KT: it's a long story and it goes back about twenty years. A writer in Montreal named Jeff Lewis asked me to have lunch with him and a brilliant director Francis Mankiewicz. He had an idea for a film called French Immersion, based on his sister-in-law who had just spent two weeks in a little town in northern Quebec studying French. In those days if you got a certificate in bilingualism it meant you got a raise.
At the time it went no further than a discussion and I never thought about it again until three or four years ago when I was asked to present Les Bons Debarras/Good Riddance, a film by Francis Mankiewicz. It was a very eclectic evening with a lot of smart folk. They told me that Francis' children, whom I'd never met, and their mother would be there and all of a sudden I had this flash of seventeen year earlier.
I said, “obviously I'm here tonight because of Bon Cop, Bad Cop, the first bilingual film made in Canada, but it's not the first time that anyone thought of making one.” I told them about our meeting many years ago then ended with, “Some tragic accident of history prevented me from being here tonight to talk about Bon Functionier, Bad Bureaucrat.” They all laughed and then I thought, “I should call Lewis and find out what he did about that film.”
I called him up and asked him if he remember French Immersion and whether he ever used it. He said it was just a title, so I asked him if he'd like to have lunch and we just started writing it. It took twenty years, but for seventeen we ignored it.
tV: When did it have its premier?
KT: It opened last week in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa and we waited for the end of VIFF to open here. It's at another film festival in Winnipeg on the 28th and then we'll see.
tV: What has the response been like?
KT: Very split. Both in English Canada and French Canada. In French Canada the critics have been very vitriolic. They think it's and unfair and antiquated portrait of Quebec, which I don't believe for one second. I've seen it with a lot of Quebec audiences and people laugh and have fun. Of course it's an exaggeration, it's a comedy.
It's not a scathing attack on anybody. We try to pick on and send up everybody. I think of it as my Big Fat French Lesson. That's really the tone I was after. That's not an attack on Greek Canadians or American families, that is a celebration of their craziness, of their love for each other, and their overpowering, emotion. Nobody said at the end of that film (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) that that was mean and they hate Greek people. Of course not. I guess if you make a movie where you don't piss anybody off it's very unsuccessful.
tV: What were some of the biggest hurdles you had to get over making this film?
KT: I think some of the earlier versions of the script were a little more racy, a little more exaggerated, but most of all, because it's got so many people in it. There are 24 principle roles which is ridiculous, especially for a first time director to try to play that out. It's like being on the Ed Sullivan show with 24 plates balanced on long sticks. How do you keep them flying. It was tricky making a movie with that many characters without it being sketchy, and to create a narrative and some sort of clothesline on which to hang all the action.
With that many people it's also a date juggling act. Most actors have a lot of things going on at the same time, they don't just do film. The logistics of putting together that many people in one place for any one time is a bit of a nightmare. When you look at the cast that we managed to assemble it's a pretty impressive group.
tV: Anything take you by surprise?
KT: Every day was a surprise because of the generosity of the cast and their absolute enthusiasm. It's a comedy and there are exaggerations clichés, and stereotypes, but to watch what these people could do with just the physicality and their attitude towards things was amazing. They brought so much to the table.
The worst part about the shoot was that many of the takes weren't usable because there was this idiot laughing in the background, and that was me (laughs). I'd be at the monitor with the headphones on laughing at the actors and how they took the lines and gave them a dignity and a humanity that probably was not worthy of the script.
French Immersion is in theatres now. Check your local listings for times.