Director Vincent René-Lortie’s Narrative Short Debut Lands An Oscar Nomination
Vincent René-Lortie
Filmmaker--known for his work in music videos and commercials--remembers the passing of a childhood friend in "Invincible"

Even with a successful festival run which saw his narrative short directorial debut, Invincible, win awards at the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival, the Chicago Children’s Film Festival and Rendez-vous Quebec Cinema, director Vincent René-Lortie never dreamt that an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film was in the cards. He and producer Samuel Caron were gratified--and deeply surprised--that Invincible last month received such a high Academy honor. “I could never have imagined such a beautiful journey (resulting in an Oscar nomination). It’s very surreal. I still cannot fully grasp what’s happened.”

But objectively speaking, it’s not so hard to see why the film--based on a true story--struck a responsive chord with Academy voters. It’s an emotional chord that René-Lortie has felt since he was a youngster, translating into a film which he worked on for five-plus years. Invincible delves into the last 48 hours of his childhood friend, Marc-Antoine Bernier (portrayed by Léokim Beaumier-Lépine). Yearning for freedom, Bernier tragically passed at the age of 14.

René-Lortie recalled that Bernier had escaped from a juvenile center, stole a car, and was chased by police. The car ended up in a river in a nearby Montreal community where he grew up. “It affected everyone who knew him--including me, of course, as a teenager,” related René-Lortie. “It was hard to understand what happened. This friend, this person whom I remember as being an incredible kid full of empathy and sensitivity. How could this person end up there and what really happened? Five or six years ago, I began doing research about the subject, connecting with his family again, friends, professionals like mental health doctors to understand more--and to get to know him better. That’s how the film started.”

René-Lortie noted that in many ways he was just trying “to get closer to my friend, to understand what was going on in his head. I didn’t want to make a film about the incident and how he died. Instead I wanted to make a film about him and who that kid was, how come a lot of people at that time saw him as being a delinquent, a bad child. His behavior, the way he acted in the world was more a cry for help. He had so much love and heart to give to his family. It took me a long time to tell this story in the right way.”

A priority and major challenge for René-Lortie all along was indeed “to do it the right way--for the family and everybody. I didn’t want to do something that would create more pain.” 

Relieving--and helping to prevent--such suffering has been a part of René-Lortie’s filmmaking for some time, along with promoting social consciousness of situations, and helping underrepresented groups to gain a voice and resources. His work includes public service fare for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and a recent “Skills for Life” campaign for the U.K.’s Department for Education. The latter, out of ad agency M&C Saatchi London, includes a 40-second film which depicts three individuals starting a new day, as a metaphor for their untapped potential. René-Lortie follows their journey as they take their first steps to gain training, develop their talent and learn new skills. Talent featured in the emotive campaign includes real people who are just starting out, looking to switch or considering switching careers--or looking to grow their business through a range of technical qualifications, training and skills.

René-Lortie directed this public service work via The Corner Shop, a production company which handles him in the U.S. and U.K. Meanwhile in Canada, he continues to be repped by Telescope Films, the production house behind Invincible. René-Lortie is a founding partner in Telescope but no longer holds an ownership/managerial stake in the company, preferring to focus on his directorial career. Producer Caron continues as a partner in the shop.

René-Lortie’s experience in commercials, music videos and art films helped inform his work on Invincible. “It’s an amazing playground,” he said of his spot and music video endeavors, citing the chance to work with actors, art directors, cinematographers, “to discover myself as a filmmaker. I hope I will still be discovering myself in 20 or 30 years. I wouldn’t be the same director without commercials and music videos. Those experiences feed each other.” 

The constant dynamic throughout all of it, though, he continued, is an approach which “puts creativity first.” That’s the striking similarity he sees among commercials, videos and Invincible.

At the same time, the differences in commercialmaking as compared to a self-driven narrative short have also proven beneficial to René-Lortie who assessed that spots have him collaborating with different creative teams around the world. “It’s not about you. It’s about a client, to put yourself in the shoes of someone else. It forces you to not be too much into yourself and your own imagination sometimes. I kind of like that. It’s a different way of working.”

On the music video front, René-Lortie has been recognized with a D&AD Graphite Pencil for Best Direction on the basis of Simon Leoza’s “La Nuèe,” and a UKMVA 2020 Best Choreography (for Brittney Canada) on the strength of Sheena Ko’s “Wrap Me Up”

Being nimble in commercial and music video production helped René-Lortie on Invincible logistically as well in that the film was shot in the midst of the pandemic, requiring that he and his crew navigate then uncharted waters in terms of filmmaking, crew health and safety.

“Something I learned not only on that film but every project the last few years was the importance of surrounding yourself with not just the best people but also friends, people I can call ‘my family,’” related René-Lortie. “With Telescope, for instance--we didn’t have any experience when we started the company. We just wanted to do projects together. And from that came Invincible. All these people came together like a family, a big team effort, to bring so much creativity to Invincible. Every time I’m going to do a project, I want that same thing. It’s the most important thing.”

As for what’s next, René-Lortie is currently in postproduction on an experimental short, La Peau de L’Autre. And the Oscar nomination certainly brings some momentum to another project in development which would be René-Lortie’s first feature film, You Were Always An Island.

(This is the 14th installment of a 16-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on, with select installments also in print/PDF issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. The 96th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 10.)

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