In the third episode of our Creative Nonfiction Film podcast season, we interview Philippe Falardeau about his four-part documentary series, Lac-Mégantic: This is Not An Accident, and reinventing the true crime doc.
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On episode 3 of the creative nonfiction podcast season, Philippe Falardeau discusses Lac-Mégantic: This is Not An Accident is a four-part documentary series about the catastrophic 2013 train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, its inevitability, the aftermath, and the government failure to change safety requirements to avoid another “accident” in future. Lac-Mégantic had its world premiere at the HotDocs Film Festival where all four episodes were screened back-to-back.
The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster was the fourth-deadliest rail accident in Canadian history (47 people died) and the deadliest involving a non-passenger train. The documentary Lac-Mégantic not only chronicles the disaster and its devastating effects on the town Lac-Mégantic, but also how blame was handled and how similar disasters continue to happen.
The series reclaims the history of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster by showing how systemic problems lead to a disaster that has been blamed on individuals. The series also reveals how appropriate safety measures have not been taken in the intervening years to prevent a similar disaster from happening (and other, smaller disasters have indeed continued to happen).
At the beginning of the episode, Alex Heeney introduces the series Lac-Mégantic, and why she thinks it’s worthy of discussion. Next, we play your Alex’s interview with Falardeau about the film. Finally, we wrap up with how the film fits into the framework for creative nonfiction that we at Seventh Row created in our ebook Subjective realities, and offer some suggestions for what to watch and listen to next.
Listen to the whole Creative Nonfiction season
In this 5-episode podcast season, Alex Heeney interviews four creative nonfiction filmmakers about their latest films and how they are pushing the boundaries of what documentary and nonfiction film can be.
Listen to all the episodes to discover how filmmakers are pushing the bounds of documentary cinema in 2023.
Show Notes for Creative Nonfiction Podcast Season Ep. 3: An interview with Philippe Falardeau on Lac-Mégantic: This is Not an Accident
- Watch our masterclass with Philippe Falardeau and Mina Shum
- Read our interview with Philippe Falardeau on My Internship in Canada
- Watch our masterclass on Creative Nonfiction with Carol Nguyen and Penny Lane
- Get your copy of the ebook Subjective Realities
- Get your copy of the ebook In their own words: Documentary Masters vol. 1
- Discover more Seventh Row writing on creative nonfiction film
- Become a member to listen to our entire archive of podcasts, including our past episodes in which we discuss creative nonfiction films.
Get our ebooks on documentary filmmaking and creative nonfiction film
Dive deep into the work of Frederick Wiseman and Gianfranco Rosi and read our initial interview with Penny Lane on creative nonfiction by getting Documentary Masters in a bundle with Subjective Realities: The art of creative nonfiction film.
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Related Episodes to the podcast interview with Philippe Falardeau on the documentary Lac-Mégantic: This Is Not an Accident
- Bonus Episode 25 (Members only): This is Going to Hurt and physician mental health: In this episode, we discuss the systemic issues in British public healthcare and how the best TV show of 2022 revealed these issues.
- Ep. 41 (Members Only): In the Loop and My Internship in Canada: Political satires: In this episode, we discuss Philippe Falardeau’s political satire My Internship in Canada, perhaps the first political satire about Canada and made in Canada, and compare it to the British-American political satire In the Loop. In our interview with Philippe Falardeau on today’s podcast, Falardeau talks about how his experience in fiction helped him to make a doc.
Related Episodes on creative nonfiction film
- Ep. 99: Creative Nonfiction with Penny Lane and Carol Nguyen
- Sundance 2023 Ep. 7: Best of the fest + documentaries Fantastic Machine, Is There Anybody Out There, and more
- Ep. 123: Sundance 2022: Creative Nonfiction
- Ep. 67: Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris and City Hall
- Ep. 95: No Ordinary Man and John Ware Reclaimed: Reclaiming history in documentary
Listen to all the related episodes. Become a member.
All of our episodes that are more than six months old are only available to members. Additionally, we have many bonus episodes and in-between season episodes which are also only available to members.
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Host Alex Heeney is the Editor-in-Chief of Seventh Row. Find her on Twitter @bwestcineaste.
This episode was edited, produced, and recorded by Alex Heeney.
Catch up with the rest of the season
The transcript for the free excerpt of this episode was AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Alex Heeney 0:19
Welcome to episode three of the creative nonfiction season of the seventh row podcast. This is a five-episode season with new episodes dropping every Wednesday. The first episode is an introduction to the term creative nonfiction film and the framework for thinking about this genre. That weird seven throw developed in our ebooks objective realities, the art of creative nonfiction, you can get the book at subjectiverealities.com Each of the four subsequent episodes features an interview with one of the best creative nonfiction filmmakers working today. They'll be discussing their latest films as well as how they approach making boundary pushing documentaries. I'm your host, Alex Heeney, editor in chief of seven throw. On today's episode, I will be interviewing Philippe Falardeau about his new four part documentary series Lac-Megantic: This is not an accident about the 2013 rail disaster in Quebec. The series had its world premiere at Hot Docs this year where the whole series played as a four hour film.
