite du monde (1963, co-directed with Michel Brault), immediately acquired unprecedented international fame as a sort of “founding poem.” Confirming his attachment to Quebec, its people and their language, this piece also heralded Perrault as a filmmaker whose interest in words and language often took precedence over the filming itself. He pursued his next two films using the same approach, and thus, completed a trilogy on the Île-aux-Coudres: Pour la suite du monde; Le règne du jour (1965) and Les voitures d'eau (1968). Perrault had constructed a forceful and lyrical interpretation of Quebec identity. At the same time, in a poetic tone reminiscent of his films, he composed a literary work that expressed the consciousness of an alienated society.

His work went on to become more explicitly political. In Un pays sans bon sens! (1970), Perrault dealt head-on with the burning question of Quebec's political future and the issue of what seemed to be impending independence. The following year, he reunited with Brault for L'Acadie l'Acadie?!? (1971), covering the dissatisfaction of students at the Université de Moncton. The film was made with an acute sensitivity that exposed the filmmakers’ obvious compassion for the dissenters.

During the 1970s, the majority of Perrault’s work belonged to one of two thematic cycles. The first one takes place in Abitibi. In Un royaume vous attend (1975, co-directed with Bernard Gosselin), Perrault confronts and contrasts the present with the adventure of colonization, a theme that made its film debut in En pays neufs (Proulx, 1937). Unlike Proulx, however, Perrault’s film proposes an admission of failure. In C'était un Québécois en Bretagne, Madame! (1977), he attempts to establish a connection that is both symbolic and sociopolitical between two regions that do not understand one another. On the eve of the 1980 referendum for Quebec sovereignty, again with Gosselin, Perrault produced Gens d'Abitibi. Overtly in favour of sovereignty, the film sparked internal dissension at the NFB and was censored.

The other cycle was the First Peoples in Canada. He first looked at the repercussions of European civilization's influence on Aboriginal culture in Le goût de la farine (1977, with Gosselin). Joining Arthur Lamothe in this vein of cinema, he explored the imagination and the codes of Native culture in Le pays de la terre sans arbre ou le Mouchouânipi (1980). The result, contradictory yet profound, was especially striking thanks to the sublime images captured by Gosselin. Perrault returned to the “white man's world” with La bête lumineuse (1982), in which a hunting party illustrates the bonds between humans and nature.

In celebration of the 450th anniversary of the discovery of Canada by Jacques Cartier, Perrault filmed Les voiles bas et en travers (1983). Once again, along the waters of the St. Lawrence River, Perrault followed the trail of the French explorer in La grande allure (1985). Travelling by sailboat, he retraced the route that Cartier had mapped out in his journal, creating a powerful work about the origins of the Québécois people and the nation whose future was still waiting to be determined.

L'Oumigmag ou l'objectif documentaire (1993) was a pretext for a film about the moose of Quebec's Great White North. A poetic film essay, this is really a reflection on cinema and the realistic practices that Perrault supported. He re-examined similar issues in Cornouailles (1994). A stylistic rupture was evident in that the camera was no longer focused on people, but rather, the animal kingdom.

His documentary work enjoyed international attention, which was unusual for Quebec cinema. An uncontested master of direct cinema and recipient of the Ordre national du Québec, Perrault left a legacy that was both personal and universal, complex and humanitarian — and most of all, a strong foundation for the future.

By Pierre Véronneau

Film and video work includes

L’anse tabatière, 1960 (writer; producer)
L’anse-aux-Basques, 1960 (writer; producer)
Diamants du Canada, 1960 (writer)
En r’venant de St.-Hilarion, 1960 (writer; producer)
Les goélettes, 1960 (writer; producer)  
Ka Ke Ki Ku, 1960 (writer; producer) 
La pitoune, 1960 (writer; producer)
La rivière du Gouffre, 1960 (writer; producer)
Tête-à-la-baleine, 1960 (writer; producer)
Toutes isles, 1960 (writer; producer)
La traverse d’hiver à l’Isle-aux-Coudres, 1960 (writer; producer)
Attiuk, 1963 (writer)
Le Jean-Richard, 1963 (writer)
Pour la suite du monde, 1963 (co-director with Michel Brault)
Le règne du jour, 1966 (director)
Le beau plaisir, 1968 (co-director with Michel Brault, Bernard Gosselin)
Les voitures d'eau, 1968 (director)
Qui perd gagne, 1970 (voice, narration)
Un pays sans bon sens!, 1970 (director)
L'Acadie l'Acadie?!?, 1971 (co-director with Michel Brault)
Tickets s.v.p.!, 1973 (director)
Un royaume vous attend, 1975 (co-director with Bernard Gosselin)
Le goût de la farine, 1976 (director)
Le retour à la terre, 1976 (director)
C'était un Québécois en Bretagne, Madame!, 1977 (director)
Gens d'Abitibi, 1980 (director)
Le pays de la terre sans arbre ou le Mouchouânipi, 1980 (director)
Le confort et l'indifférence, 1981 (cinematographer)
La bête lumineuse, 1982 (director)
Les voiles bas et en travers, 1983 (director)
La grande allure, 2 parts, 1985 (director)
Les traces de rêve, 1986 (music, actor)
La toundra, 1992 (director)
L'Oumigmag ou l'objectif documentaire, 1993 (director)
Cornouailles, 1994 (director; writer)
Ice Warrior, 1996 (director) 
Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment, 1999 (appears as himself)

Note: Updated to January 2003.



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