(Toronto) Quebec filmmaker Philippe Falardeau says that during the four years he devoted to the documentary series on the Lac-Mégantic derailment, he had to be dissuaded from abandoning the project on a few occasions.
“I often thought about abandoning the project because when someone is hurt I also suffer,” said Mr. Falardeau on the sidelines of the Hot Docs festival which opens Saturday in Toronto. “It hurt me, but the people of Lac-Mégantic and my co-editors told me not to stop and they were right.”
Based on the harrowing testimonies of victims as well as interviews with railroad and city officials, Lac-Mégantic — ce n’est pas une accident and its English version with subtitles Lac-Mégantic — This Is Not an Accident traces how the small town in Quebec became the site of one of Canada’s worst train disasters on July 6, 2013. The series will screen Saturday at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto and premiere Tuesday on the Videotron’s French-language video-on-demand service.
Citizens of Lac-Mégantic recount in detail the decisions and conditions they believe contributed to the derailment of a runaway train carrying 72 tank cars loaded with Bakken shale oil, causing an explosion that killed 47 people, displaced 2,000 residents and spilled over 7.7 million liters of crude oil.
“The main voice had to be that of the people of Lac-Mégantic, otherwise it wouldn’t have made sense to me,” said Mr. Falardeau, the director who was notably nominated for an Oscar for the film Monsieur Lazhar in the category for the best foreign film.
It was during a bike ride with his daughter, a few years after the tragedy, that the idea for the documentary series germinated.
“I kept seeing all these parked tank cars and thinking that in a post-Lac-Mégantic world, surely this is now a safer place. So I read Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny’s novel, Mégantic, only to realize that not much had changed,” Falardeau said.
“Anger started to build in me, an anger directed in part at myself because I was so naïve and assumed things would change in a world where the rail industry plays such a big role in the economic plan. »
A Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigation identified 18 causes and contributing factors, including a “poor safety culture” at Montreal, Maine
Many Lac-Mégantic residents interviewed believe that the current rail industry is unable to make the changes needed to prevent another tragedy.
“Ministers of Transport will always tell us this fabricated phrase: ‘Safety is our top priority’, which I used to believe, but not anymore,” Mr. Falardeau pointed out.
“I know they also have a mandate to promote the economy through transportation, so how do you balance profits and the safety of Canadians? I think they will prioritize profits every time,” the filmmaker said.
Many residents have spoken of how upset they were when engineer Thomas Harding and two other MMA employees were acquitted in 2018 of criminal negligence in the disaster, and criminal charges were dropped a few months later against the business.
Philippe Falardeau acknowledges that he was initially tempted to make a fiction inspired by the tragedy, but that the surrounding elements that indicated an unresolved problem changed his intentions.
During the three hours of the series, only seven minutes of the tragedy are inserted.
A visibly emotional Pascal Charest talks about the loss of his longtime partner Talitha Coumi Begnoche and his daughters, 9-year-old Bianka and 4-year-old Alyssa.
“I was afraid that this docuseries would divide people…but it had the opposite effect. For the first time in some time, some have been reminded of those who were the real culprits,” said the Quebec filmmaker.
“The victims of Lac-Mégantic wanted this to be clear. This was no accident and it was important to make sure audiences knew it could be avoided,” he stressed.
Although this is not Philippe Falardeau’s first documentary, it is his first participation in the Hot Docs festival, although he admits that he is eager to return to fiction.
“I mostly realized that I’m more of a fictional filmmaker through this process,” Falardeau said, noting that he found the experience rewarding.