Alex Heeney 1:20
If you're just joining us now for the creative nonfiction season, make sure to go back and catch up the first two episodes of the season. The episodes can be listened to in any order, though Episode One will help frame the context for the entire season. In Episode Two I interviewed Sophie Fiennes about her new film Four Quartets starring Ralph Fiennes, and documenting theater on film. On this episode, I'll talk a bit about the series Lac-Megantic, why I liked it and why I think it's an important new entry in the creative nonfiction canon. Then, I'll play you my interview with Philippe Falardeau. Finally, I'll wrap the episode by contextualizing Lac-Megantic within the framework for creative nonfiction films that we developed in our ebooks subjective realities. I'll also offer recommendations for related films and TV shows to watch and related episodes of the seven throw podcast to go to next.
Alex Heeney 2:15
So Lac-Megantic is kind of like a true crime series. It is essentially about dissecting what happened on these fateful day July 16 2013, when a 73 car Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway freight train carrying back information crude oil rolled down a 1.2% grade in Lac-Megantic, and which is a small town in Quebec, and derailed downtown, which resulted in the explosion and fire of multiple tank cars. Yes, I am reading that from Wikipedia. 47 people were killed more than 30 buildings in the city's downtown center were destroyed, which is about half of the downtown. And then even though there were 39 buildings left all but three ended up having to be destroyed because they've been contaminated by crude oil. So according to Wikipedia, that makes us the fourth deadliest real accident in Canadian history. The deadliest involving a non passenger train and the deadliest real accident since Confederation in 1867. The last real accident to have a higher death toll was the St. Hilaire train disaster in 1864, which killed 99.
Alex Heeney 3:42
So you might expect that, you know, because it kind of starts out as this sort of disaster story that it's going to just be about, like, you know, this one guy did this horrible thing, we're gonna follow it, we're going to figure out who it is. And we're going to follow the trial. And what I really love about the series is that it's really interested in the systemic problems, like, yes, there are people who did, who behaved in ways that we're not, you know, to code per se. But the film is much more about looking at the systemic issues that put people in bad situations where they really were kind of forced to make bad choices, either because they've been put under pressure to make bad choices, or they were in a situation where, like, everything was set up for them to fail. And there was so little they could do at this point to actually stop. You know, the disaster from happening. People have been calling what happened at lit Lakhmi on Teague an accident, and that's kind of been the official line. And if you don't look that carefully, it seems like it's an accident. And, but what the series does is it actually digs in really deep it looks at all of the things that had to happen in order for this disaster to happen. And you hear many times throughout the series people saying, it was not a question of if this would happen, it was a question of when the railway was poorly maintained. It used to be owned by cn because cn and CP are the two major railway companies in Canada who own pretty much all of the rails. And this particular railway was falling into disuse, it was in such bad shape that it would cost so much to repair it that they ended up selling it to a an American company MMA. And, of course, the reason that these railroads were sold off was because they weren't profitable. And so this American company was faced with how do we make it more profitable? And their answer was, well, let's get rid of some staff, because staff are expensive. And let's not bother repairing things. And oh, it turns out that this railway connects us to North Dakota, where there's crude oil that needs transporting, we could do that. And that would be profitable. So ends up being this perfect storm of these railways that are already in disrepair are now going to be operated by very few people on and actually, when lack make empty happened, this, this 74 car train is being run by one operator, which is completely insane when you consider as we find out later on in the film that like the only way to really secure these trains properly is with manual hand brakes. And like one person doing that inspection and, you know, in an emergency situation is just like, it's not enough, right. And, and then on top of it, they suddenly start transporting really, really dangerous goods like if this train crashes, explosions are going to happen. And the film tells us there's something like a 27,000% increase in dangerous goods, ie this crude oil that's getting transported on this line. And this is a line that goes through like all of these curves, and on slopes and Lac-Megantic is that a place where they stop is actually like on a slope. So just like waiting to fall down if the and go forward if the brakes aren't properly secured. And on top of that, these railways, they don't have any kind of protection around them. There's no sort of guardrails, in case something bad happens and they're going through residential places, they're going through the downtown of the city. Like there are a lot of people who could be hurt if something goes wrong. And And again, as the film builds this case, you see that something was going to go wrong. It's just a question of when I think it's a really a tribute to what feller doe does with this material that this is an exploration of systemic issues rather than simply looking at this one disaster that happened in this one place. It broadens the scope to being about the way that the government looks the other way, the way that companies are allowed to self regulate in ways that it's totally unsafe. And I think that's consistent with what feller those interests have been throughout his career. He's really interested in tackling systemic issues.
