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Claude Jutra

Director, Screenwriter, Editor, Cinematographer, Actor
(b. March 11, 1930 Montreal, Quebec - d. January 1, 1986 Montreal, Quebec)

Claude Jutra is perhaps best known to the public as the creator of Mon oncle Antoine (1971) — considered by many critics and Canadian audiences alike to be the greatest Canadian film ever made. His career extended over almost four decades from 1948 (when he began his lifelong collaboration with Michel Brault) until his death in 1986.

Jutra was only 19 years old when he won his first Canadian Film Award for Mouvement perpétuel (1949). In 1953, he wrote the first original Quebec television play, L'école de la peur, and the television series Images en boîte in 1954, before joining the NFB in 1956, where he directed the documentaries Chantons maintenant (1956), Jeunesse musicale (1956) and Rondo de Mozart (1956), and co-directed the influential A Chairy Tale (1957) with Norman McLaren.

Jutra's first feature, Les mains nettes (1958), was written by acclaimed screenwriter and filmmaker Fernand Dansereau and was originally presented as a four-part television series. In 1959, Jutra left for France, where he worked with François Truffaut on Anna la bonne (1959), based on a story by Jean Cocteau. He also worked briefly with Jean Rouch in Africa, directing a documentary about Niger called Le Niger, jeune république (1961), shot with a handheld Bolex. In the same year, he created one of the key films in the evolution of direct cinema in Quebec, La lutte, with Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière and Claude Fournier.

The bohemian counterculture of Montreal in the early 1960s was the backdrop for Jutra's autobiographical feature À tout prendre (1963). Jutra plays a discontented rambler who during the process of terminating an interracial affair with Johanne, a Haitian model, reveals that he’s gay. Shot in an improvised style reminiscent of the French New Wave, the film displayed Jutra’s fascination with free-spirited, poetry-over-narrative moviemaking.

Jutra's 1971 classic Mon oncle Antoine was named "the best Canadian film of all time" in critics' polls at both the 1984 and 1993 Toronto Festival of Festivals. Set in a small town in Quebec's asbestos region in the 1940s, the film is based on the childhood experiences of screenwriter Clément Perron and was adapted for the screen by Perron and Jutra. Mon oncle Antoine won 21 international prizes and eight Canadian Film Awards, including best feature.

His next film, Ka­mouraska (1973), based on the celebrated novel by Anne Hébert, is a lavish period piece constructed around the 19th-century heroine’s memories of a tempestuous and tragic love affair. A co-production with France, Kamouraska was radically cut for its initial release after the French producers decided it was too long — the result was lambasted as a disappointing follow-up to Mon oncle Antoine. It wasn't until 1993 that Jutra was able to make a director's cut, running 173 minutes.

Following his modestly budgeted drama Pour le meilleur et pour le pire (1975), Jutra fell out of favour in Quebec. After receiving repeated offers from the CBC, he moved to Toronto where he directed Ada (1975) and Dreamspeaker (1976), which won a Canadian Film Award. Like many of his Quebec pictures, Jutra's English-language films have a consistent thematic pattern: young people and their often traumatic pas­sage from innocence to knowledge — a theme that has frequently had nostalgic overtones.

Jutra and producer Beryl Fox attempted to film the probably unfilm­able Margaret Atwood novel Surfacing (1980). The failure of this production hurt both of their careers but Jutra returned to form with By Design (1981), a screwball comedy about a lesbian couple who are determined to become parents. This film won over many fans, including New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, who called it a "Lubitsch sex comedy stripped of the glamor but not the fun."

During the early 1980s, Jutra discovered he had Alzheimer’s disease. Having studied to be a physician, Jutra was acutely aware of its effects. While contending with symptoms of the disease, he directed La dame en couleurs (1984), his last film, which has been both admired and dismissed for its nightmarish storyline. In 1986, Jutra committed suicide and his body was found five months later in the St. Lawrence River — an event which may have been anticipated in the final shot of À tout prendre, where Jutra's character steps off a pier into the glistening river.

Since Jutra’s death, no one has questioned his successes, and his failures have been reconsidered. In a sense, his career par­allels the growth of Quebec cinema itself. He began as an amateur at a time when Quebec cinema was in its infancy. He participated in (and sometimes led) several of the principal developments in Quebec, including the traditional documentary and docudramas at the NFB; the germinal period of direct cinema; the first steps in the early 1960s toward independent feature production, and the later trend toward industrialization and large budget features.

Since 1993, the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television has presented the Claude Jutra Award at the Genies to the best director of a first feature, and in 1999, the Québécois producer Roger Frappier launched the Prix Jutra for Quebec film. Claude Jutra lives on as a benevolent and influential guiding spirit of quality cinema in Canadian feature filmmaking.

Film and video work includes

Le dément du lac Jean-Jeunes, 1948 (director)
Mouvement perpétuel, 1949 (director)
L'école de la peur, 1953 (writer; TV)
Image en boîte, 1953 (writer; TV)
Chantons maintenant, 1956 (director)
Jeunesses musicales, 1956 (director)
Pierrot des bois, 1956 (director; editor)
Anna la bonne, 1959 (director)
Félix Leclerc, troubadour, 1959 (director)
Fred Barry, comédien, 1959 (director)
Le Niger: jeune république, 1961 (director; co-editor with Edouard Davidovici)
Québec USA ou l'invasion pacifique, 1962 (co-director with Michel Brault; editor)
Les enfants du silence, 1963 (editor; narrator)
Petits discours de la méthode, 1963 (co-director with Pierre Patty; editor)
Seven Surprises, 1963 (co-director with Grant Munro, Norman McLaren)
Ciné-Boum, 1964 (co-director with Robert Russell)
Comment savoir..., 1966 (director; editor; narrator)
Rouli-roulant, 1966 (director; cinematographer; editor)
Au coeur de la ville, 1969 (director)
Wow, 1969 (director; co-editor with Yves Dion, Claire Gascon)
Act of the Heart, 1970 (actor)
Marie-Christine, 1970 (director)
Pour le meilleur et pour le pire, 1975 (director; writer; actor)
Ada, 1976 (director; writer)
La fleur aux dents, 1976 (actor)
Québec fête juin '75, 1976 (co-director with Jean-Claude Labrecque; editor)
Seer Was Here, 1976 (director; co-writer with Don Bailey)
Arts Cuba, 1977 (director; narrator)
The Patriarch, 1977 (director)
Two Solitudes, 1978 (actor)
The Wordsmith, 1978 (director)
Riel, 1979 (actor)
Surfacing, 1980 (director)
By Design, 1981 (director; co-writer with Joe Weisenfeld)
Un petit bonhomme de chemin, 1982 (director)
Till Death Do Us Part, 1982 (actor; TV)
Le bonheur d'occasion, 1983 (actor)
La dame en couleurs, 1985 (director; co-writer with Louis Rinfret)
My Father, My Rival, 1985 (director)