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Francois Peloquin on minimal dialogue and maximum movement in ‘The Sound of Trees’

Roy Dupuis and Antoine L’Ecuyer in “The Sound of Trees”Christian Mouzard/Courtesy of Silversalt PR

In “The Sound of Trees” (“Le bruit des arbres”), writer-director Francois Peloquin portrays rural Quebec’s dramatic shift to unbridled economic and ecological change via a coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old teenager seeking more out of life than taking over his father’s sawmill.

“The way I think about Quebec’s culture is it’s in an adolescent state because it’s turning its back on its regions. If you don’t like where you’re from, you turn your back,” Peloquin told CanScreen, as his debut feature had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

The atmospheric drama, now on release in Quebec and headed to the festival circuit elsewhere in Canada, challenges our understanding not only of the forest’s place in the Quebecois imagination, but also of the environmental and economic dilemmas confronting the French-speaking province.

Peloquin’s script, co-written with Sarah Levesque, unleashes two forces struggling for the hearts and minds of the Gaspesie region – big timber conglomerates looking to buy up smaller sawmills, and local farmers and foresters who are keen to retain their traditional ways.

In the middle of rural Quebec’s cultural rupture and transition is Jeremie, a teenager played by newcomer Antoine L’Ecuyer. Over one summer, he finds himself caught between the forest that sustains a small sawmill run by his father, Regis, (Roy Dupuis) and the road, which promises a better life in Quebec City.

Rather than be content to work in the forest, Jeremie is drawn to fast cars, women and hip-hop culture, a lifestyle his frustrated father blames on a local drug dealer.

Jeremie and Regis represent a dual personality, two conflicting halves of a seemingly doomed Quebecois regional culture that strain in opposite directions. Regis wants to stay, while Jeremie wants to leave.

To develop his coming-of-age storyline, Peloquin selected lead actors with the exceptional skills and talent necessary to animate their characters through body language and movement.

“I didn’t have to cast Roy (Dupuis). He was the best choice for the role,” Peloquin explained.

“I knew I had a lot to say through action and movement, without dialogue. And when I cast Antoine (L’Ecuyer), I was also looking for that, a really intense body that can tell a lot,” he added.

Dupuis said he relished playing an intense and rough character through movement, while also sensitively conveying emotions using sparse dialogue.

“As an actor, and also someone who watches movies as an audience, I tend to feel if you can show it, rather than say it, it’s a plus. Cinema for me is imagery first, and photography,” he explained.

The “Sound of Trees” has ample dialogue, but it’s peripheral to the dramatic action. The audience is encouraged to follow the body movements and facial expressions of the main characters: stir-crazy Jeremie and his father, Regis, who sees his family sawmill business under threat from an encroaching multinational.

In one sawmill scene, Regis repeatedly cuts planks of wood while a representative of a giant timber company promises him a quiet desk job if he agrees to sell his family business.

“I like that Regis is playing with the noisy saw to shock the salesman,” Peloquin explained.

Dupuis added that the scene suggests key information about the implied confrontation and the tension in the film between the big sawmills and the smaller players that they are buying up and taking over.

“The important thing is (Regis is) making wood, in the right way, for my character,” Dupuis said. “He’s using what he does best, and what he believes is the way to do things, to shut the other guy down.”

“I won’t have anything to do (without the sawmill business). I’ll be with people who don’t know the difference between wood types,” he added. “I love the wood. So you you’ll never buy me.”

Dupuis’ character conveys all that in silence.

For Regis, it’s also about keeping faith as a free-spirited father with a traditional way of life in the Gaspesie.

“Regis has the responsibility of taking care of a kid, but he, like most of those men in the region,” Dupuis explained, “has some freedom because they don’t have to wear suits and ties. More than most people in the cities, or that work in offices, and that’s probably why I wanted him to be more free in his movement.”

Peloquin also uses long takes in “The Sound of Trees” for dramatic and narrative effect.

“We were often shooting long scenes,” he said. “I had to rely on what the actors feel through all of the scene, and what we are all listening to in terms of chunks of information that inform feelings and movements and a direction.”

In one extended take, Jeremie gets out of his car, takes a beer from a friend, walks away and joins another friend amid well-choreographed chaos.

Then there’s a close-up of kids, followed by a medium shot, a long shot down a bridge to establish the wider summer night setting, and finally a close-up of Jeremie before he leaps off the bridge and into the water, to whoops and cheers.

As his friends become increasingly impressed with Jeremie’s energy and aggressiveness, so does the viewer.

Francois Peloquin

 

Fabrice Gaetan/Courtesy of Silversalt PR

 

“I always think of the shot in a way that it provides its own editing. So sometimes I have to start wide, then come closer and closer. Sometimes I come closer, I pan away, give other information, and then come back. And other times the actors move around to give me close-ups one at a time,” Peloquin said.

For the Quebec director, screening his debut feature in Karlovy Vary is a dream come true.

“It’s unexpected. It’s a chance and I feel honoured. I didn’t dream of doing cinema when I was a kid. This thing came up later when I was more mature, and felt confident I could do it. Now I’m very pleased with the result,” Peloquin said.

“The Sound of Trees” is released by K-Films Amerique in Quebec.

