Sophie Bissonnette is one of the leading women in Quebec’s independent documentary filmmaking industry. Her first feature film documented the role of women in a lengthy miners’ strike in Sudbury. In her ensuing works, she has continued her commitment to giving a voice to women, particularly those of working-class backgrounds.
Sophie Bissonnette has worked closely with community organizations, directing participatory videos involving immigrant women and women in vulnerable situations through life-story workshops. She has also directed educational pieces in conjunction with Relais-femmes and produced prevention and awareness videos regarding female circumcision.
All of her films have been widely distributed in theatres in Montreal and regionally, at international festivals, on TV and the web. She has received a number of awards for her documentaries, including the prestigious UNICEF Award for Sexy Inc. Our Children under Influence, one of the NFB’s most-viewed films. Her films stimulate public debate on major societal issues and social change.
Sophie Bissonnette has given a voice to women who are frequently invisible or ignored by the mainstream media: working-class women, housewives, immigrant women, girls and women who are victims of violence and women on social assistance. She has demonstrated vision by focusing on key societal issues and thus creating a forum for social debate around highly topical subjects such as poverty, labour practices, immigration, violence towards women, assistance during pregnancy, sexualization in the media or women and aging. Celebrating women’s accomplishments and struggles, her films fall within a broader determination to bring about social change.
Sophie Bissonnette has also demonstrated innovation in her filmmaking style. Each of her documentaries takes a unique form that is tailored to the subject and based on in-depth research, incorporating original music, animated sequences, short dramatic scenes and humour! Through her life-story workshops for women aged 50 and over, delivered in partnership with community organizations such as YWCA Montreal, she has developed an original approach to collective creation by video that has received unanimous praise.
A committed women’s rights activist since her university days, notably as a member of the committee for free abortion on demand, Sophie Bissonnette has remained highly engaged in the feminist sphere, receiving regular invitations to speak and present her films. With each project, she goes far beyond simply producing the film. She demonstrates a huge capacity for listening and openness in discussions, always taking care to give everyone equitable time and space and fostering a climate conducive to dialogue.
Sophie Bissonnette is also deeply committed to independent Quebec film as a proponent of art house films and films by women. She has been actively involved on the boards of the Association des Réalisateurs et Réalisatrices du Québec and the not-for-profit distribution company Cinéma Libre. She is the co-founder of and active participant in the Lea Roback Foundation, which provides scholarships to women from disadvantaged communities, and the Montréal International Documentary Festival, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. She continues to work on behalf of the association Réalisatrices équitables, which recently helped achieve gender parity in public film funding in Quebec and Canada.
Dès ses débuts professionnels, Sophie Bissonnette a choisi non seulement de dénoncer les injustices, mais de proposer des changements sociaux en mettant en valeur des femmes inspirantes par leur action et par leur personnalité. Que ce soit les pionnières du féminisme Léa Roback et Madeleine Parent qu’elle a fait connaître par ses documentaires et qui continuent aujourd’hui d’inspirer les jeunes générations; que ce soit les ménagères de Sudbury qui, lors d’une grève, découvrent leur pouvoir pour se mobiliser contre une compagnie intransigeante ou les marcheuses du Mozambique qui, à l’occasion de la Marche mondiale des femmes, dénoncent les violences dont elles sont victimes. En conservant ces histoires et en les diffusant, elles continuent d’inspirer les générations futures à l’action pour obtenir justice. Le travail de réalisation documentaire s’accompagne toujours d’un long travail de diffusion par la suite. Les discussions qui suivent les projections des films et qu’elle anime sont autant d’occasions pour motiver les gens à agir sur leur vie et participer au changement social.
On countless occasions, Sophie Bissonnette has seen how a good documentary can be a harbinger for change. Those involved in her documentaries have also frequently told her how the documentary experience itself was a positive factor in their lives. Her life-story workshops are places of sharing and formidable instruments for women’s awareness of their power, empowering them to overcome obstacles and driving them onward and upward.