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Stéphane Oystryk // franco-trouble(film)maker
by Aaron Zeghers // Published to Cineflyer // October 4th, 2011
For the month of October, Cineflyer is featuring the work of Winnipeg’s Stéphane Oystryk.
Oystryk is a Franco-Manitoban filmmaker from Winnipeg’s french district, St.Boniface, whose early works dealt with adolescent love and longing. Oystryk’s more recent films have explored his Francophone roots while living surrounded by “English” Canada. In his most recent film, Oystryk delves into the greater problems he sees within the St. Boniface community, Winnipeg’s french quarter.
This film is 177, boulevard Dollard. It incited both accolades and criticism from Winnipeg’s francophone community. The film simply began as a documentary piece on Oystryk’s grandparent’s former home, of which he has many fond memories.
“The film is basically about my grandparent’s old house and how it’s deteriorated under new ownership since their passing. What happened was that the person who bought the house decided to make it into a rental property. You have to understand that this house was meticulously maintained and should definitely be a permanent residence (in my mind at least). Anyways, after a mere 3 years, the house has slowly started falling apart. I lived so many happy moments in that house that it really hurt me to see it so disrespected,” writes Oystryk in an interview with Cineflyer.
After some research, Oystryk was shocked to find that over 70% of residences in St. Boniface are for rent and almost 40% of households had an average income below the poverty line. As a result, Oystryk decided to make a film for the Winnipeg Film Group‘s 90 Second Quickie filmmaking challenge that illustrated his view of St. Boniface. As he says in the film, “St. Boniface is for rent. St. Boniface is in decline. St. Boniface is slowly dying.”
Once the film was released, it quickly circulated around the Franco-Manitoban community, and even the city councillor for St. Boniface Daniel Vandal got wind of it.
“The film struck a chord with the community and I kept getting emails of support from people who’d experienced the same thing as I had. Who’d seen beloved houses fall prey to investors looking for rental properties,” said Oystryk.
“Before I knew it, CBC television and radio and the local French paper were trying to interview me about the film and I was sort of thrust into a public debate about the changing face of St. Boniface. Of course, our city councillor was denying that anything was wrong in St. Boniface, that investment in the community was as high as ever (all of it in condo development however). My point was that with such a high rental rate, the community was being weakened. With so many people just “passing by” and not investing themselves into the community for the long-term, it could only mean more degradation of the kind I’d witnessed at my grandparent’s house. It also meant that the community would lose some of it’s “tight-knit-ness” and its Francophone character.”
Oystryk is currently writing a feature-length version of his short film FM Youth which addresses the disconnect that Francophone youth feel in connecting to their culture and especially to the organizations that are said to champion their culture for them.
“I’m obsessed with my community and my cultural identity. I’m Franco-Manitoban and I find that my community sort of exists in a cultural vacuum. Yes, we get tons of government cash to run non-profit organizations that promote our ‘culture’, we have our own advocacy groups, economic planning institutions and our own school divisions. However, I find that the current image of the Franco-Manitoban community has been fabricated and monopolized by these government sponsored institutions instead of by the people themselves.”
Oystryk says that these Francophone institutions promote a clichéd and out-of-date image of what a Franco-Manitoban is, which makes it hard for people – and youth specifically – to feel connected to their heritage.
“We’re all taught that our heroes are the Voyageurs, Louis Riel and Gabrielle Roy, but they haven’t been around in forever. I’ve never trapped beaver pelts, I’m not even Métis as far as I know and I find Gabrielle Roy’s novels really boring. That’s not to say they didn’t contribute, but if you want a culture to stay relevant it has to grow with the times. You have to be able to recognize yourself in that culture’s expression in order to be able to say, ‘I exist!’”
“I’m attacking the notion that the easiest way to sell French to Franco-Manitoban youths is to promise them that they’ll have great bilingual jobs instead of making an effort to instill a real contemporary sense of identity and cultural pride within them. And I’m trying to talk about the changing face of Saint-Boniface as a neighbourhood,” says Oystryk.
One film that really inspired Oystryk to begin thinking critically of his neighbourhood was Rémy Huberdeau’s Love Letter to Saint-Boniface. While he has great admiration for this film and filmmaker now, his initial knee-jerk reaction towards seeing this film was negative since it criticized St. Boniface much like his recent films do.
“I felt targeted because I’d bought into what the community had stood for until then. His autobiographical story of a lesbian woman at odds with her community’s prejudiced views really got me thinking and further influenced me to make a ‘no holds barred’ film about my community.”
Both Oystryk’s 177, boulevard Dollard and Rémy Huberdeau’s Love Letter to Saint-Boniface will be playing as part of the Gimme Some Truth Documentary Forum. They are part of the “St. Boniface Shorts” program which plays at the Cinematheque on Sunday, Oct. 16th at 7 PM.