Michel Brault, only Canadian to win Cannes prize for best director, dead at 85

MONTREAL – Tributes were paid Monday to award-winning filmmaker Michel Brault, a pioneer of the cinema-verite movement and the only Canadian ever to win the Cannes prize for best director.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois lauded Brault, who died over the weekend, as she announced financial aid to expand a cinema special-effects studio.

“I want to salute his family, offer them all our sympathy and solidarity and, once again, underscore what a giant Michel Brault was — with all his talents and everything he left as a legacy,” Marois said at the offices of Technicolor.

The National Film Board posted, “in loving memory,” links to his work in French and English social media. So did the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The 85-year-old filmmaker died of a heart attack Saturday while visiting Toronto to receive an award.

It was just one more accolade in a career that saw Brault win a Governor General’s Award, a Canadian Film Award, and a lifetime-achievement award at the Prix Jutra.

He was a co-winner of the 1975 Cannes Film Festival’s best-director award for “Les Ordres,” a fictional documentary-style drama on Quebec’s FLQ crisis.

The film, based on real-life interviews, follows five people who are among the hundreds unjustly arrested and held without trial after the Trudeau government imposed the War Measures Act in October 1970.

Born June 25, 1928, Brault got his break at the National Film Board, doing camera and lighting work even before the federal body opened up its French-language arm.

It was at the NFB that he directed his first documentary, the landmark “Les Raquetteurs,” which broke ground with its unadorned cinema-verite (reality cinema) style that captured the true atmosphere of the moment.

He dropped the narration and replaced it with the sound of real-life events. The camera work was free-flowing. And his studio was a public event.

The 1958 film takes viewers into a snowshoeing festival — from the outdoor races, to a presentation by local dignitaries, to a night-time party featuring traditional music and a cameo appearance by guest of honour Maurice (Rocket) Richard, the hockey legend.

He also had a distinguished career as a cinematographer which included work on Claude Jutra’s 1971 film “Mon Oncle Antoine,” considered one of the best films ever to emerge from Canada.

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