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    Damien Robitaille

Showcase Francophonie

Showcase Francophonie

Performer, musician and songwriter Damien Robitaille is a Franco-Ontarian from Lafontaine, a town outside Toronto. His independently produced album Damien was released in 2003. Following studies at the École nationale de la chanson in Granby, Quebec (which he attended after winning a scholarship in the Ontario Pop music competition), he began gaining notice, receiving accolades at events like the Saint-Ambroise and Granby song festivals, the Montreal Francofolies, Zoom sur la relève and the Francouvertes. He moved to Montreal in 2004, where he released two successful studio albums: L’homme qui me ressemble (2006) and Homme autonome (2009). He has since toured French-speaking communities in Canada and abroad.

Outside Quebec, Canada has 1 million French speakers scattered across 9 provinces and 3 territories. Ontario has the most francophones in the country after Quebec, with a population of over 500,000. New Brunswick is next with 230,000 and a close-knit Acadian community. I’m part of the big Franco-Ontarian family. My father is a francophone and my mother is a Francophile, which is to say, a lover of all things French. When she was younger, she spent a few months in Quebec to perfect her knowledge of the language. So French is part of my roots and family heritage.

I didn’t feel the need to sing in French until I turned 18 and became aware of the precarious situation of my mother tongue. This made me want to do what I could to preserve it. I began writing more in French and, in 2004, moved to Quebec. I wanted to be at the epicentre, the place where French was strongest, since I thought this would help me reach Canada’s francophone populations later on. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to tour Quebec and Canada with my 2 studio albums, L’homme qui me ressemble (2006) and Homme autonome (2009). I also toured France, Belgium, Switzerland, Argentina and Haiti.

Over time and somewhat despite myself, I became a spokesperson for Franco-Ontarians and French-speaking minorities across Canada. This past summer, I had the honour of chairing the Ambassador Youth Forum for the Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques. I try to promote our beautiful French language at every event in which I participate.

For all that, I haven’t for a second abandoned my English. Ever since I can remember, I’ve gone back and forth between the 2 languages, and it’s the same today. I have family on both sides and I consume as much English culture as I do French. Even in Montreal, I live on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the traditional dividing line between the city’s French and English speakers! Still, I’m all too aware that we must keep on protecting, promoting and properly speaking French if we are to ensure its long-term survival. Paul Bossé’s 2002 film Kacho Komplo, which stars Marie-Jo Thério, looks at an underground hangout for francophone artists and writers in the 1960s and later, in the 1990s. I wish there were such a place in Ontario where I come from. A bar or some informal setting where French culture wouldn’t feel forced or institutionalized, but where francophones could just be themselves. It’s true that these places are often kind of clandestine. This is a lot like how people from French Canadian minority groups live: in secret.

In her film Pis nous autres dans tout ça? (2007), Andréanne Germain points out how little Quebec’s francophones know about their counterparts in other provinces, in this case Ontario. I think it’s probably like that for all of Canada’s French-speaking communities. We know very little about our neighbours. There are certainly opportunities for education here. How many of you know the French Canadian flags from other provinces?

Family heritage is one of the most important aspects of cultural edification. You learn the most about your roots and culture talking to the older generations. You need to know where you’ve come from in order to know where you’re going. That’s why one of my favourite picks in this entire selection is A Sunday at 105 (2007) by Daniel Léger, a filmmaker whose work I admire greatly. For a whole day, he follows his 105-year-old Acadian great-grandmother as she goes about her daily routine and, in the process, learns much about her life, values and family. I think we should all spend more time with our grandparents. We have so much to learn from them.

As for me, I continue to work in French. I was recently involved in a film that was released on September 22 entitled La Sacrée. Directed by Dominique Desjardins, it’s the first feature-length Franco-Ontarian comedy. The film tells the story of a con man who, after a number of years in Montreal, decides to return to his small Franco-Ontarian hometown, where he is duped, in turn, by a beer with “magic powers.” In it, I play a bric-a-brac trader. I also lent my voice to the upcoming animated film by Lynn Smith entitled Soup of the Day, produced by Marcy Page at the NFB. With Suzie Arioli, I sing the French version of the theme song. (The original English version is performed by Suzie and Zander Ary.)