Alex Heeney 8:51
His first feature film was a mockumentary called La Moitie Gauche du Frigo. And it is hilarious. But it is about this man who is an engineer who quits his job because he hates it and then is forced to navigate through the unemployment system and how dehumanizing and awful and horrible it is. And it's really a smart dissection of that system, but sort of from a light and airy perspective. And that was in 2000. And back in 2015, Falardeu made a fantastic political satire about the absurdities within Canadian politics and our particular parliamentary system. And what happens when one MP in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere of Quebec, whose vote has never mattered at all, suddenly might hold the balance of power in Parliament. And does that mean he's going to have to sell his soul to help people and if he does, so, is that really going to help people in the long term? So again, it's one man versus the system while also showing us all of these issues with how you know, the federal government and the provincial government love to blame each other for everything. to abdicate the responsibility for anything whenever possible. So although this is a documentary Lac-Megantic, it's still in that through line of trying to look at systemic issues within Canada that are specific to Canada. And it feels particularly timely because of what's been going on in the COVID 19 pandemic, and how we're seeing personal responsibility versus government responsibility and institutional responsibility play out wherein basically, governments and institutions have abdicated all their responsibilities, and people are getting sick because of it. I first interviewed Philippe Falardeau for seven throw back in 2016, about my internship in Canada and I refer to him as a national treasure at the time. And you know, there's a reason for that he's making really important films about Canada and is really one of our most accomplished filmmakers. And that is also of course, why we did a masterclass between him and another great Canadian filmmaker Mina Shum. And that is actually available to listen to on our podcast as an episode. That is episode 46 a conversation between Muna Shoom and Philippe Falardeau. That said, Falardeau is probably best known internationally and even in Canada for his fantastic 2011 film this year Lazar which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2012. And it's a really wonderful film about a man from Algeria immigrating to Montreal and dealing with his past trauma and and the immigration experience and how he working as a teacher helps a class of children who are themselves healing from a trauma which is that their their teacher died by suicide and she did so in school and some of them saw what happened and so the film follows him and then trying to work through what's been going on and find a way to move forward
Alex Heeney 12:09
so the trailer is mostly in French but I think it does give a good feel for the series so I'm going to play it for you there is some English in it. Here's the trailer
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Alex Heeney 14:48
What I think is really harrowing about the film is that you start to see you that this has been allowed to have happened, the Transport Canada who is responsible for or who is supposed to be responsible for making sure that our railways are safe, they knew what was going on, if they knew crude oil was being transported, they knew way more of it was being transported them before, they knew these new protocols that MMA put in place that were unsafe, and they said, whatever. And so, the first couple episodes are sort of the lead up to this big disaster. And then what happened on the day of this disaster, and the people who, you know, were on the ground and forced to deal with it in a situation where they couldn't, they could only do so much. And there was, there was all kinds of pressures about what they should and should not do. And essentially, there were all these safety protocols that the company had pretty much openly not just told people to ignore, but scolded them for not ignoring. And so that's kind of what happened on this night is that certain things that should have always been done, like there's an automatic braking system on top of the manual braking system, and that's supposed to be deployed, should have been deployed, and it wasn't fully deployed. But then when the firefighters got there, they start deactivating the automatic system. And so suddenly, you are relying on all the manual brakes, and not enough manual brakes were being put into place. And they were really encouraged by the company not to fully break train, because then it would take such a long time to get it going in the morning when it departs. So you see these people who are like, you know, when they realize that this bad thing has happened, that, like, what are they? What can they do? And how can they help and the sheer weight of the responsibility and we also, I mean, this is all told him past, in the past tense we're looking at we're it's a film of interviews with people who are involved with the incident and people in the town looking back on what happened, and their experiences with it. And you know, the town's people were causing balls of fire and, and telling people to run and, and the the guy who was operating the one guy operating the train, you know, he knew there was something wrong, you tried calling the company, and no one would answer his call. So he went to his hotel. And he gets called, you know, later telling him by the way, there's a fire and he's like, What the hell, what am I supposed to do? And they say, No, no, don't worry, the fire fighters are there, they're, they're there, it's all fine. And of course, one of the things that firefighters do is they release the automatic brakes. Um, anyway, there's like, it takes for us to tell the story for reasons I'm not going to get into all of the details. But I think what's really great about the first couple of hours is that it shows you that although it doesn't fully absolve the people who are running the train of all responsibility, it really shows you how the blame is placed on bigger systems on the company on Transport Canada, on the fact that Transport Canada was essentially just letting this company make decisions about what counts as safety and not imposing appropriate regulations and restrictions on it. And, you know, that couldn't feel more relevant today. In this Day of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, which the government pretends is not happening, even though look at the data. Lots of people are still sick, and lots of people are still dying, and life expectancy has gone down. But the huge conversation in the last couple of years has been all about, you know, like personal responsibility versus collective responsibility and systemic responsibility. And the government has played this wonderful game of trying to convince us all that you know, it is if you get sick, it's your fault. And not the fact that like if people get sick, it's because the government has created the situation in which people can get sick, ie places that places where nobody's masking, not having proper ventilation standards so that the air isn't clean, and you can get