by Mike Telin
François Girard’s latest film, Hochelaga, Terre des âmes (“Hochelaga, Land of Souls”), is a historical drama that investigates and dramatizes the long struggle for the land that became Montréal. Like all of the French-Canadian director and screenwriter’s work, which includes Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin, a great deal of attention has been placed on the musical score — here Girard has turned to the father and son team of Terry Riley and Gyan Riley.
Hochelaga, Land of Souls, which will be screened at the Cleveland Museum of Art on Friday, March 1 at 7:00 pm, features performances by the Kronos Quartet and violinist Tracy Silverman.
In addition to filmmaking, Girard has received acclaim in the opera world. In 2013 he directed a new production of Wagner’s Parsifal, and his production of Der Fliegende Holländer (“The Flying Dutchman”) will open on the MET stage in December of 2019.
“The reason everything worked so well is that François is a huge lover of music,” Gyan Riley said during a telephone conversation. “He’s knowledgeable about all types of music, and he wanted it to be featured in a way that was natural and honest.”
Riley said that the collaboration was grounded in a mutual admiration. “François has been a big fan of my father’s work for many years, and my father and I have been a big fan of François’s for a long time too.”
The idea for the partnership was first discussed when Girard attended some events that Gyan Riley had organized for the opening of Brooklyn’s National Sawdust. “He met with my father and me, but at that point is was still just a pipedream. We kept in touch and eventually things materialized.”
Riley pointed out that the score is a combination of notated and improvised music which was recorded by the Kronos Quartet and Tracy Silverman during a session in California. Girard also had a specific piece in mind for the film. “The music at the opening, which is a recurring theme, is from a recording that was performed live in Italy a few years ago, which I think was one of the initial things that motivated François to have us work on the film. He always wanted that music to be used in the opening. It was interesting because although it is a good recording, it was live, so you couldn’t work with it in the same way you could a studio recording. But because there was something about the energy that he liked so much, it ended up being used in the film as it was.”
Riley said that he and his father received a script at the beginning of the project, but it was still in the early stages of development. “We had ideas for things that never ended up happening, just because of the way the film developed and was edited.”
Although Riley was a Sundance Composer Fellow in 2005, Hochelaga, Land of Souls is his first feature film. “After Sundance I was doing a lot of things, including being active as a performer. I didn’t pursue it, so this was a good re-entry into that world. The movie is a nice lens into the history of Montréal, and I hope people will see it through that lens.”
Would he do it again? “Absolutely. It was a really fun process for me. I found it very interesting. It was a pleasure to develop ideas with François and the entire team — when like-minded individuals come together and brainstorm, great things can happen.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com February 25, 2019.
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