The tale of two Dylans: ‘40 Below and Falling’ — pushing the boundaries of 3-D film

It wasn’t quite minus 40 when I sat down with Edmonton-based filmmaker Dylan Pearce to discuss his latest feature film “Forty Below and Falling,” a romantic comedy set in the vast winter landscape of a northern community. Pearce told me that he felt very fortunate that, during the 30-day, January-February shoot in the Edmonton area, the cast and crew did not have to brave the film’s titular temperature.

“We actually had some warmer weather than expected,” Pearce said, and joked, “I thought about changing the title of the movie, but ‘20 Below and Falling’ doesn’t sound as good.”

Dylan Pearce, director, "40 Below and Falling"

Dylan Pearce, director, “40 Below and Falling” (Tom Gunia)

 

Some might think it unusual that Pearce has chosen Edmonton to be the hub from which he is building his directing career. For many, the goal of establishing oneself as a filmmaker in Canada is only viable if you are willing to live in Vancouver or Toronto and ready to struggle amidst the throngs of other aspiring directors and producers. But Pearce, who started making movies in high school in his hometown of Windsor, chased his dream to Alberta to attend Red Deer College film school. For him, the challenge of convincing people that “you can make movies [in Edmonton]” is one well worth tackling. In fact, Festival City has not only turned out to be the place where he has found a supportive community to aid him in pursuing his craft but, with this latest project, also a creative partner who is equally inspired to make a mark on the Edmonton film scene.

Joined by Dylan Reade, the stereographer on the film, it quickly became apparent that the two men share more than a passion for filmmaking. Both have great admiration and respect for everyone who made a contribution to getting “40 Below and Falling” made.

Dylan Reade, stereographer, "40 Below and Falling" (Tom Gunia)

Dylan Reade, stereographer, “40 Below and Falling” (Tom Gunia)

 

“This really was a team effort,” Reade told me. “Many of the crew members had to don more than one hat in the process of making the movie.”

For Pearce (known on set as “Dylan 1.0”), the journey of “40 Below and Falling” began over two years ago when the script, by Calgary writer Aaron Sorensen, made its way into his lap.

The story follows Kate Carter (Jewel Staite of “Firefly” fame), a teacher who leaves her job in a remote Northern Canadian town and is struggling to get back to the big city in time for her wedding. Along the way she meets a gruff, handsome stranger, Redford (Shawn Roberts, “Resident Evil” film series) who reluctantly helps her. In true romantic comedy fashion, it doesn’t take long for hijinks to ensue. Our determined heroine stumbles into a host of adventures, from snowmobile chases to a grizzly-bear encounter, all the while just trying to get to the church on time.

Much like Kate is undaunted in her desire to get to her fiancé, Pearce was determined to make “40 Degrees and Falling” and to break new ground by doing it in 3-D. It was through this vision that he met Reade (“Dylan 3.0”), the man who has happily joined Dylan 1.0 in his dream to one day make Edmonton the centre of 3-D filmmaking in Western Canada.

Pearce acknowledged, however, that a 3-D romantic comedy was a hard sell at first. Stereoscopy is normally reserved for action films. More difficult still was that his budget for the movie was built using a 2-D financing structure. As a result, he met his fair share of doubters during the development process.

Pearce, though, is not one to shy away from a challenge. Although forced to make a “3-D film on a 2-D budget,” he remained resolute in his belief that his romantic comedy could help 3-D transcend convention by using the technique as a “storytelling tool.”

When I asked the two Dylans why they chose Edmonton as their base, it was Reade, a world-class expert in 3-D and IMAX systems, who quickly jumped in to espouse the rich history that the craft has in the area. And he would know. In 1985, Reade worked as a production assistant on the first 3-D IMAX film to shoot in the city (“Transitions”) and hasn’t looked back since. His career has spanned the globe. Among the many far-reaching and remote locations to which his IMAX work has taken him – Antarctica for “Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure and the jungles of Sumatra for “Born to be Wild,” where he discovered the perils of labouring in the heat and the joy of working with orangutans. While Reade considers the latter his greatest filmmaking adventure, he is ready for his next important journey as a groundbreaking innovator in Alberta film.

CameraFog

Filming “40 Below and Falling” (Tom Gunia)

 

“I’m motivated to create a pool of specialization (in Edmonton) and facilitate projects in whatever way I can,” Reade told me.

While this fearless stereographer would go anywhere to work with orangutans again, he said that “40 Below and Falling” provided its own exciting challenges, including the grizzly bear, fighting the elements in below zero temperatures and working with a new 3-D camera system that was specifically built for the making the film.

So what comes next for Dylans 1.0 and 3.0? On many productions, when the cameras stop rolling, the crew disbands like merry circus performers, but together Pearce and Reade are in for the long haul on their 3-D rom-com. Already in the midst of the editing process, Pearce will continue his directing duties in the cutting room and Reade will slip on another hat to become the post-production supervisor. The film is already sold in some markets and set to be delivered as early as April, so both men have their work cut out for them in getting “40 Below and Falling” on to the big screen. And, as one would expect from these Dylans, there’s no long break on the horizon.

Pearce and Reade are already collaborating on their next project, a documentary called “Building Edmonton,” which explores the city’s architectural history. It’s no surprise, of course, that it will be filmed in 3-D, as these two intrepid pioneers continue to blaze a trail for both Alberta film and 3-D storytelling.


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