Denis Côté was born in the potato fields of New Brunswick in 1973 but raised in the concrete jungle of Montreal, Quebec. He studied Arts and Cinema at Montreal’s Ahuntsic College in 1992 and since then has produced and directed fifteen low-budget short films. Côté also worked as a film critic with a special taste for independent films, as a radio program host and script writer.
Côté took his first feature film, Les états nordiques (Drifting States) which he directed and co-wrote with Christian LeBlanc, to Festival del film Locarno in 2005. The film won the Golden Leopard – Video Award (he actually tied with another film, Masahista). This film, along with his second film Nos vies privées (Our Private Lives) were made, “…with very free-spirited guerrilla approaches. Both films are very minimalist, too. Some critics or film buffs are allergic to that urgency and react strongly to it. They get annoyed by what they consider arty, self-indulgent amateurism. Maybe they are right. I don’t really care.”
Apparently Côté doesn’t need to care because the money keeps rolling in for new films anyway. From the award in Locarno, he had $15,000 to live on until the film won again with the Indie Vision Grand Prize in Jeonju, South Korea. And he wrote a script for which he was paid $39,000 (Canadian). That’s the minimum wage in Canada for a script and you have two years to complete it. His film Elle veut le chaos (All That She Wants) won the Silver Leopard/Best Director at Festival del film Locarno in 2008. More prize money and then Productions Réalisations Indépendantes de Montréal proposed an “in residency” project for him with a $50,000 grant. He quickly came up with the idea for Carcasses. He wanted to return to the junk yard that he visited while making Nos vies privées and make that location the main character of his film. Carcasses was shot with a small P2 camera in nine days with a team of four persons. The film was accepted for Festival de Cannes 2009, his first to be screened there. He admits to being booed at the Cannes screening of Carcasses and in the press conference that followed, the journalist who booed the film accused Côté of wasting an hour and a half of his time. After throwing down the microphone, the journalist stomped out. By contrast, immediately after the first screening of Carcasses at Filmfest Hamburg, one guy came running after Côté breathlessly panting, “I loved your film!” Some guys never grow up and a huge yard full of trucks and cars and old junk must be heaven for a few. Côté now has $1 million from the Canadian government for his next film which will center around curling (the sport).
His key to success in such a competitive industry? Although he says it is luck, and he was lucky to win an award with his first feature film, he also believes contacts play an important role, particularly with getting into influential film festivals. It must be that Québécois charm! And as long as tattoos don’t make you squeamish, his success is surely due in part to his very engaging personality. For us girls who prefer to stay out of the junk yard, let’s hope his next film reflects a bit more of that Québécois lagniappe!
Note from the Author: Lagniappe derives from New World Spanish la ñapa, "the gift," and ultimately from Quechua yapay, "to give more." The word came into the Creole dialect of New Orleans and there acquired a French spelling. It is still used in the southern Gulf of Mexico states, especially in southern Louisiana, to denote a little bonus that a friendly shopkeeper might add to a purchase. By extension, it means "an extra or unexpected gift or benefit" or as I understood while living in New Orleans, just “a little something extra.”
Mark Twain writes about lagniappe in a chapter on New Orleans in Life on the Mississippi (1883): We picked up one excellent word — a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — "lagniappe." They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish — so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a "baker's dozen." It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — "Give me something for lagniappe." The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor — I don't know what he gives the governor; support, likely. When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say, "What, again? — no, I've had enough;" the other party says, "But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe." When the beau perceives that he is stacking his compliments a trifle too high, and sees by the young lady's countenance that the edifice would have been better with the top compliment left off, he puts his "I beg pardon — no harm intended," into the briefer form of "Oh, that's for lagniappe."