Microscope slate attracts international acclaim

Small-but-happening Montreal production company Microscope is the poster child for the new wave of Quebecois cinema that’s making waves far beyond the Canadian province’s borders.

The shingle has made it on to the Oscar foreign-language short-list two years in a row, for Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies” last year and with Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar” this year. Both films have sold around the world, as well as having nabbed numerous fest honors: Both, for example, won the audience award at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

Since Luc Dery and Kim McCraw founded Microscope 10 years ago, the two have focused exclusively on smart, high-end pics designed to attract interest outside Canada. At the time, their approach couldn’t have been more out of step with the Quebec film biz, which was mostly interested in churning out pics that clicked with local auds, but rarely made much of an impression anywhere else.

“I don’t think we’ve done one film so far that we thought would only interest the Canadian market,” Dery says. “A lot of films (in Quebec) are made for the French-Canadian market, (but) we think, “?’Will it interest English Canada?’ And if it does, it might interest other territories around the world.”

Villeneuve and Falardeau aren’t the only Quebec filmmakers gaining international profile. Xavier Dolan, whose biggest-budget pic to date, “Laurence Anyways,” is set to be delivered this spring, is also a rising star; and Jean-Marc Vallee is on roll following his 2011 Vanessa Paradis-starring Canada-France co-production “Cafe de Flore.”

“Incendies” and “Monsieur Lazhar” don’t have much in common, except for their Oscar nominations: “Incendies” is a disturbing drama about family ties and sectarian conflict in an unnamed country in the Middle East; “Monsieur Lazhar” is a gentle piece about an Algerian refugee who takes over a grade-school class in Montreal after the previous teacher had committed suicide.

Microscope’s upcoming pics are just as diverse. They include another Middle East-set story “Inch’Allah,” writer-director Anais

Barbeau-Lavalette’s look at a female French-Canadian doctor working on the West Bank. Shot in Jordan, like “Incendies” last year, it’s currently in post. Meanwhile, lensing is set to begin within days on “Whitewash,” Microscope’s first English-language project. The feature debut from commercials helmer Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, it’s a snow-covered Coen brothers-esque black comedy about a guy who kills a man while driving his sidewalk snow plow and then hides out in the middle of nowhere.

Dery, who’s been a fixture on the Montreal film scene for much of the past two decades, says the Microscope filmmaking philosophy is pretty straightforward.

“It’s about stories we haven’t seen or heard from people with original voices,” Dery says.

“And people who are nice. We like producing films and being happy doing it. So if we’re having a shitty time with a difficult director, we don’t want to do it.”

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