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Fantasia ’14 exclusive: Comments and art for “THE PASSENGER,” from best-selling novel

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While attending this year’s Fantasia festival in Montreal, FANGORIA spoke to a number of the filmmakers pitching new projects to prospective backers at the Frontières International Co-Production Market. First up: the duo behind the psychothriller THE PASSENGER, based on the popular Canadian novel, who shared the teaser art seen above and below.

THE PASSENGER, part of the Off-Frontières section, “is an adaptation of a Patrick Senécal book that’s one of the top 10 best sellers of all time in Quebec,” director Olivier Sabino, who scripted the adaptation with Francis Lussier, tells Fango. “Unfortunately, Patrick is not very well-known outside our borders, but we’re trying to change that. We’re making the movie in English, and we hope it will be a great success around the world.”

The story centers on Edward, a 30something Montrealer who goes through a bad breakup and decides he needs a change in his life. So he takes a job as a substitute teacher across the border in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, making the round-trip drive a few times a week. “Edward gets bored on the road,” Sabino explains, “so he decides to pick up a hitchhiker he regularly comes across. His name is Alex, and they got along pretty well pretty quickly.

“But soon after that, things get weird,” Sabino continues. “Edward starts having bizarre and eerie nightmares about something from his childhood that’s not really clear—some kind of sick game he might have played with Alex 20 years ago, so he may know him from childhood. He discovers soon after that that they did know each other, and the games they played were pretty horrific. And the game begins again, but now as adults. It’s a story about the dark stuff you have within you. Are you willing to explore it, or do you keep it inside? It’s a nightmarish spiral you can go down.”

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That exploration of hidden dark sides has attracted a wide local readership to the works of Senécal, whose novels have been adapted into previous French-language features like 5150 RUE DES ORMES and 7 DAYS (the latter released Stateside by IFC Films). “We’re not the only ones trying to make an English-language movie from one of his books,” notes producer Marie-Louise Gariepy. “Senécal is an amazing storyteller. He has great pacing and rhythm, and all of his characters are very well-constructed and always have something you can identify with. It’s a shame he hasn’t been translated to English, because he would have great worldwide success, and we think there’s a great opportunity to have the PASSENGER book translated into English. We’ve talked over that with his editor. But we’re working on making the film first, and then we’ll see if there’s a possibility of translating the novel.”

The filmmakers plan to employ both American and Canadian actors, and to film THE PASSENGER in both countries. “We don’t see that in films too often—crossing that border—so Montreal will be Montreal, with some French and some English characters and the cultures mixed together, and then there will be the all-American setting in Vermont,” says Sabino. Adds Gariepy, “We would love to shoot in Burlington, but that could change. We’re looking for financial partners, and maybe someone great will come along from Maine who loves the story, and then we’ll say, ‘Well, let’s find a city in Maine we can work with.’ We’re open to changing the script, and we definitely want to have a partner in the United States.”

The producer also points out that right now is a good time for filmmakers from their turf to making inroads south of that border. “It’s nice to see French-Canadian directors having careers in the States, like Denis Villeneuve with PRISONERS and Jean-Marc Vallée with DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. They’re getting amazing opportunities to do American films, and it’s an interesting time for creative Quebecers.”

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor, the position he holds to this day while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews.
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