Camerimage 2017

Iroquois on the football pitch

Interview with cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, CSC, about his work on François Girard’s film "Land of Souls"

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Land of Souls, the François Girard’s film, is a lyrical celebration of Quebec’s history through three vignettes into three of the province’s historical epochs during an archaeological dig on a football pitch. The images filmed by Nicolas Bolduc, CSC, create continuity in a film whose many plot twists and characters might leave the viewer a bit perplexed… (FR)
Nicolas Bolduc réglant un éclairage sur "Hochelaga, terre des âmes"
Nicolas Bolduc réglant un éclairage sur "Hochelaga, terre des âmes"

How did you approach this film ?

Nicolas Bolduc : My approach was always to try to do things simply on this film. We wanted the viewer to enter the story as gently as possible, without emphasizing the differences between the different epochs, by keeping a certain homogeneity in the editing and the lighting. An example is that a lot of the scenes were shot with a Steadicam, and therefore the camera was constantly in motion, even on scenes that weren’t action scenes.
The other common thread is that we used nature as our set, and all of the scenes in the movie, irrespective of epoch, are supposed to take place in nature. The mountain that Jacques Cartier called Montréal, the forest, and the river. We needed two months of scouting to find the right place, which is located near Mirabel, northwest of Montreal. Once we’d chosen the location, we knew that would be the common thread we were looking for. So we filmed a lot of things around the river, including the opening and closing scenes with the Indian prophet, the chase scene with the patriots, and other forest scenes in other parts of the film.

Une scène de "Hochelaga, terre des âmes"
Une scène de "Hochelaga, terre des âmes"

What about lighting ?

NB : I wanted to light the film as little as possible. I didn’t want to make the image too cinematographic… Some outdoors scenes, such as Jacques Cartier’s arrival at the Indian camp, were entirely filmed using natural lighting by basing ourselves on the very precise timing of the autumn sun. We were pretty lucky from a weather perspective, because at that time of year the weather changes extraordinarily quickly in Quebec. Furthermore, the following scene—when the Indian chief welcomes the Frenchmen—was originally supposed to be shot outdoors during the daytime. But a huge thunderstorm took us by surprise the following day and we had to settle on that indoor set, which made the mood a bit more cramped and suffocating…
Besides that, we tried to keep neutrality in the image as often as possible. In fact, only the colour red was exploited, but mostly only in the costumes, like a sort of common thread throughout the various epochs and different segments of the story. For example, there were the red kits of the footballers that echo the uniforms of the British soldiers, and Jacques Cartier’s costume which was a darker oxblood red.

How did you approach the landslide scene ?

NB : It was pretty hard to manage that scene. First, we shot the match scenes in the real stadium, but which actually has artificial grass. Then, we had to recreate a part of the stadium’s grass in a big enough place (a peat bog), with the hold and a mechanical device big and strong enough to hold the dozen actors that fall in at the right moment. Everything had to be spliced into the wide-shot plates of the real stadium.

Nicolas Bolduc sur le tournage de "Hochelaga, terre des âmes"
Nicolas Bolduc sur le tournage de "Hochelaga, terre des âmes"

The scene in the Walker house gave you the opportunity to work with low light…

NB : The base of that set was a real house, entirely decorated by François Seguin. In order to ensure even lighting for the four days we filmed that scene, I decided to entirely cover the house with tents on every window. I only used outdoor HMI lights, a little smoke inside, candles, and a few reflected LED SL1 panels indoors to illuminate a specific place or add a bit of light to a face. I find those LED panels really handy because they let you precisely dose the quantity and quality of lighting.

Nicolas Bolduc et un DMG Lumière SL1
Nicolas Bolduc et un DMG Lumière SL1

How did you shoot the chase scene in the forest ?

NB : Once we’d found the location, we agreed it would be very hard to shoot with traditional equipment (i.e., a crane), especially for the chase scenes. So, I decided to try a Cable Cam system in between the trees. In fact, I was surprised by how quick it was to set up : in a quarter of an hour, we were ready to shoot side-to-side and forwards-and-backwards tracking shots over nearly a hundred metres. We used this system quite often for all high camera movements (except when we were using the Steadicam), which also allowed me to use the anamorphic Hawk V-Lite lenses and the Alexa Mini that we used to shoot the entire film, which wouldn’t have been the case had I resorted to drones.

Why did you make that choice ?

NB : They are anamorphic lenses whose faults I really appreciate ! They give you a slightly imprecise image that doesn’t look like a postcard, especially when you use them at full aperture, as we did on this film…

(Interview conducted by François Reumont, and translated from French by Alexander Baron-Raiffe on behalf of the AFC)

In the portfolio below, some scenes of Land of Souls.