infected, just by being in that place. Even if you are wearing a mask if you're there long enough, and if the ventilation is bad enough, and if your mask maybe doesn't fit 100% And you know, it's not like the government has been giving out masks or teaching people about the necessity for respirators and how they fit. It's been all about personal responsibility and trying to absolve institutions of responsibility. And what I love about Lac-Megantic is that it is having none of that and it is showing how this idea of personal responsibility versus institutional responsibility. It's like not a new invention of 2020. This has been going on for years. And this is one example that is like, a huge cover up. And of course, you know, I live in Toronto and English Canada and English, Canada and French Canada, I have a great way of having no fucking clue what's going on in the other place. So like I somehow did not even know about like make on teak I was living in the States when it happened. And I certainly didn't know about the huge Transport Canada cover up. And so that's what the second half of the series deals with is it's talking. It's all about how there wasn't an investigation, that the only that Transport Canada just like did not give a shit. There were these trials that happen, but they were all about individual responsibility. They were putting the people who were on the ground that day on trial for their mistakes, rather than looking at the bigger picture. And the bigger problems and if you were somebody who dared to ask questions and work for one of these companies about you know, the wider situation what caused this to happen? You could you know, as get in trouble, at worst, lose your job. And, you know, again, this reminded me of what happened in Toronto with SARS, because SARS, you know, Toronto was really hit badly by SARS in 2003. Even though we knew that SARS was airborne, back then we didn't take airborne precautions, there were an end up being a huge scandal, lots of people got sick and died unnecessarily. And there was actually a report that was done afterwards, which was really damning and investigation about what happened and said that, you know, we didn't do the things that we absolutely knew we needed to do. And then fast forward almost 20 years, and as the SARS cov two pandemic happens, we decide to completely forget everything that we learned during SARS, about the necessity for respiratory protection about the fact that this is an airborne virus and how to know that it's an airborne virus and what you do in the case of an airborne virus, and you know, what hospitals should be doing, and this report gets completely ignored. You know, not just that, but it took the who like two years to recognize it wasn't until late 2021, that mid to late 2021, that the who and the CDC recognized that COVID was airborne, even though aerosol scientists had been saying it since as early as like March 2020, some even earlier, and it was like a pretty widely accepted consensus scientific fact that it was airborne by like, certainly by May 2020. Even I knew that so you're just watching these disasters repeat. And what's great in the fourth episode of lack Megan teak is that Falardeau then turns his his lens to a similar disaster, but this is one that happened in 2019. And in BC, and it's like, all the same things in the playbook. You know, there was it wasn't quite as disastrous as what happened at lakme Aegon teep but it was totally preventable and should have been preventable because of what we had learned at LACMA on take and not just because of what we learned at LACMA on tape, but because this entire thing was preventable because decisions were taken, which were, you know, known by all experts who worked in this field to be dubious, and you know, people who work these trains were saying, you know, someone's gonna die, this is gonna happen something, there's going to be a crash, it's gonna be explosions unsafe. But you know, they needed their jobs and they couldn't speak truth to power. And so this disaster happened. So now I'm gonna play you my interview with Philippe Feller, DOE. I start by asking him what made him interested in doing a documentary after so many years working in fiction?
Philippe Falardeau 24:13
I never woke up one morning saying okay, I think my next project will be a doc. it's the other way around you you are kind of seized by by the subject by the topic by the opportunity and in this case, it came with two different by two different paths. First of all, I was I was riding alongside a train track with my my with my kid, I was bringing her to daycare and I saw the tankers and I said that said to myself, then in a post LACMA GM tech world this was a safe environment, and which turned out to be wrong and not long after I read on multisensorial nice book Magon stick with, which basically said and proved that that nothing had really changed in terms of how like we regulated like dangerous goods. And I became angry, I became angry at what happened also to the people of lac magazzini, they were pretty much less left to themselves. And so I started to think that the best way to manage that anger and anger that, by the way, was also a direct to that myself for being naive. And I wanted to make something constructive out of that anger.
Alex Heeney 25:34
What made you want to do it on TV?
Philippe Falardeau 25:37
Well, it was the sheer quantity of material and angles and and I, because there was a before and then the famous night and the week that followed was heavy also on material. And then you there was this this aftermath saga that led me to believe that one feature film wouldn't be enough or would be too, like crowded in a way, and then realizing that other accidents happen, and that were similar to maybe godsake. I wanted to do a zoom out. So for all these reasons, I thought that the series was best suited. But it's kind of funny because you say, Okay, we're going to separate we're going to separate the the material and making make it more digestible for the people and then you find out that people end up binging the whole thing. And that ends up being a three hour films. Film let's just like they're going to do here in hub doc.
Alex Heeney 26:41
What were the challenges or opportunities of working in nonfiction?
Philippe Falardeau 26:46
Well, first I needed to someone who had been working in dogs for longer than I had. So I was paired with Nancy guy who became my, my co writer. And what we wanted to do is try to balance the storytelling in a way that you would have like some information and some some some political angles, but at the same time, make sure that you get the stories from the people of McGann's IQ, and that they become the voice of the series. I had to land back on my feet with a human perspective on it and not just a political perspective on it. So those were our the guidelines and the subtitle of the series was just this is not an accident. That was kind of our hypothesis. Actually, the hypothesis was more take stolen from Sci Fi series, that I love Battlestar Galactica, where there was this sentence. This has happened before and will happen again. And I thought it was suited to this, this project.
Alex Heeney 28:03
I guess having the book to work off must've been helpful.
