Claude Jutra accomplished a great deal during his lifetime. Beginning as an amateur filmmaker in the 1950s, he was seminal in shaping Quebecois cinema, writing and directing some of the most acclaimed films in Canadian history, regardless of language. His 1971 drama Mon oncle Antoine even topped the Toronto International Film Festival’s list of the Top 10 Greatest Canadian Films of All Time in its first three revisions, now sitting at number two.
Yet, beneath the veneer of these many accolades, few realised during his lifetime that Jutra was also a sexual predator who preyed on young boys.
The revelations were first brought to the public eye in the 2016 biography on Jutra by late Quebecois critic and film historian Yves Lever, which was exactly 30 years after the filmmaker’s death by suicide (he was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the time). A number of people were quick to condemn Lever’s reporting at the time, who considered the evidence in the book to be narrowly circumstantial given the limited number of victims referenced, but the author was soon vindicated by clarifying that he had confirmed at least 10 victims, whilst further credible victims came forward to the media, whose statements were corroborated by family members.
It might seem unjust to level such serious allegations against a man who is not here to defend himself, but much like the depraved BBC presenter Jimmy Saville who also died before he could face justice, where there is smoke there is a blazing fire. The credibility of the witnesses, as well as reports of an industry privy to Jutra’s twisted predilections–but allowed his actions to continue all the same–make these allegations impossible to deny even by his closest friends, with writer Guy Fournier telling The Globe and Mail “I’m dumbfounded and very sad…. Unfortunately, Claude’s sexual perversions seems to be true.”
Given the veracity of the allegations levelled at Jutra, responses were swift as the titles of Québec Cinéma’s Prix Jutra and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television’s Claude Jutra Award were stripped of any association with the disgraced filmmaker, eventually being renamed. The same was done with any streets bearing his namesake.
There were those, however, who were unsure of such haste. The Globe and Mail further reported that actor and former Parti Québécois member Pierre Curzi, while denouncing what he believes are credible reports, stated that to him “this rush to remove the name at all costs from everything is too much. I understand this is behaviour we no longer tolerate, but these things were named for the man’s work, not his sexual behaviour”, before elaborating that the awards are “prestigious”, and that “You don’t want its reputation tarnished”.
While there is a point to be made about the undeniable craft of his work, much like fellow child molester Roman Polanski, what Mr. Curzi fails to grasp in his astonishingly short-sighted comments is the human element. It is first and foremost about putting an immediate end to any and all honours bestowed upon a child abuser so convincingly convicted in the court of public opinion, as opposed to prioritising the preservation of an award’s reputation, however prestigious.
Thus, let us not forget the casualties of Claude Jutra’s actions. One of his accusers is a screenwriter by the name of Bernard Dansereau. If Mr. Dansereau were to ever direct his first feature-length film, and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television wished to honour him for his work, it would be their award formerly named after Jutra that he would receive, which, thankfully, has since been named after the pioneering producer John Dunning, who passed in 2011.
An article in the Montreal Gazette from 2016, just after the allegations broke, posits that “It is too soon to know how history will judge the celebrated filmmaker”, but five years on, I think the answer is abundantly clear. Sadly, it is impossible to scrub Canadian cinematic history of its intrinsic links to Jutra’s films, undeniably influential as they are, yet we can certainly remove all other traces of this abuser so that, at the very least, it is not his name that resonates in future generations, but only the names of his films. Realistically, it is as much as we can do.