Apart from that, I’ll keep on writing songs in French, as well as in English and Spanish. I love my mother tongue and so far, it’s served me well. I tend to believe that when you sing in French, people pay more attention to what you say . . . and I still have lots to say.

Damien Robitaille

*As told to Catherine Perreault

Damien Robitaille

Performer, musician and songwriter Damien Robitaille is a Franco-Ontarian from Lafontaine, a town outside Toronto. His independently produced album Damien was released in 2003. Following studies at the École nationale de la chanson in Granby, Quebec (which he attended after winning a scholarship in the Ontario Pop music competition), he began gaining notice, receiving accolades at events like the Saint-Ambroise and Granby song festivals, the Montreal Francofolies, Zoom sur la relève and the Francouvertes. He moved to Montreal in 2004, where he released two successful studio albums: L’homme qui me ressemble (2006) and Homme autonome (2009). He has since toured French-speaking communities in Canada and abroad.

  • Acadia Acadia?!?
    1971|1 h 15 min

    This feature-length documentary is an on-the-spot record of the student protests that shook the Université de Moncton in 1968-69. Led by students desiring greater recognition of the French fact in New Brunswick, the protests spawned street marches, petitions and a sit-in, but also many discussions among students seeking to re-establish an Acadian identity.

  • A Sunday at 105
    2007|13 min

    A 105-year-old Acadian agrees to be filmed one Sunday as she goes about her daily routine and ruminates on life. Filmed by her great-grandson, Aldéa Pellerin-Cormier comments wisely on politics, sex and religion. From getting ready in the morning to drinking her nightcap before bed, every moment is punctuated with a witticism or existential thought. Respectful of the old woman's privacy, Daniel Léger's first documentary looks at wisdom, serenity and enjoyment of life. In French with English subtitles.

  • Reema, There and Back

    Filmmaker Paul Émile d'Entremont's documentary presents Reema, a lively and sensitive young girl confronted with difficult questions about her identity. After spending the first 16 years of her life with her Canadian mother, Reema re-connects with her Iraqi father by spending 2 months with him in Jordan. On returning home to Nova Scotia, she realizes she will always have a double identity, and that it is both a burden and a treasure.

  • Riel Country
    1996|49 min

    This documentary from Martin Duckworth features young adults from two distinct Winnipeg neighbourhoods on either side of the Red River who struggle to overcome geographical and cultural barriers. High school students from the predominantly Aboriginal North End and their peers from the Francophone district of St. Boniface work together to produce a play on the origins of the Métis. Their collaboration raises questions about how these youths foresee their role and place within their respective communities and how these minority communities co-exist with the predominant culture. The film also tackles issues of intolerance, racism and discrimination.

  • Jack Kerouac's Road - A Franco-American Odyssey

    Part documentary, part drama, this film presents the life and work of Jack Kerouac, an American writer with Québec roots who became one of the most important spokesmen for his generation. Intercut with archival footage, photographs and interviews, this film takes apart the heroic myth and even returns to the childhood of the author whose life and work contributed greatly to the cultural, sexual and social revolution of the 1960s.

  • A Monk's Secret
    2009|27 min

    This short documentary tells the story of a cheese – the famous Oka - and of the monks who make it. The Trappists in Oka, Quebec, began making the cheese around 1890, when a Trappist monk from France taught them the recipe, which dates back to the 11th century. Today, Brother Albéric continues to make the cheese at an abbey in Manitoba according to traditional methods and a secret recipe written in a mysterious notebook.

  • Together in Harmony
    2009|27 min

    This short documentary chronicles the participation of Edmonton’s Chorale Saint-Jean in the festivities organized for Quebec City’s 400th anniversary. The film is interspersed with interviews with conductor Laurier Fagnan, lyricist-composer France Levasseur-Ouimet and other people involved with this talented choir. Poignant and charming, it shows that French outside Quebec doesn’t necessarily have a bleak future. Indeed, not only is Franco-Albertan culture surviving, but it is also enriching our country’s heritage.

