Growing Pains: regular rules of childhood simply do not exist

Photo by Laurent Guérin

A child going the opposite direction of their parents is not a new theme in storytelling, and Quebec filmmaker Miryam Bouchard draws from her own life experience with her debut film My Very Own Circus (Mon Cirque à Moi). My Very Own Circus, a French-language film with English subtitles, is one of many Canadian films featured online Apr. 14–23 at the 23rd Reel to Real Film Festival for Youth.

“When we are teenagers, we are always in opposition with our parents and we need to find our own path; and we hope that our parents will still love us even though we are not the same as them,” says Bouchard.

Straight man and clown

Usually the child wants to run away to join the circus. Bouchard turns this theme on its head.

My Very Own Circus centers around Laura, the daughter of a professional circus clown. Her life is filled with all the things one associates with a circus and the rules of a regular childhood just do not apply in her world.

Jasmine Lemée pays Laura, 12, who wants to leave the circus life. | Photo by Karljessy Jomphe

Now that Laura (Jasmine Lemée) is 12, the realities of being on the road with her single father, Bill (Patrick Huard, Bon Cop, Bad Cop), and his trusted mute assistant are setting in and she longs for a home not on wheels. Enter her new teacher (Sophie Laurin, The Barbarian Invasions), who helps Laura to apply her academic potential as she relishes the opportunity to attend school every day.

Bouchard says it is a generational thing that if you have a straight man as a parent you want to be a clown, and if you have a clown as a parent you want to be the straight man.

“It was a dynamic I had with my father. He was a circus performer and an actor, and I was on the road with him. I did the presentation before his show and I was his straight man,” says Bouchard.

Unforeseen challenge and pleasant surprise

Taking themes from her own family life and making it into her first feature was no small feat. The production did bring with it some obstacles.

Huard did not know how to juggle or ride a unicycle – two tasks any clown should know how to do. Bouchard just figured, since she grew up with her father, it is not such a hard thing to accomplish juggling nine balls, riding a unicycle and spinning a plate – while playing a kazoo.

“I forgot that my father practiced six hours a day for years and so it looked so easy that anybody can do this,” says Bouchard.

In the end, the idea of Huard riding a unicycle in the movie did not happen. However, he did master the art of juggling well enough to play the role. Bouchard also has nothing but praise for the actor that took on the role of the young protagonist.

Bouchard was pleasantly impressed with Lemée during casting but was worried about the strenuous shooting schedule, and if the new actor would be able to keep up. Those fears were soon put to rest.

“It was fantastic, my fears disappeared. There was a maturity in her interpretation and approach,” she says.

Although a very personal story for her, Bouchard says it also has a universal reach. She hopes people walk away from the screening with a renewed realization that life is short and that we need to accept each other the way we are – a sentiment that carries a stark relevance in our current pandemic.

“We need to love each other the way we are, need to stop wanting to change people or force our views on people,” says Bouchard.

For more information on how to stream My Very Own Circus (Mon Cirque à Moi) go to:

www.r2rfestival.org/production/my-very-own-circus

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