Despite a population of just under 8 million people, the Canadian province of Quebec has long been a sizable player in the international film world. This is especially true in recent years, when the province’s output has managed multiple trips to Cannes’ official selection and back-to-back Oscar nominations for foreign-language film in 2011 and 2012.
Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar” helped managed that feat at the most recent Academy Awards; before that, it was Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies.” But for Villeneuve’s follow-up to that film he is venturing into new territory. After a decade of French-language filmmaking in Quebec, the director is taking on the English language, with two major projects on his plate.
The first is “An Enemy,” an adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel “The Double.” The film — a Canadian-Spanish co-production starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Melanie Laurent — was shot in Toronto this past summer. “It’s my most personal project,” Villeneuve says. “We are editing right now and it’s going to be finished for 2013.”
In the midst of editing “Enemy,” the director is also prepping his first wholly American production, “Prisoners.” Set to start shooting in Atlanta in January, the film has Hugh Jackman attached to star in the lead role of a small-town carpenter whose young daughter and best friend are kidnapped.”Both are not easy films,” Villeneuve says of “Enemy” and “Prisoners. “I’m taking a lot of risks.”
But Villeneuve has no plans to move south of the border.
“For a filmmaker, it is very important to stay close to your roots,” Villeneuve says of his decision to remain in Quebec. “My strength is my culture. I was raised in Quebec. My dream is from time to time to make English language films. But I still want to make projects in French.”
The cinematic culture in Quebec makes that dream possible thanks to government funding on both the federal level (Telefilm Canada) and the provincial level (Sodec, or the Societe de developpement des entreprises culturelles). This has helped paved the way for Villeneuve and other Quebecois filmmakers like Denys Arcand, Jean-Marc Vallee, Xavier Dolan and Falardeau.
“Government funding for film in Quebec (rewards) creativity instead of box office,” Villeneuve says. “For filmmakers, it’s a fantastic laboratory to explore new ideas. In order to stay alive, our system allows us to take risks.”