Caroline Monnet, Canadian filmmaker and visual artist talks about her work, inpirations and aspirations. This year, Tampere Film Festival will screen her retrospective, a total of 11 films.
How did you get into filmmaking? I understand you haven’t been officially trained in it, but studied sociology and communication instead.
Yes, that’s true. I do believe it is an advantage to have come to filmmaking from a different discipline without undermining schooling. Being self-taught does not confine me to a specific way of doing things or approaching my work. I believe it leaves me with a level of freedom that allows me to work with complete instincts. I studied sociology and communications because I wanted to do something that would allow me to travel the world. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I was living in Winnipeg at the time, and working at our National broadcasting agency Radio Canada. The newsroom and TV format was not suitable for me. I was looking for other ways to express myself and I made Ikwé in 2009. The film premiered at the Toronto International film festival and other festivals around the world. Thanks to the success of Ikwé, I applied for more funding and made my second film. From then on, it was a snowball effect. I learned more about the craft with every film I made.
From where do your ideas come from? Do you find inspiration from within or do you look for it from the outside world? Or possibly both?
My work is most often rooted in things I know such as family stories, memories and observations. I often explore tensions, the subtle lines that exist between two opposite things. I am interested in their dynamics, how they interact together, how they can co-exist and need each other to thrive.
I am a firm believer that I can only speak about the things I know. My own personal reality is always intrinsically weaved into my work. Personal experience is a stepping-stone in creating the work I do.
Once you have an idea, can you describe the process that follows? Do you write a script or do you make a storyboard for example? What do you focus on first?
Every project is unique, I try to approach each work in a different way. Work often starts with a flash of an image or the spark of an idea. It’s like I see just one image and then start compositing around that first spark. That first flash must come from a place of memory and then the brain starts making its own connections. I often view the work as a puzzle that slowly reveals itself in front of me. Then I do research about a certain topic. I look at every possible information that could inform me what I am trying to say with a project. Then it becomes easier for me to describe what I want to do on paper. I am fairly new at writing scipts. I used to write only one page and put together a mood board.
What do you want to say with your movies?
That’s a tough question! Making films was a way for me to incorporate many art forms into one. I was drawn to writing, performing, creating sounds and images and I felt making films would allow me to do all that in a very organic way. For me, a filmmaker is a storyteller, but it is also a creator of emotions and ambiances. Making films offers a chance to take a real look at the society we live in. I feel I have a responsibility as an indigenous filmmaker to create authentic content that does not necessarily have cultural specificities but that can still contribute to the world of indigenous cinema. I don’t purposely create work that is political, but I guess it comes out this way. I want to open a dialogue about indigenous issues and speak about our place within society.
I noticed that nature and journey are almost in all of your films. Is it accidental or intentional? That said, do you find that you possibly have a reoccuring theme in your films?
It is true that nature is often present in my films but it’s unintentional. My films are somehow always representations of where I am at as a person and the idea of a journey is central to the experience of making films and growing up as an individual. I think I’m obsessed with the idea that indigenous people are not stagnant and I want to represent them constantly in an active position. I speak about labor, women, resilience and intergenerational legacy. I love the duality between urban and natural landscapes and how one can relate to a place.
You’ve done different kind of films, from experimental to short fiction to documentary. Which one you enjoyed making the most?
My work in film/video remains diverse in the sense that I jump from experimental to fiction depending on the nature of the projects. I like to use 16mm a lot because of its texture and nostalgia. There is a charm to film that is hard to reproduce in high definition video. I think if I had the budget and the time, I would prefer film over video. I enjoy all genre of making films. Each project is different and teaches me something new. Recently I’m really trying to get more into fiction. I can see the possibilities of working with a narrative, directing actors, thinking about mise en scène. The possibilities are endless and it’s quite exciting. My next film will be fiction.
One major subject in your movies are indigenous people. You are also involved with the Wapikoni project. Could you please share to us your views on that. For example why do you think it’s important to educate first nation individuals in film making?
I am not involved directly with the Wapikoni Mobile, but I’ve been their supporter for a long time. Back in 2009, I returned to my mother’s reserve to be a filmmaker mentor to the youth. I’ve been asked since then to curate a few programs of their films in festivals such as the International Short Film Festival of Hamburg and ImagineNATIVE in Toronto. I think because I’m also an indigenous filmmaker from Québec, I was naturally given that role of curating their works and writing about the importance of such a program for francophone indigenous cinema.
Indigenous people living in Quebec face a double solitude in Canada. The isolation of many of their communities, commonly known as reserves, is one thing, but also because they are for the most part French speaking. This fact often keeps them apart from the other Indigenous communities in the rest of Canada who are mostly Anglophones. Wapikoni Mobile team has done tremendous work to alleviate the isolation of Indigenous communities primarily in Quebec, but also across Canada and worldwide. It provides indigenous youth a unique access to audiovisual creation. Workshops cover writing and directing as well as the more technical aspects such as camera work, sound recording and editing.The films produced often take the form of first-person accounts with a desire for self-expression that seems to contribute to a general affirmation of identity.
You also do installations with different techniques. How does that differ from film making? Or actually what sort of simularities you find in different medias?
Yes, I have a visual arts practice. Video installations are not so different than experimental films, except they come in a 3D format. I think I still let somekind of narrative come trough my installations and the process of making them can be quite similar than making a short experimental film. What I like about installation, is that you have to work your images according to a space. That’s a dimension that you can not achieve with traditional filmmaking experience.
Installations are sometimes a way to bring media arts to a different audience. In the world of short films, and even more in experimental short film, the audience can be quite limited to a specific niche. I’m interested in reaching further and making the work accessible to a larger public.