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Cape St. George through the camera lens

From left: Joseph Benoît plays the man released from prison, while Joshua Smith takes care of the lighting and David Downton the cinematography. – Photo courtesy of © Michael Fenwick

By CELINE TISSERAND Courtesy of Le Gaboteur

CAPE ST. GEORGE – Of the 10 filmmakers participating in the Course des régions pancanadienne, Michael Fenwick is the only French-speaking director representing the Atlantic provinces this year. Originally from Cape St. George, where he still resides today, the Franco-Newfoundlander is participating for the second consecutive year in this film competition.

This year, participants created a 10-minute short work of fiction, something that Michael Fenwick has already explored during his career, but mostly in English.

“It is the first time that I am doing a fiction piece in French. I am more used to French documentaries, but not fiction,” said Fenwick, who began his career as an actor in film and television in Vancouver.

Bringing a taboo subject to film

Participants are free to bring to the screen the subject of their choice, as long as it has a link to their region, whether through setting or theme. Fenwick has chosen to look at the delicate and taboo theme of pedophilia, setting the story in the 70’s.

“It’s the story of a man, a pedophile who was in jail for 10 years. Upon his release he wants to see his granddaughter, who is now 19 years old. But to see her, he must go through his son, who doesn’t want to see him,” explained Fenwick.

The action takes place in the son’s garage, where he is fixing his ATV. Inspiration for the storyline came from all over.

“It was a problem that existed here in Newfoundland for many years. It was a cultural thing here on the West Coast. Of course that has changed a lot now, but before, in the seventies and eighties, there were a lot of problems with (sexual) abuse. Now we talk more about it (pedophilia and sexual abuse), and the more we talk about it, the more we are trying to solve the problem… Then, I think making a film about it, it will just help a little more,” says the director, who is also a screenwriter and editor.

Enjoying the process

For his short film, he assembled a six-person production team, including recent graduates from the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) film program, to shoot on Thanksgiving weekend. It offered a great opportunity to get started in the industry for these young graduates of the Stephenville CNA, especially since film projects are rare on the west coast, noted Fenwick. Although the production team is predominantly Anglophone, this French fiction project is also a great way to build bridges between Francophones and Anglophones in the region.

The entire production was shot in Cape St. George with actors from the Port au Port peninsula, in order to reflect this part of the country in the competition.

“It was a challenge to find actors from here. I needed someone who could speak French, but also who could speak the French that is spoken in Cap. That’s why I chose the world of Cap and then La Grand’Terre: they already have the accent. I decided that the accent was really important for the movie. “

The budget allocated by the competition, as well as financial support from the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador (FFTNL), enabled Fenwick to pay the team and the actors. In addition to his television project, which was shot during the same period, Fenwick was kept busy with writing and producing his short film for the competition, but all of that work was far from unpleasant.

“I love to tell stories and I love the film making process, from the filming to editing. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to start a film and then at a certain point to finish it. It’s really fun I think.”

The ten short films will be screened on December 8 at the Grand Finale of the Course des Régions which will take place this year in person in Sherbrooke. Fenwick will travel to Québec for the screening and awards evening.

“I can’t wait to go to Sherbrooke this year. I didn’t have the chance to go because of COVID last year!”

The films will then be shown to the general public on the Unis TV platform in 2022.

God’s Country

In addition to his participation in the film competition, Michael Fenwick has just finished filming a television show, in co-production with St. John’s-based director Fabian Jones for Bell Fibe TV. The first season of this documentary series, called “Pays du Bon Dieu”, explores the history of French speakers on the west coast of Newfoundland. In addition to his role as co-producer, Fenwick is also the host, the screenwriter and researcher for this bilingual project.

“I am part of the team that takes care of French,” stressed the director, who noted that the series will be released both in French version and in English subtitled version. He hopes to continue with a second season with episodes on Francophone history in other parts of the province. The first season will likely be released next spring.

The original article is available in French via Le Gaboteur.

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