Explicit suicide scene leads Quebec school board to cancel film screenings

The Val-des-Cerfs School Board in Quebec's Eastern Townships has cancelled a trip to the theatre for 600 students to watch Yan England's new film 1:54, after public health and suicide prevention organizations warned that it contains an explicit suicide scene.

Several Eastern Townships school boards advised not to use 1:54 as an educational tool

The film 1:54 stars Sophie Nélisse and Antoine Olivier Pilon as teenagers dealing with bullying. (Radio-Canada)

Students in Quebec's Eastern Townships won't be going on a field trip to the movie theatre to watch Yan England's new film 1:54, after public health and local suicide prevention organizations warned that it contains an explicit suicide scene.

The Val-des-Cerfs School Board cancelled the field trip for a total of 600 students, after school boards in the region were warned about the scene.

"[Teachers] have a responsibility to protect their students," said Tania Boilar of Jevi, a suicide prevention organization in the Eastern Townships. "They have a responsibility that they don't have in the outside world."

The Quebec director's first feature film revolves around a shy, naturally athletic but off-beat 16-year-old boy named Tim, who is relentlessly bullied at the hands of his peers.

The film tackles issues of depression, stress, bullying and suicide among teens. Since its release in October, it has made over $1 million at the Quebec box office.

'Made to be in theatres, not … classrooms'

Boilar said the suicide scene, as well as a lack of a support system around the main character as he experiences bullying and depression, make the film inappropriate to use as an educational tool.

"If [the main character] had asked for help, for example, it would have made the movie different. If the friends of the student were there for him, if there were teachers around, it would have made a difference," said Boilar.

But she didn't condemn the film as a work of art by England, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2013 for his short film, Henry.

"The film was created to be a movie and a good movie. It was made to be in theatres and not necessarily in classrooms," said Boilar. 

For the head of public health in the region, Dr. Melissa Généreux, using the film as an introduction to difficult conversations about bullying and suicide might do more harm than good.

"It's been well proven that exposing youth to an explicit suicide scene, especially if it isn't in a very controlled environment, can have harmful effects on kids who were already more vulnerable or who had suicidal tendencies," Généreux said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

School board heeds recommendations

Val-des-Cerfs was one of many school boards warned by the regional public health agency. The board cancelled the cinema trips — multiple outings for multiple group of students — over the weekend. They'll be replaced by a free activity at the schools.

The school board's director general, Éric Racine, told Radio-Canada that the cancellation for École Secondaire Massey-Vanier students was due to a lack of pedagogical resources to frame the discussion of the film.

Yan England was nominated for an Oscar in 2013 for his short film, Henry. (CBC)

"The issue of bullying is very well represented. The issue comes from the suicide scenes that worry us," said Racine. "I would rather be too careful than not careful enough."

The Quebec Education Ministry had previously voiced concerns over the film's use in a classroom setting. It underlined the importance of teachers being equipped to properly frame the discussions that would stem from watching the film.

Neither the film's director nor producers could be reached for comment. 

Where to get help

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.
  • Mood changes.