Philippe Falardeau 28:09
Yes, and it's helped us structure the series. But at the same time, there was there was, I knew that I had to find my own voice, but it would I would consider analogous book one of the main pillar, the foundation on which I could build without the book, there wouldn't be any series, that's for sure. And even though and in the book there was like this, it was a page turner it was sentiment that really wow and then it I wanted to recreate that that sentiment in the film. So I think that's when my fiction background came in handy. Because I'm dealing with a subject and a story where you know the outcome or you think the you know the outcome but you know, the main outcome which is like the train is going to do well there's not going to be any surprise there. So how do you sustain the interest of the audience and the tension so it helped me write in a way script in which you will use Zoom you back you back up a little and you show the itinerary of the train and you show it as if it was like some sort of Time Bomb placed under the chair if someone just like it's cocked movie in a way.
Alex Heeney 29:29
The film also deals with the aftermath and how this problem keeps repeating.
Philippe Falardeau 29:35
This is the part where I think people are going to be surprised because you again you are left thinking that things have been fixed that they have had. They have the God their bypass that we supported them. We did support them in a way that we liked. There was like money raised and and A class action suit that went to like, grab, like almost half a billion dollars for them and other people that ended up to pay for the catastrophe, but you'll learn that they were not out of the woods yet. And that in some many ways, though, the worst was yet to come, they lost the rest of Downtown, they decided to just like destroy it, because they wouldn't they couldn't be sure about the pollution and about the contamination. And then they will a lot of people were evicted people that that, whose houses weren't even close to the fire, but they had to make way for the big stores that wanted to and then you hear about that and so it's like hitting someone and when he's done you still it's it's it's it's Hiroshima, followed by Nagasaki and another Nagasaki and another thing as a key, my comparison is a bit over the top, of course, it's not the atomic bomb, but it's that the thing that was that necessary, and Was that necessary, so And to this day, that it's a very torn community, because now they're sitting on many sides of the bypass issue. Some people wanting it, some people don't want it. Now, some people are hangry, because it's gonna step on their land. And they're divided. And it's, it's sad, and you want to tell them, always remember that this originates in Ottawa, in New York, in in a Transport Canada, you are not responsible for what is happening. So don't blame your neighbor who has a different point of view than you try to. And when we went to show the series in the ganttic, a special screening, I was very afraid to, to just put more more oil on the fire. But it was quite the opposite. We saw people who hadn't talked to each other for a while that started to talk again. And because I think they watching the film, they realized that they were all victims of what had happened and and they had to find a way to like, deal with it.
Alex Heeney 32:20
What was that like? Because Megan teak is a pretty small community, they must have known who you are, and that you are making this film.
Philippe Falardeau 32:27
Some of them knew I was and I think it helped in many ways. And then when I approached them, you approached them, like very slowly with care, never would have camera upfront. And I think they were ready because a time had passed, they were ready to share their their stories. And because I hadn't had a lot of experience in documentaries, I couldn't say to them well, the way you can trust me with your stories is I can tell you that you're going to have a real interview like it's it was gonna be a four hour interview that we are have like four episodes. So it's not I am not cutting a five minute piece. So they know that they're going to be you know, they're they'll have time to express themselves. And also I told them, If you want to see where I stand while dealing with delicate subject matter, you can watch some of my fiction films. They're fiction, but I think I'm the same person. So some of them watch Miss Jana Zoll, which deals with with grieving and death. And I think it allowed people to say to feel maybe safer in offering me their stories. You always do this sort of casting even if it's for documentary because you want to make sure that people can communicate. It's not only what they have to say what they Yeah, but how they say it. But I think again, my training and fiction l me because when you're dealing with like five or six actors on the set, they all have a different process you cannot impose a process on all the act one process on all the actors. So in this way I had to I had to try to decipher which path to take with each and every one of them. So it was a different path every time and a different architecture sometimes with some people who was best to ask the tough questions before because they would be nervous for two hours, not knowing when I'm going to I was going to ask about their their their the departure of their dear ones so but other people needed time to get there so you have to adjust. I knew I was going to deal with talking heads but I was not going to shy away from it. So what I do is I use a lens that I love that goes from 24 or to 280 millimeters it's a huge thing that's very difficult to carry and it has this nice quality to it and I was not going to shy away from long shots of just people looking at me and maybe in silence sometimes. So this was my cinematic approach of talking IDs and then using the archive in the same vein it's like finding because there were so many archives out there shot by people are there for the news and are like older shots for about five seconds and then the zoom in and then the zoom out so I was trying to find the archives that would would sustain the shot that would be maybe what I would have shot if I had been there during the tragedy so just Yeah, take the time and I know it's it's counter current of what's happening right now with the series on on the in the on the platforms everybody everything goes fast and you rarely see a cut on someone talking that lasts for more than two seconds you hear their voice on other images and then we come back to them but it never holds for more than two seconds. And people are gonna listen to this and say no, no two seconds He's exaggerating. Take any doc on Netflix look at it. You do not hold a shot on someone for more than two three seconds and we hold for 15 seconds 50 seconds is an eternity and but we decided to okay this is going to be our staff
Alex Heeney 36:31
were you thinking at all about genre and things you liked about it or wanting to fit into that or one to do differently
Philippe Falardeau 36:38
there's some like real good Doc's are true crimes are out there and a lot of them what they they do is that they take all the interviews and create one narration with it is like some someone is completing the sentence of the person just before so I think this is something that inspired me because I didn't want to hear my voice and I said okay, the people of Uganda are going to be the main narrator and I say Narrator not plural it's almost become their their their various voices become one. So that is was inspired by definitely what's out there and then you start cutting and you say that I asked and magazine sneak Can you come back for a second interview and ask if he shall I believe, can you come back for a certain interview and then we're gonna fill in the blanks. So you the writing process still goes on and in the cutting.
