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Lefebvre homage captures Montreal master’s vision

Program part of fest's Canadian Retrospecitive section

MONTREAL — The star-studded Hollywood pics and Euro titles grab the headlines at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, but fest director Piers Handling is particularly proud of this year’s sidebar tribute to seasoned Quebecois filmmaker Jean Pierre Lefebvre.

Not that surprising given that Handling has always been a champion of homegrown fare. When he joined the Toronto fest in the early 1980s, Handling started out by programming a major David Cronenberg retrospective and helped launch Perspective Canada, the fest’s program that caters to fare from the Great White North.

Homeland spotlight

The Lefebvre homage is the centerpiece of the inaugural edition of a new Toronto program, Canadian Retrospective, a section devoted to Canuck film history and filmmakers.

“There’s not enough classic Canadian material being shown at the festival,” says Handling. “We just want to put the focus on older Canadian material that doesn’t get showcased.”

The Lefebvre program will feature the director’s little-seen “L’Age des Images,” a series of five videos shot by the filmmaker between 1993 and 1995. Four of the videos are highly personal essays and one is a short fictional work. In addition, the fest will screen four of Lefebvre’s 20 features, including “Mon Amie Pierrette” (1967), “La Chambre Blanche” (1969), Canadian-French co-production “Le Vieux Pays Ou Rimbaud Est Mort” (1977) — perhaps Lefebvre’s best-known work — and “Le Jour S” (1983).

The Montreal helmer’s heyday was the 1970s and early ’80s, when he was one of the country’s most acclaimed auteurs and his pics were regular fixtures at the Cannes Intl. Film Festival. But his influence has waned in recent years and his most recent feature, 1998’s “Today or Never,” a subtle, nuanced look at contemporary Quebec culture, was largely ignored by the public.

“He has a very distinct style and he remained completely true to his vision as a young man and as a filmmaker,” says Handling. “He has a wonderful sense of exploring the individual in Quebec society and how society has changed over the years. So many of the changes that Quebec went through as a culture are contained in Jean Pierre’s work. He is just an artist, like some of the great artists in world cinema, who has maintained a strong vision of how he wanted to produce films and the subjects he wanted to deal with.”

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