Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.9

January 29, 2004


Grad Jean-François Pouliot wins at Sundance

By Greg Fretz

Jean François holding a camera

Jean-François Pouliot on the set of La Grande séduction
Photo by Evanoh Demers

Jean-François Pouliot, a 1980 graduate of Concordia’s Communication Studies program, hit a film jackpot last week when his popular feature La Grande séduction won a major award at the Sundance film festival. Sundance is a kingmaker among filmfests. It has grown from a glint in the famous blue eyes of actor Robert Redford to the entrée to Hollywood gold for independent filmmakers like Stephen Sonderberg and Quentin Tarantino.

Non-U.S. features are not eligible for jury prizes, but La Grande séduction won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience award. Sundance audiences who loved the movie were just catching up to Quebecers, who took it to their hearts when it opened locally last summer.

La Grande séduction tells the story of a little Quebec town whose residents are so desperate for a doctor that they resort to extreme measures to persuade a young doctor to resettle there. Equal parts social commentary and lighthearted comedy, it’s delightful, and it has gone over well with U.S. audiences under the title Seducing Doctor Lewis.

In his Concordia days, Pouliot was a student of Dennis Murphy, who remembers him as “a genuine person, a humble guy.” When we caught up to him by phone this week, he explained that his career has been largely in the advertising business.

“An ad is something that will take a month of your life, but a feature film will take a year,” he explained. “I had been involved in a few TV series, but never in a project that would take so much time.

“The screenplay was written by Ken Scott, and the script was proposed to me by Roger Frappier, the producer at Max Film. I had read many scripts in the past 15 years, and I felt at last that I could bring something to this one.”

Pouliot said what he liked was that the humour came out of the dramatic situation. “I felt very excited about that. I read the script only once, very rapidly, and told Roger that I wouldn’t read it again unless he gave it to me.”

During production, there was great chemistry among the actors and between him and Scott, he said. “It wasn’t the usual conflict of the director or the writer trying to protect his work. The only boss was the film itself.”

When he remembers his Concordia days, what stands out are scriptwriting classes with John Buell and classes in the dynamics of visual representation with the late Denis Diniacopoulos. “Those were very important classes for me,” Pouliot said.

La Grande séduction was shown last spring at Cannes, where it was chosen to close the Directors Fortnight. That helped make it a hit in Quebec over the summer.

“At Cannes, I was surprised to see the room was full. People didn’t even know about the film; they went to see it because there’s a positive bias for Quebec films. [I think European filmgoers find] our subject matter more appealing.”

As for the award at Sundance, Pouliot said it was successful despite the fact that “it was shown in French with subtitles. The fact that the American audience can appreciate [a film in] a foreign language shows that a good story is a good story.

“I think the American studios are encouraging the belief that audiences don’t like subtitles. Sundance proved them wrong.”