MONTREAL — The legacy of one of Canada’s most celebrated moviemakers and the fate of a film gala bearing his name are in doubt with the release of a new book alleging the director was a pedophile.
Quebec director Claude Jutra’s sexuality was a poorly hidden secret at a time when homosexuality was taboo. But the alleged proclivities of the man who put francophone cinema on the map from just after the Second World War until shortly before he committed suicide in 1986, have stunned even his closest friends.
Now Québec Cinéma, the organization that represents the province’s film industry, says it is reviewing the claims, the fallout and the necessary next steps. Already, some are calling for Quebec’s top film award ceremony, the Jutras, to be renamed or boycotted when they are held next month.
“We are taking this very seriously and we’re going to follow this matter so that we will be ready to make the right decisions that may eventually have to be made,” Ségolène Roederer, director general of Québec Cinéma, said in an interview.
Roederer said her organization is nevertheless “astonished” at the way a legend of the province’s cinema is being dismantled based on the vague allegations laid out in five pages of a biography.
“No charges have been laid. Nobody has been cited. Nothing,” Roederer said.
The book, by retired university film professor Yves Lever, is only hitting bookstore shelves today.
“It was generally presumed that Claude Jutra’s lovers were at least the legal age of 18 years old. But during filming, especially in the regions, his promiscuity made it impossible to keep a secret. Jutra’s penchant for young boys was quickly noticed,” Lever writes.
In interviews with the Quebec media, Lever claims Jutra had several lovers that were about 14 years old. Until the law was changed to 16 in 2008, 14 was the minimum age at which an individual could consent to sexual relations.
But Lever claims that at least one victim was “much younger.” The author said he knows who the individual is and has corroborated the case with half-a-dozen sources. But Lever refuses to release additional details, saying the victim, who declined to speak with the author, would then be easily identifiable.
“If some friends think (Jutra’s) pedophilic practices were above all platonic, numerous testimonies reveal that this wasn’t the case,” Lever writes. “Obviously, nobody can know how many adolescents were victims of his actions. No one has ever complained to the authorities.”
One of Jutra’s closest friends, screenwriter Claude Fournier, told the TVA network Monday: “In all the years that I knew Claude I had no knowledge of these tendencies. It’s not impossible, but I didn’t know it.”
Fournier added that there is now a responsibility on the alleged victim to come forward and clarify the events concerning the celebrated figure.
In part, this is because Jutra is no longer alive to defend himself. The 56-year-old director jumped from Montreal’s Jacques Cartier bridge on Nov. 5, 1986, after experiencing memory loss following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
“To my mind it is the duty of this person to give up their anonymity. At least then we would know if it is true,” Fournier said. “It would be sad. It would be the dark side of Jutra for which we would have confirmation. But at least it wouldn’t be a reputation totally demolished because of — perhaps — an attempt to sell a book.”
Paule Baillargeon, another film director and friend who produced a 2002 documentary about Jutra, said it was well known that he was attracted to younger men, but not to prepubescent children. In an interview with 98.5FM radio host Benoît Dutrizac, she characterized Jutra as a “pederast” rather than a “pedophile.”
“I think the difference is important. I don’t think the term ‘pedophile’ fits Claude Jutra,” Baillargeon said.
One of Jutra’s most celebrated works is 1971 film Mon oncle Antoine, which has been recognized by the Toronto International Film Festival as one of the top-10 Canadian films ever made. The legendary film critic Roger Ebert included the movie on his best-ever list.
He won five Canadian Film Awards — the film industry’s top distinction and a precursor to the Genies. He also went on to win two Genies in 1986 — best achievement in direction and best screenplay for the 1985 film La Dame en Couleurs.
An avowed Quebec separatist, Jutra turned down the Order of Canada when he was nominated for the federal honour in 1972.
Across Quebec, Jutra has streets named in his honour as well as a downtown Montreal park named after him, in which can be found the sculpture that is the prototype for the coveted Jutra trophy.
The annual film gala in Jutra’s name also receives financial support from the governments of Canada and Quebec, the city of Montreal, and corporate sponsors like Amazon, Quebecor and National Bank.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the allegations have sent “shockwaves” through the province.
“First thing’s first. You can’t defend the indefensible. I haven’t read the biography but it’s a very serious allegation,” Coderre said. “We’re going to take the time to look at it … If it is the case then we’ll take concrete steps, but we’ve got to go step by step.”