Lida Moser’s homage to
“la belle province”
Joyce Borenstein’s latest film explores the famed photographer’s Quebec odyssey
By Patricia Dumais
Over 65 years ago, a young photojournalist from New York City named Lida Moser was sent to the province of Quebec to do a photo-essay commissioned by Vogue magazine. During the summer of 1950, Moser travelled all along the St. Laurence River, from Montreal to Quebec City, then on to Charlevoix, the lower Saint-Lawrence and the Gaspé peninsula. She fell in love with the scenery and the people.
She returned a few months later, this time working for Look magazine, to capture her unique photographic take on the socio-cultural life of a population at the beginnings of the Révolution tranquille. Exploring both urban and rural landscapes, she photographed the inhabitants – everyday people, children, artists, storytellers, actors, lovers and more – with a mix of tenderness and fascination.
The first voyage came about from a chance encounter in a Montreal restaurant where she met Paul Gouin, Cultural advisor to the Quebec Premier and one of the future founders of Vie des arts magazine, who proposed that she tour the belle province accompanied by himself, who would break the ice with the inhabitants, and Ethnologist and Professor Luc Lacourcière, who would make audio recordings of the encounters.
The result was a collection of over one thousand superb black and white photos, as well as Lacourcière’s priceless audio recordings. Her Quebec photos were later exhibited at the McCord Museum in Montreal and collected in a book, Québec à l’été 1950 (Quebec in the Summer of 1950).
Back in 1992, aging and concerned that her Quebec work would be lost and scattered, Lida Moser approached Montreal producer, director and filmmaker Joyce Borenstein about making a film on her 1950 journey. Borenstein, an accomplished animator who had worked extensively with the NFB, had then recently been nominated for an Oscar for her animation short, The Colours of my Father: A Portrait of Sam Borenstein.
… she photographed the inhabitants – everyday people, children, artists, storytellers, actors, lovers and more – with a mix of tenderness and fascination.
Though very impressed with Moser’s work, Borenstein recognized that such a film would be a vast undertaking. “The digital revolution was in its infancy and producing an animation film using the old methods would have taken many more years and would have been very costly”, says Borenstein. She declined then but fortunately fate would eventually decide otherwise.
In 1995, the BANQ (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec) acquired Moser’s Quebec collection. In 2008 Borenstein was ready to go ahead with the film project. She immediately began to record Moser as she knew that time was of essence – Lida was now in her late eighties. While Borenstein waited for funding she did much of the research in preparation for filming. “Documentary filmmakers like to get a head-start while waiting for funds”, Borenstein explained. “About one third of the work was completed when I finally received funding in 2014.”
She embarked on her own journey of discovery, filming while retracing Moser’s steps. In 2015 in Quebec City, she was blown away by the retrospective of Moser’s work at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec and the Museum itself. “One of the most beautiful I have ever visited”, she says.
‘I wanted to make a film that Lida would have loved. That was my goal and I think she would have been pleased with the result.’
Lida Moser Photographer: Odyssey in Black and White premiered at the McCord Museum in November 2017, followed by a showing at the D. B. Clarke Theatre at Concordia University in December, which I attended. In March 2018, the film was presented at the FIFA (International Festival of Films on Art): the English version in Montreal at the CCA (Canadian Centre for Architecture) and the French version at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec in Quebec City.
In this gem of a film, we hear Lida Moser reminisce about the historic road trip. The film interlaces her exquisite photos with animation and time-lapse photography, and her voice is combined with Lacourcière’s archival voices from 1950 Quebec. In one of the more touching scenes we hear the voice of an old fisherman singing a song that goes back to medieval France.
There are lovely photographs comparing children with religious cherubs – their likeness is amazing. As well, the numerous images of towns, cities and countryside are an historian’s delight. “I was also very fortunate to have collaborated with the talents of Dennis Brott and Glen Montgomery whose music was a perfect complement to the images.”
A French version of the film was recently sold to ARTV, the CBC cultural television channel. Borenstein is now busy promoting her film by entering it in many international film festivals. She is also possibly planning to extend her film to a one-hour version with new interviews of Moser’s friends and family, while incorporating some of her interviews with Moser from 2008 and 2009.
Sadly, Lida passed away in 2014 before the film was completed. But says Borenstein, “I wanted to make a film that Lida would have loved. That was my goal and I think she would have been pleased with the result.”
The public is invited to a screening of
Lida Moser Photographer: Odyssey in Black and White
(©2017, 26 minutes, in English)
at the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue
Thursday, April 12 at 7:30 pm
(425 Metcalfe entrance)
To book tickets ahead:
514 937-9474, ext 139 or shaarhashomayim.org/event
$10 in advance, $12 at the door (includes refreshments and Q & A with Joyce Borenstein)
For further screenings of Lida Moser Photographer: Odyssey in Black and White consult Joyce Borenstein’s website at illuminationanimation.com
Feature image: Luc Lacourcière, Lida Moser and Paul Gouin – © BANQ – Félix-Antoine Savard
Read also: Megan Durnford’s passion for documentaries