Montreal-based Oscar winner Denys Arcand is one of Canada's most successful screenwriter-directors, whose intensely personal, challenging, and intellectual films have gained him a devoted international following. Arcand was raised in a strict Catholic home and spent nine years in Jesuit school. He produced his first film, the short Seul ou avec d'autres (1962), while studying history at the University of Montreal.
After graduation, Arcand went to work for the National Film Board of Canada where, between 1964 and 1965, he made a trilogy of short historical documentaries about the early explorers and settlers of North America. In 1970, he directed On est au coton, a feature-length documentary about abuses in the textile industry that was officially banned allegedly because of its "biased" point of view. Another politically oriented documentary - Quebec: Duplessis et apres - followed.
In 1972, Arcand directed his first feature, Une Maudite Galette, and in 1975 directed Gina, a story about a stripper and a film crew working on a documentary about the textile industry.
In The Decline of the American Empire (1986), a group of Quebecois intellectuals discuss the problems of sexuality, success, fidelity, intimacy and aging. A hit on the festival circuit and with critics and filmgoers in the U.S., the film won nine Genies, the Fipresci prize at Cannes and an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.
Jesus of Montreal was inspired by an actor (who auditioned for The Decline of the American Empire) who was portraying Jesus in a play being performed for tourists visiting the city's famed Mont Royal. The director was fascinated with the lives of these Montreal artists who made a living as biblical figures by night and in beer commercials and porno films by day. It reflects Arcand's view that "the Catholic hierarchy is completely opposed to Christ's purest teachings."
Arcand's film Stardom, a satire on fame, was the closing film at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. This marked the first time in over 50 years that a Canadian production was chosen for such an honour. The film went on to open TIFF in 2000, before its theatrical release.
Arcand was honoured for his film The Barbarian Invasions, a sequel to The Decline of the American Empire that featured the same cast, 17 years later. In addition to his Oscar win, Arcand won top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, French Cesars and Quebec Jutra awards.
On est au coton was made in 1970, but the National Film Board did not release it until 1976.