Hochelaga, terre des âmes named Canada's foreign-language contender for the Oscars

The film, directed by Quebecer François Girard, is an ambitious historical drama about the history of Montreal that spans 750 years.

Film written and directed by Quebecer François Girard, best known for drama The Red Violin

Hochelaga, terre des âmes, directed by Quebecer François Girard, has been chosen to represent Canada for the best foreign-language film Oscar. (Séville Films)

Hochelaga, terre des âmes (Hochelaga, Land of Souls) has been chosen to represent Canada for the best foreign-language film Oscar.

The film is an ambitious historical drama about the history of Montreal that spans 750 years.

It follows a Mohawk archeologist called in when a sinkhole inside a sports stadium reveals long-buried artifacts from the city's past.

The film was written and directed by Quebecer François Girard, best known for acclaimed dramas including The Red Violin, an international co-production that won an Oscar in 1999 for best original score, and Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

"His dramatic, musical, historic and, I would even say, spiritual film is a monumental work on our origins and our encounter with the first inhabitants of our territory, Indigenous peoples," said Roger Frappier, the film's producer. 

"To tread the same ground from 1267 to 2017 is quite a journey." 

The multilingual film is in French and English, as well as in Indigenous languages, including those spoken by the Mohawk and Algonquin peoples.

Girard said these are the founding languages of Canada, making Hochelaga a step towards reconciliation with the country's Indigenous peoples. 

The road to Oscar glory

Carolle Brabant, the executive director of Telefim Canada, announced Hochelaga would be Canada's foreign-language selection in Montreal Monday afternoon.

The film was chosen by the Telefilm Canada committee comprising government and industry representatives from across the country.

"We look forward to the public supporting this film in this high-profile race," Brabant said.

"We're very proud," said Quebec Culture Minister Luc Fortin. "It shows the level of quality of Quebec cinema."

Girard said his team will now campaign to secure the support of the Academy. 

They will begin working with public relations people in Los Angeles to book screening rooms for the film and networking with industry players.

François Girard's Hochelaga, terre des âmes centres on a Mohawk archaeologist searching for his ancestors after a tragic terrain slump in the Percival Molson Stadium. The film weaves stories from the past and present for a centuries-spanning portrait of Montreal's history. (TIFF)

Of all the films submitted from around the world, the list of contenders will eventually be whittled down to five nominees. 

Hochelaga faces some strong competition already, with other international selections Oscar-bound so far including Cannes Palme d'Or-winner The Square (representing Switzerland), Angelina Jolie's First They Killed My Father (representing Cambodia) and Berlin Film Festival standout A Fantastic Woman (representing Chile). 

The 90th Academy Awards take place March 4, 2018.

A history of French-language selections

The Oscars foreign-language film category is limited to non-American productions primarily featuring dialogue in languages other than English.

Canada's most recent submissions for Oscar consideration included Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World and Mommy, Maxime Giroux's Félix et Meira and Louise Archambault's Gabrielle

Canada's choices have overwhelmingly been French-language movies, although we've also submitted films in other languages as well, including Kim Nguyen's French- and Lingala-language War Witch, Deepa Mehta's Hindi-language Water and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and The Necessities of Life, both starring main characters speaking Inuktitut.

Canadian directors whose movies have previously been Canada's official submission for Oscar best foreign-languge film consideration include, from left, Denis Villeneuve, Xavier Dolan, Deepa Mehta, Zacharias Kunuk and Kim Nguyen. (Canadian Press)

The lone Canadian movie to triumph as best foreign-language Oscar winner is 2003's The Barbarian Invasions, directed by Denys Arcand. He had earlier been nominated in the category for his films The Decline of the American Empire and Jesus of Montreal.

Nominations for the 90th Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 23, 2018, with the awards gala set for March 4, 2018 — a later date due to the 2018 Winter Olympics. Jimmy Kimmel is slated to return as host.