Alex Heeney 37:39
When I was watching it, I thought you know, there, there exists a 90 minute version of this that would be very didactic and would have voiceover narration with someone explaining everything to you, and you get all riled up and be like, Oh, Transport Canada, but that's not what the film or series does at all. It's something much more complex,
Philippe Falardeau 37:58
it shows you stuff you don't understand exactly why you're seeing it at the beginning and then it starts to pile up and it's the same it's the same thing is bringing pieces of puzzles together to the first pieces you bring together don't make any sense and then like there's something that slowly begins to appear
Alex Heeney 38:18
what was the editing process like
Philippe Falardeau 38:20
long I had like it like a super guy like elated Kobe Sean is amazing, digested all that and I let I let him work a lot alone. And then we I would go in for few days in a row within discuss the material and we try things I would like, one thing we really found in the cutting room was that sometimes during the interview, I would voluntary voluntarily pause and ask one question that then pause again and ask another questions because I instinctively sensed that I was becoming part of of the thing. And then he said, this is this is interesting dramatically because we never see you, but we sense that you are more and more in the picture. So we enhance that by using my iPhone and in the cutting room and, and asking or re-asking questions in different ways. So we can like integrate them in a in a more dramatic way in the cut. So this is one of the writing process that the happen. There was even a time where I got interviewed by my colleague, and we said, oh, maybe we should try that. I've never seen that, like the guy who directs becomes an interviewee. And it was a kind of an interesting idea, but it didn't work. So I'd like I flushed that out very quickly.
Alex Heeney 39:46
I'm always curious about sound and fiction or documentary. And I know that sound was an important part of your process and fiction, so I'm wondering what was that like here?
Philippe Falardeau 39:55
Yeah, from the start. I told the producers that I wanted to build a In the real like soundscape to this and I work with Savannah, Belmar who has been with me from the beginning of my career, he has like had a, like a lot of experience in fiction, he did like a lot of E won an award for a rival at the Oscars. And I told him, we're going to treat this as fiction, we're going to use sound to bring the audience inside the situation. And we're not going to use sound just to illustrate what we see. We're going to we know use sound to create silences, and then we're going to use sound to be under the train and, and we had to balance it in a respectful way, of course, because there's always a line that you cannot cross it to make it over sensationalistic. But my job is to tell the best story possible. So sound was definitely a tool I had, the train is almost a beast. And I told them, I want to hear torn metal throughout the series, but not necessarily just when we see a train. It's all it's almost, it's almost like this, this metal animal that's, that's there all the time nearby. So you want to create these uncomfortable sounds that will put you in the same situation than the the people in the mechanic who still have to endure the train passing through downtown to this day,
Alex Heeney 41:36
you were also saying something about wanting to get under the train.
Philippe Falardeau 41:39
Well, there's a shot at the the end of the episode one where I'm on we that was an archive footage, I didn't go shoot under a train. But we found that shot of like a train rolling, but the camera is under the train. And for me, the most dramatic moment when I think about it is when we left that train that night. And after we distinguish the fire that occurred, the air started to leak off and nobody was around the train. And the train started to move by itself first of all very, very, very, very slowly. You could you could walk beside it. And then it started to accelerate but it did all that without anyone around in and so it reminds so that's why I also show shots of just trees at dusk, because trees were the only witness to that train starting to run away. And to bring the audience to that moment that never that no one saw happen. I used sound.
Alex Heeney 42:43
How else did you think about what you wanted to shoot? What images you wanted to have?
Philippe Falardeau 42:48
I wish I had shot more light of the environment in Magon sake but you like that's a good example of like that train that was left alone. There was no witness trees were lifted witness I started shooting trees in some people's. You sure you want to shoot trees? Yeah, I want to shoot trees. Why that's well trust me. And then I would pitch them the idea to Okay, makes sense. But for them it didn't quite make sense to work that late with the crew and then first shots of trees that maybe I could have found somewhere and Getty image or whatever is it No way I have a specific feeling for that. And so and so it's true of pretty much everything I like to use the zoom, I'm not a I was never a big push in, push out a pull out traveling guy. I like zooms because zooms changed the focal whenever possible when we were shooting a building or something I would like slowly zoom in because it creates tension. So those are the various kinds of shots that I tried to pick up along the way knowing that and also the drone shots, which, again, drone shots can be very good looking. And I was concerned that there would be too many, because now we use drone shots for anything to fill in the blanks because they're spectacular, but they had to mean something. So we use the drone shots as the subjective point of view of the train. So instead of like a showing a train going towards Magon sake, it's just a drone shot over the tracks and people fill in the blank.
