#tbt Denis Villeneuve’s Documentary Roots

Denis Villeneuve with actor Jeremy Renner on the shoot of Arrival


By Pat Mullen

Among the excitement of this year’s Academy Awards race is the Oscar nomination for Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in the category of Best Director for Arrival. Villeneuve’s nomination—and his spectacular sci-fi film up for Best Picture—once again shows Canada’s strong documentary roots on the world stage. Before making big blockbusters like Arrival, gritty and realistic thrillers like Sicario, and powerful fables like Incendies, the director got his start making a doc. It naturally foreshadowed the unique voice Villeneuve would bring to these films.

Villeneuve scored a gig with the National Film Board of Canada after winning Radio-Canada’s Europe-Asia Competition in 1991. (The win also led to some work with Pour a suite du monde director Pierre Perrault on Cornouailles / Icewarrior.) For his prize, the NFB tasked Villeneuve with making a film about multiculturalism and he set fourth to Jamaica to shoot the ambitious docu-drama REW-FFWD.

This unnerving hybrid film tells the story of a photographer whose who lands in unfamiliar territory when his car breaks down in a Trench Town ghetto. As the unseen driver wanders the streets, speaks with the locals, and views the landscape through the lens of his camera, he puts aside his prejudice. In a work that evokes the films of Chris Marker, Villeneuve employs a mix of rapid-fire cuts and poetic interviews and photographs to create an essay on time and memory.

Rewind a little on today’s trip down memory land and watch the film below:

REW-FFWD, Denis Villeneuve, provided by the National Film Board of Canada