Martine Chartrand

photo_palmares07_03Martine Chartrand’s work is notable for its generous humanism, its social commitment and a remarkable global approach. These qualities are already apparent in her first film, T.V. Tango (1992). It proved her to be a filmmaker with a highly developed social conscience, whose classically inspired imagery carries a lucid and cogent message, full of real sympathy for the children she portrays.
T.V. Tango (1992). © NFB Black Soul (2000). © NFB
T.V. Tango (1992). © NFB Black Soul (2000). © NFB

However, it was in Âme noire/Black Soul (2001), her second short film, that she revealed the breadth and originality of her art. Abandoning drawing on paper and employing for the first time the demanding technique of painting on glass, Chartrand tackled the enormous subject of the history of Black peoples, depicting the Black Pharaohs of Nubian Egypt and the slave trade with the same brilliance, mixing on a single sound track the tribal music of ancient Africa and American jazz.

The simplicity of the film’s structure – a grandmother telling the history of her people to her grandson – gave the filmmaker the scope to travel in space and time, to move from Africa to the West Indies and then from the United States to Canada, to show the loneliness of the cotton fields, the slaves’ courage, suffering and rebellion, to let us hear the crack of the whip, the dignity of the singing and the deep voice of the Reverend Martin Luther King dreaming of brotherhood and a better future for his children.

This series of images interwoven with references that take us back to the origins of coffee, sugar and cotton, the collage of sounds and pieces of music as rich as the shimmering colours, come together to create a fresco, a broad panorama that encompasses both the famous and the nameless, kings and poor folk, old people and children.

Âme noire/Black Soul won twenty-two awards including the Golden Bear for best short film in Berlin, the Jutra for best animation film and the Crystal Heart in Indianapolis. In 2003, Chartrand immersed herself in another ambitious painting-on-glass film, MacPherson, inspired by a Félix Leclerc song. Once again she faced the challenge of history, tackling a film that required considerable research. The subject is Leclerc’s friendship with a Jamaican-born chemist, a jazz lover, who becomes the centre of a story that looks at the part played by Black raftsmen in Quebec shipyards, the comradeship between the races and the art that developed from it. MacPherson is another musical film that takes up and focuses on a number of subjects from the previous film.

MacPherson confirms the strength of her social commitment and is an example of cinema as a vehicle for history, fighting against ignorance and helping to build up a positive image of racial realities. In the world of Canadian animation film she is a shining example of integrity, willpower and perseverance.

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