  • A Memory Forgotten: A Generation Sacrificed
    2008|23 min

    This short documentary is a portrait of Martine Duviella, whose parents were forced to flee Haiti during the Duvalier regime. Here, Duviella recounts the story of her activist father and through him seeks to retrieve the forgotten past of a generation that sacrificed itself trying to free Haiti.

  • Tintamarre - On the Trail of Acadians in North America
    2004|1 h 19 min

    This feature documentary pays homage to the special character of an enduring people: the Acadians. Two hundred years after the Deportation, Acadian culture is still very much alive. But why do Acadians - whose ancestors founded the first colony in North America - have to keep making a racket to tell the world they're still here?

  • The Black Squirrel
    1999|57 min

    This feature film is a different portrait of Ottawa, as transfigured by the loving but provocative gaze of well-known Francophone writer Daniel Poliquin. In his novels, the national capital metamorphoses, like the dreaded rat that supposedly changed into the city's ubiquitous black squirrel in a bid to win our affection. Alternating reality and fiction, the film reveals another Ottawa through the dreams and desires of his novels' characters - all portrayed by Poliquin himself.

  • Children of Soldiers
    2010|51 min

    In this documentary shot at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa during a troop deployment to Afghanistan, children and teens talk about the particular circumstances of having soldiers as parents.

    Directed by Claire Corriveau, Children of Soldiers lifts the veil on a reality shared by thousands of young Canadians, and on the difficulty of finding a balance between loyalty to the troops and staying true to themselves.

  • Nomad's Land
    2007|52 min

    Meet an Air Force wife who discovers that she married into a lifestyle she hadn't chosen. When her husband joined the Air Force, Claire Corriveau discovered a world where everything was subordinate to the needs of the Canadian Forces. Her first film, the feature documentary Nomad's Land, powerfully depicts the hard existence of military wives.

    Isolated, often lonely, forced to move repeatedly, these women have little control over their lives. This explosive film reminds us that they are the first collateral damage of an institution that, without their sacrifices and backstage work, would be unable to do its work. Their unsung contributions come at a high personal price. In French with English subtitles.

  • Blackfly
    1991|5 min

    This animated film about the pesky blackfly is based on the song of the same title, written and sung by Canadian folk singer Wade Hemsworth, with back-up vocals by the McGarrigle sisters. It recounts Hemsworth's battles with this quintessential "critter" during a summer of surveying in Northern Ontario.

  • A Child Unlike Any Other
    2005|11 min

    In this short documentary about autism, director Anna Barczewska examines the complex challenge of raising autistic children. Through the voice of Jan's devoted mother and the comments of specialists, the film offers an introduction to this neurological disorder that reduces one’s ability to communicate with the outside world.

  • Edith Butler - Daughter of the Wind and Acadie
    2009|5 min

    Combining interviews with teachers, admirers and musical peers, as well as footage from 40 years of performing, director Monique Leblanc's film captures singer/songwriter Édith Butler's moving artistry. A master show woman, Édith is always in flight – singing, playing, her long hair flying, with an epic grin on her face, covering everything from the softest lament to the most rollicking infectious footstomper. This film was produced for the 2009 Governor General's Performing Arts Award.

  • Stitches in Time
    1987|5 min

    In this charming animated film, two women knit and recall moments from their lives--memories of their neighbours, husbands, mothers and of other women knitting. Pastel drawings, music and a lively soundtrack evoke the past.

  • Like a Thief in the Night

    This short documentary about the city of Moncton, NB, explores 2 tragic endings: the obliteration of a much-loved historic neighbourhood, and the illness and death of the filmmaker's father. What survives when buildings, trees and a loved one all vanish?

    This documentary short was produced as part of the Tremplin program, which enables young Francophone filmmakers to make a first production in a professional context.

  • The Trap
    2007|19 min

    This short documentary examines the unlikely interactions between French-speaking fishermen and Buddhist monks and nuns in a Cape Breton village. Seemingly divided by language, culture and religion, these people share more than meets the eye. The film delicately weaves a connection between the beliefs of the 2 groups, who both regard life as a cycle.

    This documentary short was produced as part of the Tremplin program, which enables young Francophone filmmakers to make a first production in a professional context.