Born in Gentilly, Quebec, Céline Baril has a solid track record. A Fine Arts graduate of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), she has several major solo exhibitions to her credit. Her work, which mainly combined sculpture, photography and video, naturally led her to filmmaking. In 1989, she produced and directed her first experimental film, Barcelone (40 min., dialogue-free, Super 8 blown up to 16mm), a sensitive exploration of landscapes, both visual and sonic, and the people who inhabit them. “A great Quichottesque feat, from the Americas to the Iberian Peninsula. A reconstruction freely cobbled together from the history of the world.” 1
For more than a decade, the symbiotic relationship between her dual careers would serve her well. Barcelone was followed by two other experimental films. The Ant and the Volcano (52 min., 16mm, 1992) related the story of a young Chinese woman whose family seeks to immigrate to Canada before the handover of Hong Kong (1997) and who falls in love with a Chinese volcanologist based in Iceland. A fiction film shot in black and white featuring an all-Chinese cast of non-professional actors. Baril drew great inspiration from them and their stories to make this film, voiced-over in Cantonese. A finalist for the Rendez-vous du Cinéma Québécois’s André Leroux award, the film won the Quebec-Alberta prize. Then followed The Absent One (76 min., 16mm, 1997), a film based on one family’s photo albums found in a Paris flea market. Narrative played a prominent role in this first feature film, paving the way for her first fiction film, Games of the Heart (85 min, 35mm, 2001), which admirably captured the frailties and humanity of youth often portrayed as disillusioned. This feature film starring Karine Vanasse and Xavier Caféine was nominated for a Jutra Award for Best Cinematography and won the Best Foreign Film Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
Between 2001 and 2003, the filmmaker directed a few short-fiction films, including Giselle (15 min., 35mm, 2003) and Le décompte (9 min., DVCAM, 2001), whose script was co-written by a dozen students from the École d’Éducation Internationale. Baril prolonged the experience by spending a year in a high school in an underprivileged area of Montreal, returning with Life Times 538 (Digi Beta, 92 min, 2005), a first full-length, exceedingly timely documentary produced by the National Film Board. Over the course of an entire year, she singlehandedly filmed and recorded a handful of individuals, discretely bearing witness to daily life at the school. Neither maudlin nor defeatist, the film offers a sensitive, unexpected depiction of the world of public secondary education. Over the course of 90 minutes, Baril paints an original portrait of the school and introduces us to the people behind the anonymous mass of so-called “problem” students.
1. La femme à la caméra, Olivier Asselin, 24 images.