Acclaimed Director Sophie Deraspe Discusses Her Film Les Loups

Multi- award winning director Sophie Deraspe will screen and discuss this film, on April 1st at Rocket Bakery.

The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival and Rocket Bakery are co-presenting a special screening of Les Loups with an introduction by multi- award winning director Sophie Deraspe and a Q&A after the film, on April 1st at Rocket Bakery.

Les Loups is about a young woman named Elie (played by Évelyne Brochu of Orphan Black) who arrives in a small fishing town whose livelihood has been jeopardized by anti-sealing activists and journalists. She struggles to become a part of a community who have become weary of outsiders without revealing the secrets that brought her to the isolated town in the Îles de la Madeleine.

Les Loups is one of two incredibly successful feature length films Deraspe directed in 2015. She visited St. John’s this fall when her documentary The Amina Profile, which premiered at Sundance 2015, showed at SJIWFF. Les Loups recently showed and won prizes at both The Whistler Film Festival and The Torino Film Festival in Italy.

For more information about the screening visit www.womensfilmfestival.com 

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 In 2015 you directed both a fictional film, Les Loups and a documentary, The Amina Profile. How is storytelling different in each of these genres? 

Normally I would say storytelling is very different in a fiction and a documentary but in my case they have a lot in common. I started Les Loups by researching the backdrop of the film which is a community of hunters and fishermen. I knew the environment and the community but I had never seen the seal hunt. My father and my uncles are not hunters or fishermen so this was new to me. I wanted to be true to the subject matter because it is surrounded by a lot of controversy.

So just like with a documentary, I started by doing a lot of research. A lot of the scenes are shot almost as if it was a documentary because I was working with animals and nature, all those elements that you cannot predict. Even if I had actors and dialogue and proper scenes that I wanted to shoot I always had to be flexible. Sometimes that meant doing it the way that nature wanted me to do it.

Since The Amina Profile is a documentary about a huge fiction, a huge fantasy, I had to use the language of fiction. I had to work with an actress. I had to know in advance what I wanted to shoot, where and with whom, what kind of actors. In that way The Amina Profile was written like a fiction.

Although they are very different stories The Amina Profile and Les Loups both look at what it means when an outsider tries to integrate themselves into threatened communities with very distinct identities. What made you want to explore that narrative?

Quite often as an artist things come to me or go through me without me deciding. I didn’t consciously address the question of an outsider trying to integrate but as a filmmaker I love to unveil the codes of specific communities. So in Les Loups I did that via the character of an outsider trying to integrate into the community of a remote and isolated island.

In Les Loups, the livelihood of the small sealing community that the film’s protagonist arrives in has been jeopardized by reporters who negatively portray the seal hunt. In The Amina Profile, Sandra Bagaria struggles with the aftermath of her love life becoming the focus of an international news story. In both films journalism is a prying  force that can’t be deflected by individuals who do not want to be its focus, what made you want to tell the stories of people who are unwillingly scrutinized by the media?

Like with the previous question, I didn’t consciously choose to tell the stories of people who are unwillingly scrutinized by the media but I do have something to say about it. Often, the media only gives us one perspective and most stories deserve more than one angle. The media wants to sell news and it wants to sell it’s own truth.

It’s not the main focus of Les Loups but I am interested in the way the seal hunt has been depicted as something other than what it is. I’m not saying these portrayals are completely false but they are not the whole truth. I like to offer an audience different angles.

Place and identity are bound together for the characters in Les Loups, what made you want to make a film about the Îles de la Madeleine?

It’s a place I know, I know the people and the nature. I know how raw and overwhelming it is there. It’s also beautiful and strong. I had never seen it on screen the way I see it. A couple of films have been shot there, I’m not talking about the quality of those films, I’m just saying my own experience of the place had never been on screen. I’m happy with how we made out on the ice field, how we navigated a storm, that we were able to find the seals. Also how overwhelmed the actors were by the experience and that we were able to capture that.

The cinematography in Les Loups captures the severe beauty of winter in the Îles de la Madeleine and allows the landscape to shape the story. Shots that demonstrate the force of the waves that churn hunks of ice in the bay and the stillness of stretches of yellowed, dead grass build tension in the film. How do you make use of landscape as a narrative tool in film?

I like what you said in the question, I wanted nature to impact the story and I’m glad you felt it did. It was in the script and a lot of people said ‘well okay, it’s beautiful but how are you going to pull this off, you won’t have any control over nature’. I knew nature wouldn’t give me exactly what I had in the script but it would give me something if I was there, because I was ready to shoot and ready to be flexible. Ready to move my crew or go alone with my camera  suddenly there were gigantic waves that I needed to capture. Nature gave me more than what I had written in the script because I was at her service.

In both Newfoundland and Quebec language and dialect are a source of pride and a defining feature of rural culture. As a francophone in Canada is making films in French a choice with stylistic and political implications?

Yes but it is not my first concern. French is my first language it is natural for me to write in French. So before being stylistic or political it’s just natural.

I have a project in English, it will be financed differently and made with English speaking actors. The Amina Profile is an International film and English is the language we had in common with most people in the film, so eighty percent of the film is in English.

I speak English with a strong accent but I love this language, I also speak a bit of Spanish and a bit of German. I would love to speak more languages. I am as proud of being French as I am of knowing other languages.

Being multi-cultural or least being able to take in some of the other cultures around you is a strength. I wouldn’t want us all to speak the same French or the same English, I like the intonations and words that are specific to certain places in the world. I don’t want us to all be the same.

 While filming Les Loups were you faced with any unexpected challenges that forced you to do things differently than you had planned?

Of course! Because we were working with nature everyone understood we would have to be very flexible. My producers, my assistant director (who did the schedule) and the actors all understood this. We were always changing the scheduling according to what nature was offering us. We had to rely on the fishermen and the people living close to the ocean who know how to predict what the weather will be like. They can tell you, ‘this kind of wind will bring that kind of snow’. It’s impressive how well they can predict what the weather will be. We had to trust their magical kind of knowledge.

I wanted to film the seals on the ice field but the opportunities weren’t that obvious. The captain we were sailing with said ‘Our window is tonight, we will leave the island at three in the morning and sail until seven, we will sail in a storm. When we arrive in the ice field the storm will have quieted, it will be day and you can film the seals, another storm will hit us on the way back’ and he was absolutely right.

So we left at three in the morning in a storm, it was dark out. We couldn’t stand up on the boat, we couldn’t go to the toilet. We definitely couldn’t go outside, we would have been thrown out of the boat. The only thing I could see was occasionally a wall of water that would rise up and hit the boat. At one point I asked myself what am I doing? I’m only making a film, why am I putting myself in such a dangerous situation? But the motivation, when you’re making a film is so strong, you go against all odds. Thankfully I was with a really good captain, I trusted him and his boat.

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