Alex Heeney 44:33
Now that you've seen the series screen as a film has that changed how you think about the format I
Philippe Falardeau 44:38
think the format I think people are at least it gives them the choice to binge it or not to watch it in separate. Some people told me that they after the two first they was they was too emotional and they had to stop and then they watch the three and four after so I think people now what's great about this format is that you have the virginity to go at your own pace.
Alex Heeney 45:02
You've worked in TV before with the last summer of the rasberries. Do you have thoughts on working in film versus TV?
Philippe Falardeau 45:08
Again, it's, it's what's, what's the script? What's the subject? And what's the best format for that? And now I'm adapting a book for my next feature film. And sometimes I'm thinking, is that feature? Is that a limited series? I'm still like thinking about it. So I love fictions I like I love feature because because you are. It's it's a, it's a, it's a one time experience in an enclosed environment, and there's no way out, you're going to watch it. And there's going to be a beginning and middle and the end. And the series, it's a more complex relationship with the, with the, with the work as an audience, you have more control over the work in a fiction film, you are invited to stay put and experience something for the duration of two hours, which is relatively short. And I think you can when we when I start writing i Those are the questions I can ask myself what kind of relationship I want the audience to have with the with my work.
Alex Heeney 46:24
Now that you've done a documentary, is that something you think you might want to do again?
Philippe Falardeau 46:28
Oh, no, I am not sure I would, I would choose such a heavy subject. It's the first time I present something that has no humor. There's no humor. And every time I present something at a premiere, I'll wake up in the morning and say, Okay, what's going to be my speech tonight? How can I make them laugh? There's no way I'm going to make someone laugh. Presenting this one, although by saying that I make you laugh. So maybe I can just say that. But it's true. So for me, life is complex and brutal, but also funny, sometimes, depending on the distance you have with the drama that's happening. And in this case, there was no way I was gonna, you know, it's it's an I think I need you or I cannot just so yes. Would I do documentary again? Yes. But again, I'm not. I'm not going to wake up one morning and say, Okay, my next project is going to be a documentary, it's going to be, what do I want to talk about? Oh, I think I have a topic here. What's the best format? What's the best way to do it? Is it fiction is a doc.
Alex Heeney 47:38
I know some directors feel that they can just tell different kinds of stories in documentary than they could in fiction.
Philippe Falardeau 47:45
It's true of both. I mean, my first fiction was a mockumentary. And I didn't invent the jar. But you know, it was new back then in Quebec in 2000. So you can invent I think the people who are going to survive in this business are going to constantly reinvent themselves.
Alex Heeney 48:05
I know telefilm did a great restoration of La moi Chief,
Philippe Falardeau 48:08
do. Yell I'm gonna go just go. Yes.
Alex Heeney 48:11
Do you know when that's going to be available? Because I saw that festival do nouveau cinema a couple of years ago?
Philippe Falardeau 48:16
Yeah. I don't know what happened with that, honestly. Because the distributor was FIM savvy, and then they went out of business. And then it's owned by EA one, but I don't know who operates it anymore. So we, like most of my features right now are lingering with this. This disappearance of the of severe it was, I think, on Netflix for a certain period of time. Now, I don't know where to see it. And I don't even know how like, I've wait to see it myself. That's that's the irony. Yeah, I gave all my DVDs and I don't I can't see it. I can't watch it. Well, I It's not that I watch my own films. I do not. But I don't have it. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 49:00
That's awful. It was such a great restoration.
Philippe Falardeau 49:03
Yeah, it was. Well, I think maybe while the restoration still exists, but when is it gonna land again on the platform? I don't know.
Alex Heeney 49:12
I wanted to ask you about your last TV show, the last summer of the rasberries does that exist anywhere with English subtitles? Only
Philippe Falardeau 49:20
two episodes exists with subtitles. They were presented at Berlin. We were never able to sell it. So there was no translation made of it. And that's that's kind of bizarre again. Honestly, it's one of my best work, I think and that's caught up in some thing, give a call and I would I think Cray would be interested in it. And then then but yeah, I keep asking questions. And they keep saying no, we're trying to sell it but I don't think that I don't think it's gonna happen, unfortunately. Yep. Yeah, one day. What I'm going to do is put all my work On the internet, and they can sue me. Because if they're going to keep it and sit on it and not just well, why? I just I mean, I don't understand. And I don't do that for money when I mean, if they put it on the platform, I'm not getting any money for that. So I'm not I just want people to be able to see it when I get a call from someone from like another country saying, I'm looking for your film. And it's it wasn't distributed here as well. BitTorrent? Wow, you really, why not? I mean, nobody bought it. It's not going to be ever distributed in the New Zealand. So find it. I mean, I'm a little bit delinquent about that. And I would never, I buy and I rent, and I pay for everything I watch when it's available. And I keep saying, If my film is available, go see it, pay for it. If it's not available, and it will not be ever available. Find the way to watch it.
Alex Heeney 51:15
So you said next up, you're working on a fiction film.
Philippe Falardeau 51:18
Yeah, I'm adapting a book called The middle soccer methodology. Which literally means 1000 secrets 1000 dangers it's a pretty funny book. I needed something lighter, but the tackles like serious issues and family issues and and yeah, I'm in the process of adopting it. It's gonna be in French, French and a little bit of Arabic.
