Quebec legends are full of strange and fantastical beings. Sasquatch, Windigo, ghosts, witches, and more are part of a richly diverse, though often neglected, array of unusual entities. In an effort to breathe new life into the oral tradition to which these creatures belong, film director Rémi Fréchette and Productions Version 10 created “L’Étrange Province” (“The strange province”), a “documendacious” web series on cryptozoology in Quebec.
The series chronicles the adventures of Frank and Carl, two psychologically volatile friends who go off in search of strange creatures. While the two characters and their backstories are purely fictional, the interviewees are real people who provide fact-based information. They include experts on UFOs and the Lake Memphremagog monster. The contrast between fictional setting and factual material blurs the line between truth and fabrication, thereby endowing the web series with added layers of interpretation.
“Talking to these people was special,” says Rémi Fréchette, “because, often, they believe that the legends they study are true. We let them know that, while we didn’t share their belief, we wanted to hear their point of view. What I was interested in was their passion for their subjects. I wasn’t pursuing these stories to find out if they were true or false. When our interviewees spoke about the legends they found fascinating, their faces lit up. That was a beautiful thing to see.”
The fact that the series was produced for the web (it was shown on the TVA network) gave the director much greater freedom to operate. “Honestly, this was such an unusual project that it wouldn’t have worked on television. And I think the audience we were after can only be found online. The only constraint we faced was to make episodes that didn’t exceed ten minutes.”
“L’Étrange Province” uses a format that is close to videos found on YouTube, where there aren’t any actual rules. This gave the team opportunities to play around with various conventions. “I wanted each story to have its particular flavour. I was able to play around with genres and borrow tropes from all sorts of popular shows,” states Rémi. “For the Auberge Saint-Gabriel ghost, for example, I used the series Ghost Hunter as an inspiration. For the Trois-Pistoles episode, I was able to delve more deeply in the fantasy genre.”
This spirit of “everything goes” enabled the actors to improvise on set. Martin Handfield and Simon Lacroix, who were strangers prior to the project, quickly became friends. Their complicity, along with the director’s intuition, helped them take the web series much further than expected.
“On shooting days,” relates the director, “I let the guys play around with the script. That’s when we found out how far the characters could go, what they could come up with. The production people seemed a bit anxious at times when they saw how much an episode strayed from the script, but we were able to show them that this resulted in a better show.”