In her movie Le Semeur, or The Sower, director Julie Perron portrays the artist and gardener Patrice Fortier. When some years back, Patrice moved from the city to the countryside, he had the vague idea to link his artistic work to agriculture. Soon, he discovered his big passion: seeds. He followed it and started to dedicate himself to growing almost forgotten herbs and vegetables, some on the brink of extinction. Trading their seeds, he began to preserve the diversity of heirloom breeds. Julie Perron takes us on a journey into Patrice’s magical life. In her highly sensitive and intense way, she shows how Patrice puts all his creative power into the plants and how in the end gardening itself seems to become an art form.
While his extraordinary connection to nature is undoubtable, Patrice also exudes the air of an elegant city-dweller. He is a “gentleman farmer,” as Perron puts it. A protagonist with humor and depth, poetry and intellect, style and nonchalance, Patrice is, without a doubt, a treasure for every documentary filmmaker. Not only was Perron lucky with her protagonist — Patrice couldn’t have found a better translator for his work either. Perron has created a work of art that tells a simple story using beautiful pictures and few words. It never gets lengthy and touches the audience in a very pleasant and refreshing way.
The message the two carry goes far beyond marking the importance and the beauty of protecting nature’s diversity in times of wide spread mono-cultures. Le Semeur shows the fruits of silence, which most of us, in our ever more hectic lives, don’t see anymore. It tells of the rich harvest of a life free from the fear of the unplanned.
We sat down with Julie Perron – read the interview below.
CFL: Patrice seems to be an extraordinary person. How did you meet him and how did the idea arise to make a movie about him?
Julie: Actually, I didn’t plan to make a movie about Patrice. My plan was to make a mosaic film with many participants from all over the world. The idea was not really clear yet but I knew I wanted to travel and that it should be about food. While I was searching for interesting people, I got to know Patrice through a mutual friend. I immediately liked what he did and I wanted him to become a part of my movie. But then he fascinated me so much, I stayed with him and accompanied his work for four years.
CFL: Tell us a little bit about Patrice. He is a gardener and he is an artist. How does this fit together? How does he live that?
Julie: That’s not an easy question. Before, Patrice was an artist in Montreal and then he decided to go to the countryside to start this garden. He wanted to connect art and agriculture. Now he tries to find a balance. When he works in the garden, he thinks a lot about all the art projects he has in his head. For example, he has this idea about doing a vegetable market, on which every vegetable lies in a glass vitrine that you can observe like artwork. But in the end he doesn’t really manage to always realize his ideas. The garden and his plants are like his children! He invests all his time and energy into them. That’s why he was so happy to participate in the movie. You have to know, he is really creative. During shootings, he created many artistic situations.
CFL: …like the one with the wig made out of Angelica flowers?
Julie: Yes! There are many of these Angelica plants in his garden. They are quite big and they stand in his garden like women with elaborate wigs. He looks at them and starts to dream. One day he decided to make a wig for himself, too, like the one from a bunch of Angelica flowers. And when he walks through the garden with the flower wig on his head, the wind essentially does his work. It allows the seeds to fly through the air. It not only looks beautiful but also has a message: nature works on its own, we don’t always need to push it.
CFL: A lot of people who move to the countryside and drastically change their lives in such a way had an experience that made them do it. Do you know what drove Patrice?
Julie: Yes, for him it was something very personal. Someone very close to him died in a tragic way. He dreamed already long ago of going out and doing agriculture but then this sad experience made him really do it. Also, while still alive, the person that he lost dreamt about him one night and told him: “I saw you as a gardener.” It was when he was still young. But Patrice always had a connection with nature. Since the 80s, he already had a Guerilla garden in Quebec City. Then he did an agriculture course. It was there he discovered his passion for seeds and he wanted to immerse himself deeper into the field.
CFL: It must be a really calm life on the countryside, and much more silent than in the city. How was it for you to spend so much time there? Did it influence you as a person or a filmmaker?
Julie: First of all it was a big pleasure. Before I was always a bit of a ‘city girl’ and through the work I discovered a connection to nature inside myself. I think it’s important to have this connection. And indeed, the relationship between sound and silence is very interesting on the countryside. There are actually many sounds in nature that I tried to bring into the movie.
CFL: Yes, the sounds in your movie are really very impressive, atmospherically. They take you into another world…
Julie: I wanted the audience to enter Patrice’s head. I wanted to let them hear what he hears, and allow them to feel the sensation of the wind and insects, and everything present. We also mixed the sounds with music, but in a very subtle way. One time, we even made music with seeds! It was at a point where we didn’t have any money. It just happened by chance. Patrice put his hands into a bag of seeds, and that sounded so nice. So we tried it out with other kinds of seeds, and in the end we had a seed party!
Another interesting point was the relationship between speaking and silence. My earlier films were always about information, which is why I needed many words. Le Semeur was more about feeling. While shooting the movie I understood that I had to connect with Patrice in way other than with words. Anyway, there is no speaking in the movie before minute 4:38. I know, this is not good for TV!
CFL: So, what kind of place is Kamouraska? Where is it and what kind of climate does it have?
Julie: Kamouraska is a region with a bunch of villages, about 400 km northeast of Montreal. It’s very windy there, so the snow doesn’t last in the winter. In summer, it can be quite warm, around 25 to 30 degrees. For many vegetables, these are good conditions. Traditionally the region was a vegetable farming area, but now there are mostly industrial milk farms. And corn, lots of genetically modified corn. That is why Patrice cannot cultivate corn, because of the cross-pollination. The seeds would be ruined immediately.
CFL: And with the seeds, Patrice sustains his modest living, right?
Julie: Yes, he lives in the city three month of the year – from January until the end of March. There, he goes to trade fairs and sells his seeds. His customers are very interesting, people of all ages. But now young people are especially interested in these topics, such as heirloom seeds and organic food… there is a growing consciousness in society about these things. There are a lot of urban gardens in Quebec now, too. And by the way, we also have a food lab! With a restaurant and a gallery. People want to know where food comes from.
CFL: How is food culture in Canada? What kind of cuisine do you have?
Julie: The cuisine of Quebec is a mix of French and old Native American cuisine. The natives substantially influenced the French cuisine while helping the French people to survive. They showed them how to grow certain vegetables and how to cook them. We are just about to rediscover this special cuisine. But apart from that of course, there is also lots of fast food, like at our neighbors.
CFL: And your own eating habits? Did making the movie influence you at all?
Julie: Not so much. I always ate well, and don’t like fast food. One time, when I was a child, I tried Coca Cola and had to cry. It was terrible! I take care of myself and love to cook. I was even cooking on the set. On the shooting schedule, meal times were written down, because I think it is very important to come together and eat. If somebody doesn’t want to eat, he is fired! I don’t trust people who don’t like to eat.
CFL: Finally: Would you say that Patrice is political in a way?
Julie: Yes, in a way he is. But he is not the kind of person who would lead demonstrations. He is acting locally while thinking globally. He is just doing it. He doesn’t need to shout and scream. I hope that the movie can scream for him a bit. A movie cannot change the world, of course, but it can maybe inspire some people. And in the end, this is how we can change the world, by each one of us doing little things.julieperron.net, berlinale.de