At four storeys high and built like a 1.3-kilometers long arrowhead, The Wall in Fermont, Québec sounds like a building straight out of a YA dystopian novel… or an ominous barrier protecting humans from ice creatures in a certain fantasy series.
In reality, it’s home to thousands of miners that work in the Mont-Wright mine extracting iron ore.
It’s also what attracted Didier Charette to Fermont, and the backdrop to the music video he directed for CRi’s song Rush.
Now he’s been nominated for a Much Music Video Award as Best Director for his work.
“I had a documentary approach,” says Charette. “If you start googling about it, most of the stuff that’s been said about Fermont is pretty negative, so when I went there, it was important for me to show some kind of a positive side.”
Fermont is a 16-hour drive from Montreal. Only about 2,500 people live there, and each one either works at the mine or knows someone who does.
The Wall doubles as a community hall, triples as the police station, quadruples as a bowling alley and quintuples as a strip club. It was built in 1974, to protect against the harsh winds; since then a small village has been built in its shelter.
Charette says he doesn’t remember how or when he first heard about The Wall. “For me it was like an urban legend before I started digging into my concept (for the video).”
CRi’s manager contacted Charette the day before submissions were due for MuchFACT, a fund for new and established artists to record music or shoot videos.
Charette shared his idea and CRi was on board.
They received funding last October and in January flew up to Fermont to begin shooting. As with most creative projects, things don’t always go as planned.
Wrench in the plan
“My concept really changed when I got up there,” says Charette. Initially, he was was supposed to shoot at the mine and the strip club. “I wanted to shoot the parallel between people that live in The Wall and also work at the mine.”
Plans to shoot fell apart and Charette had to scramble to find a new idea. He only had five days in Fermont, but ended up calling the production company to stay for a sixth.
“A couple days before coming back, I still didn’t know what I was going to do, but the people were so nice and open that I just kinda thought, maybe I just portray what it is to be a man there in 2017.”
“The overall climate is job insecurity,” says Charette. “There was a possible strike when I was there and also the fly-ins/fly-outs have changed the atmosphere in town. Basically it kills the community aspect that was there from the 70s up til 5-10 years ago. The real Fermont residents are proud to be there and in the video it’s all about them.”
Once he found a new concept, then came the shoot, which brought on its own set of problems.
“With music videos, we’re dealing with small budgets, so it means little resources and little teams,” he says. He flew into Fermont with only one cameraman for a two-person camera.
On top of that, the wind and cold of a subarctic town made for an extra challenge.
“I flipped the snowmobile while my cameraman was filming with like a $50,000 lens on the camera. I crashed my drone, and I couldn’t find it because I was falling in snow neck-deep, so I ended up snowshoeing to find my drone in the middle of the night. It was pretty crazy shoot. It was hard mentally and physically.”
Originally from Hawkesbury, Charette says he’s always been fascinated by media, especially music and music videos.
“I would spend six hours every single day watching MusiquePlus, or MTV, or MuchMusic,” he says. “That was it. I don’t know why I was so stuck on them.”
He says it’s not really something that runs in the family: his mom is a hairdresser and his dad has worked in the service industry his whole life.
“I didn’t have any connections to the media, or music, or film,” he says. “At school, even though I knew I was interested in media arts, I always followed more of a science path until university where I completely flipped and I went into media studies at l’Université de Montréal.”
His first directing job was with Télévision Française de l’Ontario where he doubled as host of an Indie Canadian music show.
“That led to making music videos, commercials, TV shows as well,” he says. One of his latest endeavours was a show called Fabriqué au Québec, which aired two seasons on MusiquePlus and finished last winter.
He’s also associated with Roméo et Fils, a production company based in Montreal, which has had Canadian musical clients like Obey the Brave, Coeur de Pirate, and Simple Plan. Charette has also been freelancing for six years.
“I always try and shoot around Hawkesbury when I can,” he says. “It’s also my love for the small town, rural lifestyle that brought me to all these weird places.” Places like Fermont.
MuchFACT no more
MuchFACT (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent) funding made the trip to the mining town possible. And it may be one of the last ones of its kind.
Last week, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission decided in favour of Bell Media no longer needing to contribute to MuchFACT or BravoFACT.
Previously, the telecom giant had to invest in a fund to help support Canadian content; since it was started in 1984, MuchFACT (then VideoFACT) has doled out more than $100 million for about 9,000 projects. In Charette’s round of funding alone, $484,799 was split among 22 recipients. Charette is also nominated for best MuchFACT-funded video.
While Bell hasn’t officially said it’s cutting the fund, industry experts are reading the tea leaves and have already started mourning the fund, which allowed many young musicians and directors, like Charette, to make their art. Others speculate that funding music video is just not a good business move anymore, especially when most videos are watched on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo instead of TV.
“That’s really sad and it’s weird for the future of music like Canadian content music videos,” says Charette. “I don’t know what’s going to happen after that because the budgets are already super limited.”