Three Short Films from the National Film Board’s Tremplin Project
Do most Canadians realize the singular cultural achievement that is the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)? I think not, at least not in comparison with foreign notables (including Pablo Picasso) who’ve been praising the Board’s contributions to human understanding since its beginnings.
To add to its credit, the NFB has been sponsoring unique projects designed to encourage the participation of all Canadians. One of the more recent initiatives is the Tremplin program, a competition designed to grant a voice to members of minority francophone communities.
The results are exquisite. These short films?windows into this culture that lives beside and around us?are so sincere and authentic that they create a vicarious experience very close to living among and observing these people in person.
These three films come from Acadian communities in the Maritime provinces, and they cement my belief that these people are not only close to superhuman, they are, as said of the pygmies in The Gods Must be Crazy, “the sweetest little buggers in the world.”
Film: A Sunday at 105
Director: Daniel Leger
It’s really so simple: a sense of humour, a delight in simple pleasures, and a commitment to looking after one’s self all conspire to create not just a long life but a long, happy life.
Aldea, a 105-year-old great-great-great-grandmother, is phenomenally chipper and spry, as tranquil in her acceptance of her impending death as she is adamant that America is getting too big for its britches. A deeply religious Roman Catholic, she nonetheless insists that hell doesn’t exist. Would that we could all achieve such length of days coupled with such blessedness.
Film: They Had Thirteen Children
Director: Anika Lirette
When Madame Lirette of southeastern New Brunswick began having children she was puzzled to note that they didn’t begin talking or walking at the normal age, even though they had been healthy babies. While a few of her children developed normally it was clear that she and her husband were going to continue having children with mental challenges. Since the church forbade birth control it was not an option to simply stop getting pregnant.
The Lirette’s children were born with phenylketonuria (PKU), a condition that, in greatly simplified terms, prevents the metabolizing of the amino acid phenylalanine, which builds up and causes brain damage. Nowadays all babies are tested for PKU before being sent home from the hospital, and if the condition is detected the child is placed on a lifelong strict diet to avoid disability.
Madam Lirette of course knew none of this but she loved her children and cared for them tenderly and without complaint. She and her husband are spectacular evidence that happiness can be unconditional.
Film: The Trap
Director: Lina Verchery
If you’ve ever lived among Acadians — the descendents of peasants from the north of France who settled in the Maritime provinces in the 17th century– you probably can’t imagine a more incongruous neighbour than a monastery filled with shaven-headed, purple-robed Buddhists. But Verchery makes it all seem so natural, finding the common ground between the two solitudes: lobster fishermen and monks striving to let go of desire. Gently placing egg-bearing female lobsters back into the ocean thus becomes as mindful an act as group chanting. It’s beautiful to see how the fishermen accept a Buddhist philosophy that must have initially appeared absurd to them.
The films of the Tremplin program manifest nine of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing.
1) It is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) It stimulates my mind; 4) It harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda; 5)It provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor; 6)It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 7)It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 8)It renews my enthusiasm for positive social action; and 9) It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.