“Rebel” is a short film, which was directed by Pier-Phillippe Chevigny. He is a filmmaker from Montreal, Quebec and his film projects mainly deal with sociopolitical subjects, as his impressive short “Rebel”. It was inspired by the flow of illegal immigrants, who flooded into Canada from the US in 2017 and were attacked by Quebec’s right-wing groups. The main character Alex, a six-year-old boy from Quebec, isn’t aware of this situation. Only when his father takes him into the forest to join a group that hunts illegal immigrants, little Alex knows that something is wrong and he has to rebel. We wanted to discover why the Pier-Phillippe chose to make a film about immigration, and what his intention in making the film was. We found this out and other interesting facts about this award-winning short when chatting to Pier-Phillippe.
What exactly did inspire you to make a short film about this complex topic? Was it a specific story/person that you heard/met or the whole situation in general?
All of my films are inspired by social issues: usually, I’ll do very broad, general research on topics that I think are interesting or relevant to the times. In this case, I was worried about the rise of right-wing extremism in Quebec. For the past 5 years or so, we’ve seen the arrival of several vigilante militia groups, such as La Meute and Storm Alliance. They reacted a lot to the migrant surge we had in 2017, where about 40 000 people crossed the border into Quebec to avoid deportation from the US and to ask for asylum here. So it wasn’t exactly anyone in particular, but really the political situation as a whole.
Addressing sensitive, socio-critical topics in a film brings an extra layer for critique. Is it difficult for you as a filmmaker to speak about political issues, because you know you are immediately exposed to attack?
So far, there hasn’t been that much criticism coming from the right, perhaps unsurprisingly, as short films tend to have somewhat of a niche audience. I know for sure my films are never going to be entirely consensual, but at the same time, I try very hard to inject nuances and subtleties. The right-wing militia is not portrayed as Evil Neonazis: they’re sensitive, they appear to be decent, loving parents. At its core, it’s first and foremost a story about empathy, which I think everyone can relate to regardless of their political opinions.
You tell the story through the eyes of a child. Why did you decide to do it this way?
The inspiration came from a newspaper article that covered the first big demonstration by La Meute, one of the most popular right-wing groups from Quebec. It used the picture of a six or seven-year-old boy that was waving a flag with La Meute’s logo on it. I thought to myself: Why would you bring your children to a demonstration against immigration? That sort of family-friendliness seemed absurd in that context. But I also remember thinking that the boy probably didn’t understand all the political implications behind the movement. He was most likely just following his parents, he probably never got to question the ideology. I thought it would be powerful to make a film about a kid raised in that environment, who doesn’t understand the politics, but then who witnesses something that triggers his understanding. That’s what REBEL is about: a “moment of realization”, and the film is shot in a very specific way so that the viewer really goes through the same process of slowly piecing it together and figuring out what’s happening.
What was especially important to you when choosing the actors? Especially when looking for a young actor like the six-year-old Edouard B. Larocque. How do you prepare a kid for such a multi-layered role?
Most scenes in the film are shot in continuous long takes, and this type of scene is a technical challenge and requires several takes to pull off. I knew the casting would be incredibly important because I wanted a child who was really young but wouldn’t get tired after 8, 9, 10 takes. The thing about child actors is, oftentimes you can tell when they don’t really want to be actors: it’s just their parents pushing them. It was really important to me to work with a child who actually wanted to be there and genuinely enjoyed himself, to make sure he wouldn’t give up after a handful of takes. We auditioned 40 boys and Edouard was by far the most enthusiastic. He was evidently very happy to be there, he was only 6, yet mature enough to understand the process and he was really talented, so it was a no-brainer. As for preparation, we worked with an amazing acting coach, Ariane Castellanos, who made sure he was ready even though he had virtually no prior acting experience.
Can short films like Rebel convey such serious complexes just as well as long documentaries or reports?
Well, yeah of course. It’s probably more of a challenge for sure to be able to tackle very complex issues in just a few minutes, but I think it’s possible. As to whether or not it can have any kind of social impact, that remains to be seen. Short films do not have the same audience as features… but then again, with the internet and things like Vimeo Staff Picks, that tends to change. Short films can now obtain thousands of views and that, of course, makes it more likely that a film’s ideas may spark a debate, or incite change.
What do you hope the audience will take after watching Rebel? What is your main intention?
I certainly wanted to raise awareness on the rise of right-wing extremism, and I wanted to challenge the perception that Canada is devoid of racism. But I think I also wanted to show a glimmer of hope. The kid in the film is certainly a metaphor for the next generation and of my own faith in their ability to overcome the problems that we can’t solve right now. I certainly am more progressive and open-minded to immigration than my parents were, and I’m sure my children will also be more open-minded than I am. Social change takes time, but from the way I see it, there is hope.