In 2020, Cecilia Araneda spoke with Jean-Pierre Marchant as part of a multi-year curatorial research project on Latin Canadian cinema. This is a brief extract of her research. The films on this page are viewable by the public to June 30, 2021.
Jean-Pierre (JP) Marchant is a Toronto-based Latino-Canadian artist who is increasingly interested in combining analogue and digital filmmaking practices. JP’s past work has explored themes such as the malaise of white-collar modernity, local histories, landscapes, and myths. He is currently working on a series of short films about his family, suburban dreams and nightmares. His films have screened at many festivals nationally and internationally. He lives in Toronto with his partner and their 5 year old cat, Reggie. | jpmarchant.com
CA: I first met you in 2017 in Canmore at the biannual conference of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance Society (AMAAS). You had taken some workshops at FAVA in Edmonton and had started to experiment in analogue filmmaking. Now, in 2021, you are finishing your MFA in Film Production at York University in Toronto. Can you talk about what called initially you to filmmaking as a second career and the path you’re on now?
JPM: From a very young age I was interested in film, so I grew up watching all kinds of movies. My parents weren’t really into highbrow art/culture or anything like that so of course most of the stuff that I watched were mainstream Hollywood films. Everything outside of the mainstream were things that I had to discover on my own, so I had to “make myself,” like so many other working-class autodidacts. I think a lot of people can look back at moments in their lives where they had an awakening, a “damascene moment” if you will, where they undergo a monumental conversion, or a veil is torn from their eyes. For me it was seeing Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line in 1998, when I was in my early twenties. This film came out around the same time as Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and many people I knew hated the Malick film because they couldn’t see how it was it a “war movie.” I, on the other hand, loved it. Watching The Thin Red Line was a transformative experience for me, not least because it made me think about the possibility of film outside the narrative conventions that continue to shape mainstream cinema. It wasn’t a war film; it was film about some individuals who are trying to make their way during a war, and it grappled with religion, spirituality, and death, with little in the way of character arcs, a climax, and so on. From there I discovered the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, which opened up foreign cinema to me, and then the Italian neo-realists, and so on. It wasn’t until I moved to Edmonton in 2012 that I had another awakening, when I discovered FAVA. Their introductory filmmaking course changed my life, and I haven’t really looked back since then.
CA: One of the things that interests me about you is how you identify yourself culturally to others as Chilean on your father’s side and Argentinian on your mother’s, but then also quickly clarify that you’re not part of the exile diaspora. You were also born in Montreal and carry a very French name, which must only add to the overall complexity of your identity. Can you speak a bit about how you identify culturally and the assumptions others make about you, and if you feel this affects your art practice?
JPM: Actually, my point is not saying that I’m not part of the exile diaspora. Instead I’m trying to make films that complicate the flat, universalist ideas about the Chilean diaspora that characterize a lot of scholarship and art on this subject. My work introduces a new set of “stories of exile” (or counter-stories, if you will) – ones that haven’t yet been represented by contemporary Latino/diasporic filmmakers. There are all sorts of nuances that, I think, tell a lot about a person based on their family history. To those not in the know, those nuances are often invisible, and outsider groups will often categorise people with a broad simple brush. Straddling multiple different cultures, I feel like my life has always been lived in the middle of things – in the cracks or perhaps on the margins. I can’t give a clear answer about how I identify myself culturally because I’ve inhabited so many cultures. I also think that trying to define things solely by “ethnic culture” is limiting. I like to think about linguistic culture, class, cultural capital, pop culture, and so on. Outside of my family home I have mostly been immersed in an Anglo-Canadian culture and because of that, lean that way. Even in our home there were some things that would be considered culturally “Anglo” while there were some things that were still very much “Latino” (i.e. our language). I attended a high school in Calgary that was the home of many new immigrants from Guatemala, Nicaragua and other places, and quickly realized that though I could speak Spanish with them well enough, in many other ways there were pretty big cultural differences between them and I. This helped me recognize some of the parts of me that were Latino, while at the same time highlighting the things that definitely made me Canadian-Anglo. It also reminded me how broad Latino culture is….there are so many countries that comprise what we call Central and South America. And though most share similar languages, their histories, cultures and demographics are very different. My French name adds a whole other layer of confusion for people trying to figure me out because there is nothing immediate that makes me French or Quebecois. My father did speak of a grand-father of his who was from France, but I have no way of knowing if that was true. My parents were of the hopeful post-Expo 67 immigrant generation that gave their children names native to where they lived, hence the “Jean-Pierre.” All of this to say that it has definitely affected my art practice. With my work I am interested in borderlands, interstitial spaces, liminal spaces, and things that grow in the ‘spaces in between’: between capitalist promises and suburban disappointments, urban landscapes and their hinterlands, personalities in conflict, and diasporic lives and the memories left behind.
CA: At the Canmore conference, they screened one of your films, Walking to Save-on (2016). It very quickly seemed to me like an ode to classic prairie analogue film, which derives from Guy Maddin’s influence in the early 2000’s by the editing style of the Russian constructivists from the silent film era. In comparison, your later film Parallax (2018), moves into a very different working aesthetic that is completely unconnected to Maddin, of considering the nature of seeing and the materiality of film. Can you talk a bit about your journey with analogue film in the years leading up to your MFA studies?
JPM: I found that the more I worked in a commercial model of filmmaking, the less patience I had for the “filmmaking industry” approach to doing things. I also work as a commercial editor and I don’t often get to touch things because in the digital world everything exists solely as a bunch of 1’s and 0’s on a screen. This has reinforced my interest in the physical interactions with objects that characterize analog work, as well as experimentation and improvisation on my own projects. Visually, I’ve always had an aesthetic that leaned toward film – I love the graininess of it, along with the pre-1990s visual world that went hand-in-hand with it (especially the 1940s, 50s and 60s). Finally, my earlier films were made when I lived in Lethbridge, Alberta. Due to the challenges of filmmaking there (no film society, no ready access to filmmaking gear, relatively few actors) – I found that the experience of working away on experimental analogue projects by myself worked for me in that particular place.
CA: Your current MFA work is an examination of the personal family archive. In it, your father becomes a very compelling character. In A Parent’s Wishlist (2020), you describe the barrier of poverty to potential, and ultimately a very South American journey of the generation before ours to elevate themselves from crushing poverty and attempt to enter the middle class – often symbolized by the acquisition of cameras, telephones and books, among other things. Can you talk about your motivation to examine your father’s life at this stage in your career?
JPM: Well, I think it’s a mix of things. My dad passed away in 2012 after moving back to South America, so in his absence I’ve been thinking more about his life and how it shaped mine. I’ve had this family archive in my possession for many years, but for a variety of reasons (fear, emotions, etc.) I hadn’t done anything with it. I really wanted to work with it but I didn’t have the faintest idea about how to get started. Until a few years ago I hadn’t really discovered filmmakers who work in a diaristic way to examine their own families, and it wasn’t until I saw the works of Philip Hoffman that I had inspiration at seeing someone else whose own works encompass the themes that I wanted to grapple with. I soon got into contact with Phil to see if there was some way I could learn from him, which led me to the York MFA program. Lastly, I’m not getting any younger! As I’ve become older I’ve realized that there are still some stories that I need to explore, if not for myself, then perhaps as an act of rebellion. Watching similar family stories from other filmmakers was becoming frustrating for me because I felt that most work focused on a particular narrative (of political exiles, for example) that was remarkably unlike my parents’ immigration experiences. This is something I’ve been wrestling with in my most recent work – telling my own and my family’s story within the larger context of migration, working-class aspiration, and global capitalism.