Alex Heeney 51:49
So in our ebook, subjective realities, the art of creative nonfiction, which you can get a copy of at subjective realities.com. In the book, we asked six questions about what documentary can do and what current documentaries can do right now. And I want to contextualize like Megan teak within those questions. So our questions were what is creative nonfiction? Where's the line between fiction and reality? How can non fiction reframe and reclaim history? How can nonfiction paint a portrait of a person? Does nonfiction filmmaking have the power to heal? And can creative nonfiction change our conception of cinema? So I think we're like Megan Teague really fits in is how can nonfiction reframe and reclaim history. I think generally speaking, if you are reading the news, and that's how you've been figuring out recent history than your conception of what happened at like, at LACMA gone teak is probably that it was an accident. But as the film's title says, scene, a pas and xe doll. And I think this film really is a great way of reshaping and reframing histories that we see this as a systemic problem, and a systemic problem that continues today. In the book, we mostly look at films that are about some thing that happened further back in history, like at least 50 years, and then what how those films show the echoes of what happened then today and ask us to rethink how we look at history. So we looked at the film, from Cheryl fogo, John were reclaimed, which was about this famous black cowboy in Alberta and how his story hadn't been told properly and why we need to reclaim that story and how it can affect the identity of black Canadians, especially in Alberta, but across the country. We also talked about, for example, Mina Schumer ninth floor, which was about a racist incident that happened towards an anti black racism incident that happened at Concordia. In the 60s, and the film, which came out in 2015, interviews, the people who were involved in that incident and when he now in 2050, looking back on you know, something that happened 40 4050 years ago, and reflecting on how the story about this, this incident in the in the student protests have been seen, and how that's been incorrectly had been incorrectly seen. And you know how those things that may seem like ancient history are still affecting people today. I think that's something that was true of all of the films that we talked about in the book within this section, which also includes Ashling chimney and chase join snow ordinary man and Marie Clements, the road forward as well as Eva do Bernays 13 lukwago antique is a little bit of a twist on that in the sense that it's dealing with much more recent history, but it's the Same idea of how the way history has been written in the books or in the news is not necessarily a reflection of reality. And we need to understand what that reality is in order to move forward. And in this case, it's about how do we make things more safe? How do we hold systems governments and companies accountable for harm that that can that their decisions can cause toward the general population. So if you want to explore reclaiming history and documentary more, I really recommend checking out our ebooks objective realities, the art of creative nonfiction, which you can purchase from our website at subjective realities.com. So where do you go from here um, I actually think that luck may go on teak wood pair really fantastically with the British mini series, this is going to hurt which you can watch on CBC gem in Canada, it's on AMC plus in the US and on BBC iPlayer in the UK. And that would be a great thing to watch while you're waiting for like Mega antique, or as a double feature if you're able to catch like make on tick. And so this is going to hurt is actually the story of a junior doctor played by then wish on it's based on a story of a real life person who is no longer a doctor and wrote series. And it's about the ways in which this doctor gets pushed into shitty situations because of how the hospital is run, which lead him to be bad at his job. And part of the where the story pivots is that there's an incident early in the series where you know, he's working double shifts, he hasn't slept. And this you know, he shouldn't be at the hospital, but there's no one else to cover for him. And in the process, he makes this big mistake, which could be career ending. Fortunately, the patient survives, but there are complications. And the show really looks at how the the NHS and the way that the hospitals are run in the hierarchical system is really bad for Doctor mental health that also have that then leads to problems patient outcomes, and although this is a fiction series, based on the writers own experiences, I think it's it deals with a lot of the same ideas and, and, and frustrations that Lac Megantic deals with. So if you want to listen to our episode on that, where we dig into that, that's bonus episode 25 it's available to members only to become a member, you can go to seven dash ro.com/join. When you become a member, you'll get access to our entire archive of podcasts, including our members only podcast so we've only got the last six months of podcasts are free to everybody. But then there are a bunch of members only episodes that are more recent that are only for members only. And then anything older than six months again is is only available to our members. Next week on the podcast, I'll be talking to Sam green about his new documentary 32 sounds and how he's bringing film to a live theater audience through a genre he describes and has helped invented called Live documentary. There is a substantial section in our ebooks objective realities on live documentary that includes an interview with Joe beanie who has collaborated with Sam green on their film 1000 thoughts and was heavily influenced by Sam green for his own live documentaries. To find out more about the creative nonfiction season, go to seven dash ro.com/creative nonfiction pod. You'll find links to all the episodes and show notes as well as info on all of our ebooks on documentary. I'll also put links to that in the show notes. If you'd like to get in touch with me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at B West Cineaste that's BWestCINEASTe. You can find seven throw on Twitter and Instagram at seven ro s e VENTHROW. You can also email me at contact at seventh dash ro.com That's contact at seven T H dash r o w.com. If you enjoyed the episode, I would really appreciate it if you would rate and review the podcast. It helps other people find us and pushes us one step closer to our goal of being indexed on Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks for listening
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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