Only a handful of Canadian theatre directors have achieved name recognition on an international level. But mention Robert Lepage to artists or audiences nearly anywhere, and they’ll know exactly who you’re talking about.
The queer Quebec native shot to stardom in the mid-1980s with his sprawling, technically innovative offerings. Hundreds of theatres in Europe, North America and Australia have presented his shows. He’s even had a crack at the Olympics, staging the 2010 Vancouver Games closing ceremony.
But for all his success in performance, Lepage’s recognition as a filmmaker has been relegated largely to his native land. Though critically well received, his films have failed to garner international audience attention on par with his stage work. It’s impossible to say precisely why, but perhaps there’s something about his films that just resonates better with Canucks than anyone else.
One of his champions has been the Toronto International Film Festival, which premiered his films Triptych and Far Side of the Moon (both based on earlier plays). In honour of his being named this year’s recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize, the Lightbox will host a retrospective that includes rarely seen gems Le Confessional (his debut feature about the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess in Quebec City), Le Polygraphe (an adaptation of his play about a woman starring in a film that explores a real-life murder) and Nô (about a Québécoise actress in Japan during the 1970 FLQ crisis).
The event gives stage and screen enthusiasts alike the chance to contemplate intersections of the two mediums. Just as Lepage’s performance works often incorporate film and video elements, his films often have a deeply theatrical quality.
“Lepage really sets himself apart from other filmmakers by the freedom with which he approaches his art,” says programmer Magali Simard. “Also, there’s a technical versatility to his work that is staggering. Whether it’s on film, onstage or through installations, he’s an artist who’s consistently breaking new ground intellectually and technically. It was a great opportunity for us to showcase him at a key moment in his career.”