Miryam Charles: film, her way

Atna Njock

Miryam Charles’ films travel the world, garnering awards at prestigious festivals. And yet, when the director is asked what she is most proud of, she says she is simply happy that she didn’t abandon her ambition to make films. A portrait of a persevering director on a unique path.

For as long as Miryam Charles can remember, film has been part of her life. “It’s really a story of family and sharing, because we watched a tremendous number of films together, often American films on TV dubbed into French,” she says in a phone interview.

A tribute to loved ones

The close ties between Miryam Charles’s family and film have evolved over time. Now they are simply part of her films.

“In part I pay tribute to my family and people who are not often represented in Québec cinema,” she explains. “I want to show that we have Haitian origins, but also that we are Québécois and part of the society. It’s simple: I portray some of what I know and what is important to me.”

Simple, says the 36-year-old director, and yet people tried to convince her that audiences would have a hard time identifying with Haitian characters. “I have identified with films that have no relationship to my life: films set in Russia, Japan, the future. Art is open to everyone.”

And Miryam Charles doesn’t try to address communities, but rather to touch the general public with a film’s universal dimensions. Her films, including Second Generation, A fortress (Labocine grant — Imagine Science Film Festival in New York), Drei Atlas (special mention – Festival du nouveau cinéma, best art or experimental film award – Rendez-vous Québec cinéma, best experimental short – Cinema on the Bayou in Lafayette) and Thoward the Colonies, make direct or indirect connections with her Haitian origins, but are above all poetic, sincere works that do not revolve around language, social class, or skin colour.

Deuxième génération par Miryam Charles

Second Generation by Miryam Charles

Aside from the issue of diversity on the screen, Miryam Charles had a number of grant applications turned down before being able to work full time on her films. “In film, every path is different,” a professor told her when she was at school. And Miryam hung on to that idea.

An instinctive process

The artist’s unique character does not lie solely in her confidence to flout standards. Her approach to her short films is unusual. Regularly carrying a 16 mm camera with her, she films her surroundings, then keeps the product of her shoots in a bank of archives.

“When I have an idea for a story, I record the entire soundtrack first, so dialogue, narration, and sound,” she explains. “I do all the sound editing, and after listening to the soundtrack for a certain amount of time, often in a loop on the metro or elsewhere, I start overlaying the images I had put aside earlier.”

The visual aspect, which she considers almost secondary in her process, is nonetheless polished. The effect of her 16 mm camera does wonders for her images, making them rich and textured and offering a quality of light that is rarely seen in films today.

Project to project

With many films in the works, Miryam Charles is doing her best to advance despite the pandemic. Her most recent short film, Chanson pour le nouveau monde, which received support from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ), should be released in the coming months. “It’s a short I started filming without realizing it during a trip to Scotland two years ago,” the filmmaker says. “I shot a few images, I didn’t think about it much, then maybe a year later, I had the idea for a story of a Haitian family that decides to buy a castle in Scotland.”

The CALQ’s grant offers significant added value to her short film. For the first time, she has hired a composer, Romain Camiolo, for the film’s soundtrack, as well as an administrative resource. “It gives me a chance to collaborate and offer fair pay,” she says. “And having a team will only make the project better.”

At the same time, the director is working on another short film and on a supernatural fictional TV series, looking at voodoo, in addition to preparing her first feature documentary, a tribute to the life her cousin, who was murdered 10 years ago, could have had.

Proud that she persevered to carve out success, Miryam Charles is continuing on her unique and instinctive path and developing a vision of film that defies convention.

Learn more
Chanson pour le nouveau monde par Miryam Charles

Chanson pour le nouveau monde by Miryam Charles

You have received a CALQ grant and would like to share your experience or a testimonial? Write to us at com@calq.gouv.qc.ca.