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About Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour
The first winners of the then newly announced Bell Canada Award for Video Art in 1991 were Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour, lively evidence of their standing in the field.
Robert Morin was born in 1949 in Montreal, and met Lorraine Dufour when they were students in communications at Loyola College there; they were partners and principle collaborators for ten years, and continue to work together on film projects. Morin began as a photographer, then turned to film in the late 1960s as a cameraman. Gus is Still in the Army (1980) was his first piece as a director, and Le Voleur vit en enfer/The Thief Lives in Hell (1984) the most notable – original – of the early videos.
The Coop Vidéo de Montréal was begun by Morin with Jean-Pierre Saint-Louis, Gilbert Lachapelle, and Yves Chaput, and then joined by Lorraine Dufour in 1977, its official founding date. Setting up a new, independent work model for other cooperatives that would follow, about a dozen members of Coop Vidéo each put $1500 towards the purchase of a portable video recorder and portable colour video camera, among the first on the market. They worked on each others’ films in all capacities at the start, but over the years Morin has tended to be director and cameraman while Dufour was editor and later, producer. Many of the works are signed jointly, for as Morin puts it, “in lots of projects editing is part of the concept. Editing is also directing” (Boyer et al. 21). He continues, “we complement one another rather well in general. I do the scripts and shootings, she does the administration and the editing. Despite the squabbles, I’ve never felt betrayed. On the contrary, I’ve always felt I was in a winning situation” (Boyer et al. 25).
Their works offer a unique junction of fiction and documentary modes; they go beyond cinéma-vérité but remain firmly based in fact. Collaborating with his subjects, Morin felt able to “give a voice to the people whose lives we wished to document” (Boyer et al. 51), what media arts curator Fabrice Montal calls “fictional immersion into the reality of his characters” (Boyer et al. 149). But Morin was also able to push that reality further, all the more when his subjects were unusual, as in Ma richesse a causé mes privations/My Riches Have Caused My Privations (1982) about an aging bodybuilder trying to make a comeback, Le mystérieux Paul/The Mysterious Paul (1983), a portrait of a retired knife swallower, and Toi, t’es-tu lucky?/And You, Are You Lucky? (1984) in which the cast is a family of dwarves. La femme étrangère/The Woman From Elsewhere (1988) is one of their finest works, a “documentary” portrait of Valero, a Brazilian woman torn between two worlds: that of the Yanomami Indians, who kidnapped her when she was a child and with whom she lived for twenty-four years, and the world into which she was born that rejected her as an adult because her children were Indians (Boyer et al. 164). Dufour’s eloquent voice-over becomes the voice of Helena Valero, herself, on the bank of the Orinoco River, musing about what happened so long ago while events of the past are re-enacted before us onscreen. As she says, it was a return to “the beginning of the world.”
Morin and Dufour’s earlier video works are collaborations built up from fragments, in which the story grows as it is shot and is then shaped through editing; with La réception (1989) the story came first (via Agatha Christie) despite the largely improvised dialogue and the unusual cast of ex-convicts. Subsequently, all the works have been scripted, and since Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur/Requiem for a Handsome Bastard (1992), Morin’s much-applauded feature shot on 35 mm film, he has continued to work on large-scale productions. Occasionally, he has produced more personal video pieces such as Yes Sir! Madame… (1984), a self-portrait as Earl Tremblay, “perfectly bilingual, completely schizo” (Boyer et al. 167), where he uses a long voice-over to structure the hours of footage assembled over several years. Morin has said, “For me, good, successful films – and there’s very few in the history of movies – are allegorical or metaphorical in nature, they don’t necessarily speak to you immediately. A good film is a film whose subject is not what you see at first sight” (Boyer et al. 65). For Morin, the use of voice-over offers viewers a particular freedom for interpretation in viewing the work (Boyer et al. 67), comparable to the private pleasure of reading.
In the end, these works are about self-discovery but also about risk: the risk of being misunderstood, the risk of death. Life is short. Morin and Dufour balance fiction and reality to achieve a depth, a longer view, a new chance for change and metamorphosis, seeking ever-greater challenges.
Retrospectives of Morin and Dufour’s work have been organized by La Manifestation internationale de vidéo et de télévision de Montbéliard (France, 1989), A Space Gallery (Toronto, 1991), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, 1991–1992), Cinémathèque de Toulouse (France, 1996) and Cinémathèque québécoise (Montréal) in 1999. L’Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma (The Quebec Association of Film Critics) awarded Quiconque meurt, meurt à douleur/Whoever dies, dies in pain the prize for best feature of 1998. In 2001 Morin received a career grant offered by Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (Quebec Council for the Arts) for achievement in a practice spanning over twenty years. Morin and Dufour have been awarded numerous prizes at festivals in Canada and Europe.