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October 24, 2002 Grad Catherine Martin finds poetry in filmmaking



Catherine Martin

Photo by Bertrand Carrière

by Matthew Walls

You might find it hard on first meeting Catherine Martin to detect the source of Océan’s melancholia. She is quick to smile, and has a sweet, affable nature. She is charming and funny, as her colleague Carlos Ferrand says.

Talking with her, however, you may hear in her subdued tone and thoughtful pauses the state of reverie from which came the desolate, evocative images in Océan, Martin’s documentary of the eponymous night train that runs from Montreal to Halifax.

At this year’s Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois film festival this month, Martin’s film won a mention for the Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma’s (AQCC) best short or medium documentary in 2002. It was the second documentary for Martin, who has built an impressive body of work since graduating Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in 1982.

Her first, Les Dames du 9e (1998), explored the lives of the women who worked and ate at the restaurant at Eaton’s 9th floor (now the building’s main tenant is Les Ailes du Mode). For that film, she won the AQCC award.

Between the two documentaries, she made Mariages (2001), a feature film about a young woman in 1930s Quebec who rebels against the stultifying mores embodied by her older sister.
Mariages won a prize for best screenplay at Montreal’s World Film Festival in 2001, and the AQCC prize for best feature made in Quebec in 2001.

All of Martin’s films have won high praise from critics, beginning with her directing debut in Nuits D’Afrique, in 1990. After graduating film school, she worked as an editor with well-known québécois filmmakers like Jean Chabot, and it took her eight years before she realized she could make a living directing her own films.

It’s not a life of luxury, she said in our interview, but she makes enough to live and continue to make films. It’s a privilege for her to express herself in film, because not making them is not an option. “It’s strong in me, I can’t stop myself. It’s something you have to do when it’s this strong.”

Martin’s success with the critics, however, has not yet turned into box-office success. Mariages lasted a disappointing five weeks at the movie theatre, and her documentaries had even shorter showings. It might disappoint her, but she does not let it influence her filmmaking.

Carlos Ferrand, who was Martin’s cinematographer for Océan and Les Dames du 9e, says her uncompromising attitude to her vision is an inspiration to other filmmakers working with low budgets.

“Catherine is one of those beacons of independent filmmakers. She resists all the Hollywood facilities, all the razzle-dazzle. She has a horror of that because they are purely commercial and they don’t give you time to think.”

In Océan, we see the stations on the route, the staff, and the townspeople who watch the train pass by. It opens with a VIA train clunking over a bridge in Montreal, and continues for the next 10 minutes with shots of the staff preparing the train, a scant number of passengers stepping on board, cut with shots of empty train stations in the countryside, where station masters wait silently with few to no customers.

Dialogue is sparse. Martin said she used fewer interviews than in her previous documentary, because she wanted the images to speak for themselves.

“I like to make the audience go into the film and feel things, because I trust the people who watch the film — they’re not stupid — to feel it resonate within themselves, so they can think of their own way in the world and what you feel when you’re alone in a train at night and can’t sleep.”