Clermont-Ferrand Special Jury Prize winner Vincent René-Lortie talks about his short film ‘Invincible’, which has been shortlisted for an Academy Award

Shortlisted from a total of 187 short films, Invincible has made its mark, as it currently awaits the results of the final nominee list, to be announced on Tuesday 23rd January. One of 14 nominees currently in the ‘Live Action Short Film’ category, the film delicately depicts the tale of a young man yearning for his freedom, and the drastic levels he will go to in order to achieve it. This is a piece created in memory of Marc-Antoine Bernier, recounting the last 48 hours of the 14-year-old boy’s life on a desperate quest for freedom. Ahead of this year’s announcement, Vincent tells us more about exploring this powerful story further, what the film’s journey has entailed so far and what audiences can expect from the film.

Hi Vincent, your film Invincible has made this year’s Academy Award shortlist in the ‘Live Action Short Film’ category. How are you feeling?

Totally on another planet! When we started working on this film five years ago, I never imagined we’d end up here. It’s an honor. Growing up, we watched cinema legends step onto that stage, receiving the iconic award. The Oscars shape the history of cinema each year, and now, so it’s a bit of a childhood dream that I’m living right now.

Created in memory of Marc-Antoine Bernier,  Invincible delicately depicts the tale of a young man yearning for his freedom, and the drastic levels he will go to in order to achieve it. What inspired you to explore this narrative further?

Invincible’ is based on the true story of my childhood friend, Marc-Antoine Bernier, who tragically passed away at the age of 14 after escaping from a juvenile center. It was a profoundly impactful moment in my teenage years. Marc was an incredibly close friend, and his untimely death left me bewildered. At the time, I thought it was an accident, but I had a sense that there was more to it. Marc’s story was complex, and I was aware of that depth.

Creating this film became my way of reconnecting with him, attempting to understand his journey, and gaining a better grasp of why his life took such a tragic turn. The focus has always been on unraveling the events leading up to his passing, which is why I chose to center the film on the 48 hours preceding that moment. The film doesn’t solely fixate on the specific incident of his death; it delves deeper into the ‘why’ behind this tragedy, exploring the nuanced layers that accompanied it while presenting a character that had a lot of sensitivity and heart.

Invincible is written and directed by yourself and is produced by Samuel Caron with cinematography by Alexandre Nour Desjardins. It stars Léokim Beaumier-Lépine, Èlia St Pierre, Isabelle Blais, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Ralph Prosper, Naoufel Chkirate, Miguel Tionjock, Raphaël Navarro-Gendron, Antoine Marchand-Gagnon, Florence Blain Mbaye, Martine Labbée, Chantal Chartrand and Sandy Belley amongst a larger team of creatives. How have you all worked together to realise the film?

It was truly a team effort, with a significant portion of the coworkers consisting of longtime friends like Samuel Caron and Alexandre Nour, as well as other key contributors including the artistic director, Geneviève Boiteau, sound designer Nataq Huault, casting director Victor Tremblay-Blouin, musician Simon Leoza, and colorist Simon Boisx, amongst others! The enduring friendships within the team made this project profoundly meaningful for everyone involved, each bringing their unique creativity and artistic vision. Spanning almost 5 years from its beginning to the first screening, the project needed a team that cherished the film as much as I did. Witnessing this collaboration was a beautiful experience, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been working with all of these incredibly talented people.

As for the casting process, finding the right actors was of equal importance. The majority of our youthful cast were non-actors, including Léokim, who had only played a minor role previously. Over the two months leading up to the shoot, we worked closely, meeting weekly to sculpt Marc’s character. This period stood out as one of the most gratifying phases of the project, and today, I take pride in Léokim’s accomplishments in the film, as he shoulders the narrative for nearly 30 minutes!

The film has gone on to win Best Live Action Short at Chicago Children’s Film Festival (2022) and Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma (2023). How does it feel to have been acknowledged for your work in this way?

It takes a considerable amount of time to create a film, and you never truly know if it will be selected for a film festival. So, the entire process feels quite surreal, to be honest. In some ways, the journey truly began at Clermont-Ferrand, where the film won the International Jury Prize. This experience was incredible for various reasons, as we presented in rooms filled with over a thousand people, always sold out. Witnessing the audience’s reactions to my film under such amazing conditions was truly touching.

This is precisely why we make movies – to showcase a very personal project in front of an audience and engage with them in various ways. The awards certainly contribute to that connection. My sincere hope is that the film will continue to resonate with audiences as it progresses, serving as a catalyst for meaningful dialogues on pressing issues like the mental well-being of children and teenagers.

What have you learned/taken away from creating the film?

I’ve gained insights into mental health concerning children and teenagers. Even though mental health is increasingly discussed in relation to adults, I believe it’s still a subject that is not well understood when it comes to the younger population. I think there are many individuals, of all ages, from diverse countries and cultures, who resonate with this because they have encountered young people like Marc, or have experienced similar challenges themselves. The struggles of youth and the journey of growing up while feeling misunderstood are common and universal experiences.

What can viewers expect from the film?

I think viewers can anticipate encountering emotions of sorrow, and maybe even anger, within the film, yet all woven together with a touch of beauty, gentleness, and empathy.

What would you like for viewers to take away from the film?

It depends on whether we’re talking about adults or youth. For adults, my aspiration is that the film sparks discussions and reflections on adolescent mental health, exploring ways we can support them better or develop more effective tools for assistance or prevention. Additionally, the film is crafted with the intent that the younger audience feels acknowledged, listened to, and truly understood.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To find out more about Invincible, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop