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Reviewed by:
  • Crosscurrents: How Film Policy Developed in Quebec, 1960–1983 by Constance Dilley
  • Jerry White
Crosscurrents: How Film Policy Developed in Quebec, 1960–1983. Constance Dilley. Quebec: Les Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2018. Pp. xiv + 302, $30.99 paper

Film policy is a crucial area of study for anyone interested in "small cinemas." Making sense of state support for feature filmmaking or attempts to privilege locally owned distributors by way of assuring locally produced films access to local screens might seem like a minor concern to someone whose focus is on the global powerhouse of Hollywood. But, for someone interested in national cinemas like South Korea's, Ireland's, or Mexico's, such considerations cannot be ignored, not if the task is to understand how "small countries" have managed to sustain filmmaking in the shadow of Hollywood.

Crosscurrents: How Film Policy Developed in Quebec, 1960–83 therefore makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of Quebec cinema. Attention to policy has long formed an important part of general histories of Quebec cinema, from Bill Marshall's Quebec National Cinema (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000) to Christian Poirier's massive, empirical, and two-volume study Le cinéma québécois (Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2004). Indeed, Poirier's second volume, Les politiques cinématographiques (Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2004), covers much of the same territory as Constance Dilley's book. [End Page 684] It might seem odd, then, that the same publisher would issue two books, albeit in different languages, on a subject that non-specialist readers might find arcane.

That is not the case at all. The fact is that, in contemporary film studies, there is little dialogue between French-language scholarship and English-language scholarship, even when scholars are talking about the same films, filmmakers, and film histories. This goes beyond the usual "Two Solitudes" lament about how nobody wants to read outside of his or her mother tongue. Rather, film scholarship in Quebec is defined by positivistic tendencies, so much so that methodological assumptions can feel as foreign to an anglophone scholarly readership as anything having to do with language.

In this way, Dilley's book is strongly in the anglophone tradition of interpretive narrative history, much of which is likely to be either excluded or dealt with in passing in French-language scholarship. Dilley's exhumation of a 1962 report–written at the behest of the Association professionnelle des cinéastes by filmmakers attached to the National Film Board–on the state of cinema in Canada, Quebec, and globally is a good example. "To presume that a group of filmmakers could be counted on to provide such an in-depth analysis in so many fields might be astonishing today," writes Dilley. "None had gone to film school; there were no such schools in Canada at the time" (41). The report comes to serve as an image of what made Quebec cinema so exciting during its emergence in the 1960s: a combination of intellectual curiosity and ambition mixed with a tendency to thrive outside of traditional hierarchies. By zooming in on such key historical moments and bringing them to life through detailed archival work, Dilley "fleshes out" Quebec cinema's emergence in a way that is not always true of more explicitly theorized or empirically minded scholarship on the same subject.

One other key aspect, if not the key aspect, of the emergence of Quebec cinema was the degree to which it rose more or less in tandem with the Quiet Revolution and the transformation of Quebec nationalism. Dilley does a good job of even-handedly (if mostly implicitly) evoking the transformation of the quasi-racial conception of Canadien français into the modern-territorial Québécois, and she is broadly sympathetic to the state-building project that got underway with Jean Lesage's Liberals and reached a high point with René Lévesque's Parti Québécois. It is clear throughout how key that state was to the cinema that emerged. But Dilley is also blunt about how the territorial imperative has not always been front of mind for Quebec cinema's builders...