In his film Rebel, Pier-Philippe Chevigny takes a lucid and poignant look at the extreme right-wing groups that emerged in Quebec in response to the migration crisis of 2017. We spoke to the director Pier-Philippe Chevigny about the film, it’s politics and his future projects.
What inspired you to become so interested in political issues?
I was raised in a fairly politicized family, which played a part for sure. Also the college program I went to was very focused on political cinema. I was also very active myself as a student activist, especially during the big student strikes that we’ve had here in Quebec in 2012. I’m not sure exactly what draws me to political and social issues, probably the will for my films to be relevant, to be part of social debates.
Where you afraid of receiving backlash concerning your films from conserative community members?
Initially yes, but to be honest, short films have a very niche audience and, the fact of the matter is, Rebel wasn’t really seen in those circles. Since we won the Oscar-qualifying award in Tirana, the film has started to get a lot more attention so I would expect that to change at some point, but so far the reception was overwhelmingly positive.
Since you are from Quebec, what experiences or opinions do have with extremists groups from that area?
Well, Quebec is complicated because of the nationalist movement. It turns out the historical nationalist/separatist movement is quite left-leaning. Right-wing extremists tend overall to be federalists, they don’t believe in Quebec independence, and they oppose mass immigration. From my observation, whereas similar groups in the rest of Canada and in the US tend to be explicitly racist and base their discourse on white supremacy, Quebec’s far-right is less worried about race and more concerned with citizenship. One thing that’s quite unique to Quebec is the fact these groups tend to be quite family-friendly, taking their kids along with them during demonstrations against immigration, which is really what inspired me to write Rebel.
Do you believe extremism can go both right and left? If so, do you plan to make a film regarding leftism extremism?
Absolutely, and actually, when I started working on REBEL, I was doing just broad research on the rise of right-wing extremism and I did consider focusing on Antifa, the far-left movement that opposes right-wing extremism, oftentimes violently… I didn’t find the right story to tell on that specific angle, but I would definitely consider exploring it eventually.
How do you hope the film is perceived by conservative groups?
I think the situation depicted in the film is sometimes quite absurd. The militia group behaves quite contradictorily, by being loving parents on the one hand and showing no empathy for foreigners on the other hand. This is exactly what I’ve observed from groups like La Meute and Storm Alliance during my research. If any of their members watch the film, I would hope that they realize the absurdity of their own position.
How do you feel extremism in Canada compares to extremism in the United States?
Well, extremism in Quebec is vastly different from either due to the linguistic and cultural differences. But extremism in English Canada is indeed quite similar, they’re very influenced by the American alt-right and often share the same theories of white replacement and white nationalism. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t see much difference between them in ideological terms.
Were you afraid of adding a suspenseful tone to political issues as it could be seen as glamourizing?
That’s a very valid point, and I do try to strike the right balance between suspense and a more subtle, distanced approach. The film has no music to manipulate your emotions. The first act especially is somewhat confusing, I don’t try to hold your hand and make sure you understand everything, etc. But in the end, I do want the audience to be engaged and to me, it would be a disservice to the political issues to make a film that completely ignores the audience’s emotions, that doesn’t try to reach out and connect. I want people to be moved, I don’t want them to walk out and be indifferent. And so I kind of accept that my films will have that inherent contradiction, with the pay-off being that more people are likely to talk about the issues at hand if the film also tells an engaging story.
Do you plan on making another film covering political issues that took place 2020? If so, which issue are you opting to pursue?
I’m not working on anything that took place in 2020 specifically no, but I am indeed working on more social issues: I am getting ready to direct my first feature film, a project called RICHELIEU about the exploitation of Latin American workers in Quebec’s farming industry. I also began writing a project about police brutality towards the LGBTQ+ community in Montreal.