Talent on Tap – Like the Ones I Used to Know, Parks Itself at VIFF

Do you remember being a kid? Not a care in the world, ‘footloose and fancy free’ my mom used to say. We kept ourselves entertained with our imagination more than games. I’m referring to the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, a time before personal computers, cell phones, tablets, VR and before divorce was popular. Staying together and having large families were a reflection on a budding economy, full of promise and daily ingenuity taking hold. These days, every second family is divorced or separated, and single parent kids are the norm. You can debate the reasons all day for the increase, but at the heart of a family are still the children, and they observe much more than us adults give them credit for. They’re constantly taking in information and trying to make sense of it. As they experience more and begin to recognize patterns in human behaviour, that internal switch is turned on and they suddenly develop their characteristics, their values and sensitivities. One of the most important ones is empathy.


Like the Ones I Used to Know (Les Grandes Claques) screened at VIFF. The film focuses on a divorced family in the ‘80’s with two young girls. It’s Christmas Eve and the mother is celebrating around the tree with friends and new partner, while a group of children play amongst themselves. The room is filled with laughter, music and celebration. Outside, a car slows to a stop in front of the home. Denis sits inside, he’s here to pick up his two daughters. What happens next is the reason we keep watching. We know – the train wreck is coming, but we still can’t look away. Is there an easy solution to an awkward moment or do you put your trust in fate and just hope for the best?


Written and directed by multiple-award winner, Annie St-Pierre. Annie has directed numerous films including the documentary, Migration Amoureuse and Fermières (All that we make), a feature documentary. She collaborates as a scriptwriter, casting director, actress and producer with the Montreal film community. This film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and has screened in more than 50 international festivals, where it’s won an impressive15 Awards – including the Oscar-qualifying Award at Heartland Film, Indy Shorts International Film Festival and Best Direction at SXSW. Annie finds inspiration through screenwriter Matthew Rankin, director Denis Côté and actor Monia Chokri. Annie is the co-producer of the two last Denis Côté films: Wilcox, Social Hygiene and is now in production of Le plein potential (Your Higher Self), a feature documentary on the universe of life-coaches around the world. She is also in development for a feature fiction she is writing.

She was also my very special guest and this film truly resonated with me. I couldn’t wait to get started, me in Vancouver and Annie in Quebec. I will admit that Zoom technology does have its perks. Roll the tape!  


HNMAG “I enjoyed this short film very much. You did a great job with the writing.”

ANNIE “I had a friend of mine, screenwriter Daniel Shakter from Montreal, help me write it but that was almost 15 years ago. It was a completely different script back then. Five years ago, I took it out of my drawer and started working on it again.”  


HNMAG “How was this story inspired initially, 15 years ago?” 

ANNIE “I had been asked to make a collective movie about Christmas. I was thinking about my Christmas’s and how hard it was to have mixed feelings of joy, wanting to party and have fun. My father, who lived alone, would come to pick me and my sister up, and it wasn’t what we wanted to do. I realize how important that moment was for me, because it was the end of a naive childhood and the birth of empathy… which isn’t bad, it can be tough and beautiful. Back in the ‘80’s, it was always the mother that took custody of the children, it was quite common. It was more uncomfortable being with my father because we loved being with our mother and we still do, and our father is fantastic, but it was the perspective of a kid who wanted her mother, cousins and fun; it was sad for my father. There were a few years where I was able to realize, if I didn’t feel like going, I still had an obligation to be loyal to him. This isn’t a biographical film, but it is true fiction.”


HNMAG “I think you did an incredible job of expressing the importance of holidays in the context of parents with shared custody. As a young child of divorced parents, the holiday emotions are very accurate.” 

ANNIE “I decided to make a period piece, set in the ‘80’s. At that time, custody rights were still experimental. Divorce was not so popular at that time and kids felt very different from the rest. These days, the parents are much more considerate in helping the kids adjust and coordinate visits to better accommodate everyone.”


HNMAG “I love the cast, you found some very talented actors, especially the little girl with the glasses that was portraying you.”

ANNIE “That’s funny because I have a little anecdote about that. We were doing some rehearsal and the little girl was aware of the story and all the emotions involved. She was pretty mature and learned the story very quickly. As soon as I placed the glasses on her face before the shoot, she looked at me and acknowledged that it was my story, which was pretty smart. I wasn’t going to use any glasses originally but she looked too perfect, too cute, so I put them on her and it completed the look.”


HNMAG “Where did you find all the cast?”

ANNIE “I did some auditions for the kids and found the two leads kids through it. The other 2 were kids of my friends. I really wanted the two young actors to connect with their childhood, so I thought if I had 2 young non-actors that could come to the set with this innocence and first impression of being on a set, it would create a more authentic and true ambiance, through having fun. For the role of the father, I knew him as a well-known actor in Quebec. He’s been in a lot of theatre and is so humble for being so talented. He’s a funny guy and usually does comedy, but he was able to go as deep as I needed him to go and I was really impressed. The mother is a friend and the rest of the adults were people that I knew.”

I had asked Annie if she had acted before and she told me about a Matthew Rankin (experimental Canadian director) production where she played a man with a beautiful moustache. She described it as crazy fiction based on Canadian politics, but said it was also like Canadian politics on acid.       


HNMAG “What is it about a story that attracts you as a producer?”

ANNIE “I like to say that I’m an apostle of independent cinema. If I believe in the work of someone, and think that we can make a great film together, I’ll jump in. That used to be restricted to Quebec but I’d never say no to a story that inspires me, no matter the city or the country.”    


HNMAG “In saying that, are there certain types of stories that you’re drawn to more?”

ANNIE “No, a good film is a good film. I try to erase those genre borders. For example, I think that my film is a comedy but others think it’s a drama. I think a film is better if you give it all those elements that emit every emotion possible. It takes a lot of energy to write a film and direct it. I have to have that deep connection to be able to give part of myself to the film and to the people in the audience.”


HNMAG “Have you considered writing a feature film?”

ANNIE “Yes, I’m currently writing two simultaneously. I’ve made 3 feature documentaries and we were supposed to shoot one a year ago but because of Covid, we had to stop. We’ll be going back to production in a few months.”


HNMAG “In addition to this film premiering at VIFF, which other festivals will the film be shown?”

ANNIE “We began in January with Sundance. From there we added Seattle, Palm Springs, SXSW, Aspen and I’ve just come back from Belgium. It was in Calgary, Nashville and many more. I believe we have it in 55 festivals so far and there’s still more to come. For example, I’ll be in Spain in 2 weeks to present it at a festival and at another festival in Miami in November.”


I loved this film. Although it brings back feelings of anxiety, sometimes you just have to laugh to stop yourself from crying. This film turns some of that sadness onto its head to show that life is capable of many great surprises that we can’t predict, so suck it up and just wait for it. A wonderful film that flexes Annie’s directing muscles. I think someone has been hitting the gym! 

Annie also told me that she just had a baby in March and that she’s now big enough to travel with her to some of the upcoming festivals. Tenacity and perseverance at it’s finest.


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