I Missed “Polytechnique”

Earlier this year, Alliance Films released “Polytechnique “, a French-Canadian movie based on the 1989 Montreal Massacre at the École Polytechnique. Here’s the trailer:

It’s been a busy year, and I’ve been living in indie-film-starved Victoria, but I totally missed this movie. Based on a few reviews and the trailer, I’m sorry to have not seen it in the cinema. Wikipedia indicates that, outside of Quebec, it was released in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Did anybody see it?

Also, is this the first movie about the Montreal Massacre? It’s interesting that it took 20 years to produce–the incident seems like natural fodder for the docudrama treatment. Consider, by contrast, that we’ve already seen a few (several, even?) 9/11 movies.

One other note: Wikipedia says that “there were two versions of the film produced, one in English and one in French.” I wonder what that means. Did they shoot every scene twice?

Looking at the film’s financials, we see the classic problem of telling Canadian stories to Canadians. “Polytechnique” had a $6 million budget, and box office revenue of only $1.6 million. There’s more money to be made in DVD sales and broadcast rights (or whatever they’re called), but the producers are never going to recoup their costs.


  1. Aside from a few longer news stories, to my knowledge it is indeed the first “fictionalized” version of the Polytechnique shootings. There was a lot of opposition to the project when the news of the production first came out. It’s a sensitive subject that always brings up long discussions about hatred of women and feminism (the shooter intentionally killed women who were studying to become engineers). It took a popular young Quebec actress – the one who headed the project from the start – as well as a respected up and coming director to convince people that this was a good idea and that it was “important” to make this film.

    The entire shoot was bilingual, which means that every scene was done in French and then the actors would play it again in English (or vice-versa). It’s not super common in Quebec, but it’s been done before on other productions.

    And as far at the producers not recouping their costs, they never really do in Canada! In that sense Polytechnique was no exception. If Telefilm Canada and la Sodec (Quebec’s film board) did not finance movies, hardly any of them would ever get done in Quebec.

    There are a few exceptions though, such as the teenage romantic comedy I co-wrote in 2007, along with its sequel in 2009.
    Both movies were produced with money from private investors and sponsors, with some money from the Sodec for post-production.
    The first film made 2.4 millions at the box-office and the second one made 1.4.

    1. Thanks for that–very informative. Also, congrats on the cost recovery! I’ve also felt (though I have no proof) that Quebec’s internal film industry and audience is much healthier than English Canada’s.

  2. …and hence, perhaps, why there have been no other movies about the event? I can’t off hand think of movies about Tiananmen Square (also ’89) or Oklahoma City either. Maybe 9/11 is the exceptional one.

  3. Well, I think it also has to do with sensitivity. They couldn’t do at the time of Dawson or Columbine or 9/11 and so on, especially when it was already such a sensitive topic in Quebec. And they had to get a huge amount of funding together. Telefilm pulled funding on it at least once, before anteing up almost $4M in 2008.

    And it’s a sensitive subject. As much as I don’t want to say that the killer achieved anything, this and the Lady Godiva ride at UBC were enough to make me choose an Arts degree over engineering, no matter what the urging of all the adults around me. I could not see engineering as anything but a chilly climate.

  4. I was going to mention Columbine as well, but forgot. I would suggest that a U.S. mass killing is more likely to have a movie made about it, but then the absence of Oklahoma City would still be a mystery.

  5. I was studying Engineering in 1989. The year before, a group of us west-coast Engineers had been graciously and hospitably hosted during a conference by our friends at École Polytechnique. When the masacre happened I, like the rest of the country, felt shocked, apalled and sickened.

    Maybe it was a function of being a self-obsessed 20-something but I felt an especially deep connection to the tragedy. These people were my colleagues. These people, despite my speaking English and struggling to communicate in high-school French were welcoming, funny, and engaging.

    I tried to get involved in the campus activities to protest the violence and call attention to the latent, barely-hidden hateful attitudes towards women in our so-called enlightened society. And I discovered, abruptly, that as a male my participation was not welcome. This was not my tragedy. That stayed with me a long time.

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