Quebec Superhero Can Be Hell on Wheels
Maxime D-Pomerleau burst onto the Quebec mediascape in 2013 as star and co-writer of Batwheel, a short film on the adventures of a wheelchair-powered superhero. Since then, she’s joined a professional dance company, acted in a film by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, and performed at the Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui, among other things. And while opportunities keep knocking on her door, she has her sights set on film work more than ever before.
When asked about her future, Maxime says she plans to continue working on her artistic projects in dance, film, and television. And she’d like to make a difference. “My dream is to play a role in encouraging the industry to make more room for those with disabilities, to represent and promote their talent in fiction and media,” she said.
But don’t ask for a detailed list of what she wants to achieve in the next five years. “It’s all there in my head,” she said. “But I get panic attacks whenever I start enumerating it all. I can tell you that l am totally looking forward to my first short documentary being screened and that’s pretty stressful, too. I know I really have to let things go as far as the finished product is concerned to clear enough space in my mind for other ongoing work.”
One thing that clearly stands out is Maxime’s affinity for short films. In her book, shorts are definitely the most exciting part of the seventh art. “I got a lot of my film education at the Regard: International Short Film Festival in my hometown of Jonquière, which is now part of the City of Saguenay,” she said. “I started attending the event religiously in my first year of high school and I’m super proud of the long way it’s come so far. The short format is still what speaks to me today and inspires me.”
Especially documentary shorts, no doubt stemming from her numerous postings and other activities in the media. “Over the years I’ve developed sort of a journalistic grounding and I feel closer to that form as a jumping-off point.”
Versatility is the name of the game
Maxime started doing improvisation at age twelve. “I liked it, but by its very nature improv is high-pressure. You’ve got maybe twenty seconds to decide which way you want to go. My first inclination is to build the story and develop the character rather than lunging for the punchline.
A drama course during her last year of high school was more to her liking, with an emphasis on text analysis, character development, and critical appraisal. “I loved discovering the different styles and schools of thought. It was the kind of stimulus that expands the mind.”
Our budding culture vulture continued her studies in the fine arts program at CÉGEP de Jonquière, working through an outline of film and communications, before focusing on theatrical production. “I was ecstatic to be behind the camera, sketching out the artistic direction, and getting my hands dirty in stage productions, making costumes, and doing make-up,” she said. “I also realized how much I loved organizing shows, improvised events, and multidisciplinary performances.”
Although her aspiration was to find a role for herself in the cultural event industry, she was never given the impression that those with disabilities like herself would find a place there. “I could go on about the many cultural facilities that don’t even provide wheelchair access but it goes much deeper than that. Fact is I never saw anyone with a disability working in the cultural sector,” she said. “When I worked for the Festival des arts de la marionnette or the Centre national d’exposition du Mont Jacob in Jonquière, I was the only person with a disability.”
Against all odds
But life has a way of opening doors for Maxime despite the challenging experiences she had. Her short film Batwheel is a good example. Without even a press release being sent to the media, she was invited to be a guest on the Du côté de chez Catherine Perrin show on Ici Première to talk about the project which was still only in the editing stage. “We were really being swept away by something much bigger than we were,” she said.
The second person in the “we” is Jessy Poulin, the film’s director and co-writer. Maxime and Jessy first teamed up when they were in CÉGEP. A few years later, Jessy was in the film industry and wanted to do some projects on her own and she asked Maxime to act in a short she was working on.
The two-minute film, shot on a shoestring in just one day, featured a wheelchair-powered superhero. “We did it as a joke, but the people we showed it to said they really liked the character and it made them laugh and think,” said Maxime.
Realising they were on to something, the two creators shot a longer, more polished version in 2012. “We were inspired by comic characters and Tim Burton-style superhero films, with a nod to the old Batman and a gone-haywire feel to it,” she said.
The film and Maxime were the talk of the town. The following year, she received an invitation to join Corpuscule Danse from France Geoffroy, the late founder and director of the company. “While I was more inclined towards film, I thought it was good as a performer to get some physical training in,” Maxime said. “France lost no time in making me understand that she wanted to take me up to the professional level. I’ve been part of the company’s core performing group since 2014.”
Maxime’s also worked under the direction of choreographer Dave St-Pierre in Philippe Brach’s music video, acted in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette film Prends-Moi, and in the play Guérilla de l’ordinaire at Théâtre d’aujourd’hui. She’s clearly got that something that creators are looking for. “For a long time, I thought my disability was a liability, but now I realize it’s an asset for working with many artists,” she said. “Either because they’re interested in exploring the possibilities of extreme slow motion, or because they want to create with performers with atypical body shapes or different backgrounds. It also lets them embrace diversity, exchange with us, and understand what we can bring to the creative process.”
With all the emphasis placed today on cultural, sexual, and gender diversity, Maxime feels it’s very important to consider bodily and functional diversity, too. You can be sure that she’ll be pointing her camera and mic at those who rarely, if ever, get to enjoy the spotlight, as she spreads her wings to take her rightful place in the world of short documentary films.
In 2018, she began a project of closely following someone at the end of life to capture the mystical finality of the last moments. These days she’s waiting to get the all-clear so she can begin a film about a musician friend. “When she told me she was going to start an all-queer, all-female band, while exploring themes like transidentity, I told her I wanted to be there to get it down on film,” she said. “Like all my projects, this one might evolve or even end up not getting done, but what matters most to me is the process and meeting people.”