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Éléphant: The Memory of Québec Cinema

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--December 9, 2014.

In the twenty-first century, communication mediums have broadened the landscape of how we interact with information. In this modern age, we must be aware, as historians and as advocates of heritage preservation, of the opportunities available to us with emerging digital technologies. Nowhere is this more apparent that the successes seen by The Éléphant, an ongoing philanthropic project to restore and digitize Quebec cinema, preserving these artifacts today and making them available for modern audiences. Since its launch in November 2008, over 200 films have been restored, digitally remastered, and made available as pay-per-view experiences on the illico platform (https://illicoweb.videotron.com). As a philanthropic project, all proceeds from illico (aside from minor operating costs) are channeled to the rights holders and filmmakers. The value of Quebecor investment, so far, is $16 million. This represents a major undertaking, without which many Quebec movies would have been lost to time; many of these movies, previously in “precarious condition,” are increasingly made available on digital platforms.

2014 was an incredible year for the project, especially in terms of world recognition. Éléphant received invitations to prestigious film festivals the world over, such as the Cannes Classic Film Festival as well as the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon, France. The invitation to the Lumière Festival came with particular distinction, as they had contributed to the selection of movies for Splendeurs des restaurations 2014, consisting of the best restorations of the year. Éléphant's contribution, Le Bons Débarras (“The Good Riddance”), was the sole Canadian representative.

Another highlight from 2014 that leads directly into 2015 was Éléphant’s introduction of its own film festival -- “Éléphant CLASSIQ” -- at the Festival of New Cinema in Montreal. Opening on October 10, 2014, Éléphant CLASSIQ offered five diverse movies, restored for today's viewers. Three were drawn from its own collection of restored films, with one from France and one from the United States. The next edition of Éléphant CLASSIQ is planned for November 5-7, 2015, with Éléphant working in collaboration with the Faculty of Communications at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). More movies will be shown at the next CLASSIQ, including those from around the world.

On the digital frontier, Éléphant continues to work towards porting its restored library onto the iTunes service. This is a considerable undertaking, and the publicizing of this effort has remained low-key. This is due to the fact that the primary focus has been on Éléphant CLASSIQ. Another factor is the considerable investment that goes into porting a movie over to iTunes, which offers a worldwide audience that allows for anyone who can understand English or French.

“Our films are on iTunes in the U.S., but we haven't started to work on publicizing it as we have, out of 215 films restored, only 75 are on iTunes,” filmmaker Claude Fournier commented on the matter. “We have to add subtitles and re-encode them. It's a long process because many of those films have never been subtitled.”

As these multiple projects continue, restoration work on movies progresses as usual, though on a lesser scale than before. The Éléphant project remains a massive undertaking that puts Quebec cinema on the world map and works actively to preserve the heritage of Quebec cinema. To this day, Quebec cinema is vibrant, colourful, and multifaceted, and it is remarkable that Éléphant has done so much to preserve it.


Click here to visit Éléphant:
http://elephant.canoe.ca/

Kevin Armstrong, a student in public history at Bishop's University, interned with QAHN in 2014.