| 106 min
Selections and Awards
Thrown into an intensive 12-week training program, young civilians are gradually transformed into Canadian Armed Forces soldiers. An inexperienced and diverse cohort of women and men adapts as best they can to a world governed by its own rules and values. First Stripes takes viewers on a nuanced and compassionate cinematic journey into the heart of military training and its necessary indoctrination process. With mixed feelings of apprehension and eagerness, the recruits gradually join the ranks of what will become their new family. They understand that from now on, the group takes precedence over the individual, and country comes before self.
With his rich and striking visual style, Jean-François Caissy takes a fascinating look at this unique career choice.
Thrown into an intensive 12-week training program, young civilians are gradually transformed into soldiers. First Stripes takes viewers on a nuanced and compassionate cinematic journey into the heart of military training and its necessary indoctrination process. With mixed feelings of apprehension and eagerness, the recruits gradually join the ranks of what will become their new family.
This compassionate cinematic journey reveals how civilians are transformed into Canadian Armed Forces soldiers.
Jean-François Caissy is an independent artist whose work spans cinema and the visual arts. Offering one of the most original perspectives in Québécois documentary filmmaking, Caissy takes in-depth looks at microcosms of society, combining a strong sense of composition with a humanist approach to the topics he addresses. He employs a rigorous technique in his series of films exploring three different stages of life. Journey’s End (2009) and Guidelines (2014) tackled the topics of old age and adolescence, and now, with First Stripes, he provides a rare look at the beginning of adulthood—that period when individuals must begin to build their future and make important choices, including deciding on a career.
As they undergo 12 weeks of intensive training, a group of young civilians is gradually moulded into soldiers. This basic military qualification, a prerequisite for joining the Canadian Armed Forces, becomes the gateway to exploring the inner workings of a world governed by its own rules and values. Avoiding a judgmental approach, First Stripes observes the process through which candidates are trained and integrated into the army. Thrust into an austere environment where discipline reigns supreme, the recruits submit to learning the ropes with mixed feelings of apprehension and enthusiasm. They understand that, from now on, the group takes precedence over the individual, and country comes before self.
Most are in their twenties; some already have children. They joined the army for different reasons: for the challenge, to have greater job stability, a need to belong. Together, they make up a disparate cohort of men and women. From the first day of enlistment to the graduation parade at the end of training, First Stripes provides a glimpse into a unique world, charting the journey of a group with little experience in the ways of military life.
The filmmaker takes a rigorous observational approach to capturing this world. He shuns all commentary, opting instead to film the life experiences that emerge in the course of a routine interspersed with symbolic activities and enduring rituals. The camera focuses directly on the daily activities of these young adults, recording gazes and gestures that express their individuality better than words. In rare private moments, they communicate with the outside world and reflect on what they’ve left behind. A steady stream of unexpected events leaves the recruits with no downtime. Viewers, too, are swept into the whirlwind of a training process that sometimes makes us forget the real purpose behind this career choice.
Made with the help of his long-time creative collaborators (cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni and editor Mathieu Bouchard-Malo), First Stripes is Jean-François Caissy’s fourth feature film, and his second with National Film Board of Canada producers Johanne Bergeron and Colette Loumède.
A photographer by training, I’ve always taken an intuitive approach to documentary filmmaking, working mostly incrementally, with no script or main characters. Of course, the topic has invariably been something that stoked my curiosity; but the research process for each new project only gets underway once I find a space to create, one in which I feel I want to work and where I sense the film will be able to unfold naturally.
Premières armes (First Stripes) is the third part of a five-documentary series that’s a free-flowing meditation on the stages of life. This seemingly ambitious undertaking took shape quite spontaneously. The first in the series is Journey’s End (2009), a film about aging, shot in a senior’s home. Journey’s End went on to screen at the 60th Berlinale. During production, the fact that it was shot over a long period of time in a controlled, routine-driven environment allowed me to anticipate events well in advance. This meant I could work on my scenes prior to the actual shoot: a great luxury in documentary filmmaking. So for my next film, I naturally wanted to replicate the same conditions, though this time with younger subjects so that I could explore new areas. This led to La marche à suivre (Guidelines) (2014), a film about teens that was shot in a rural high school. Ironically, I got the idea to continue the series during my second trip to Berlinale when, after a screening of La marche à suivre (Guidelines), a viewer asked me what age group I was planning to tackle in my next project.
The overarching premise for Premières armes (First Stripes) is the lead-up to adulthood: that period between 18 and 30 when we struggle to find our place in society and make certain choices, including choosing a profession. I chose to focus on the training of young army recruits. While the focus here is not an obligatory rite of passage (as it was with my first two films), the topic afforded a sort of condensed view of the road to adulthood: the young soldiers are suddenly burdened with major responsibilities, forcing them to grow up fast. On another level, the military has always fascinated me. It’s a parallel world to civilian life and pretty well the polar opposite of what I do, and I felt an irresistible urge to explore it through the camera. There was no ideological or political bias; I just wanted to give rise to an encounter between this institution and my filmmaking approach.
The film’s structure evolved organically: shoot for 12 consecutive weeks (i.e., throughout what’s known as “basic training”), using the drills to propel the action. It took us nearly a year to get permission to film, but the Canadian Armed Forces finally granted me carte blanche.
Jean-François Caissy was born in the town of Carleton-sur-Mer, located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, a place whose vast horizons can help to expand one’s perspective and view of the world. These vast horizons have made Caissy an independent artist, active in filmmaking as well as other visual arts. In 2005, he released his first feature-length documentary, La saison des amours, about two families who reunite every fall to go hunting. The film was well received by critics, and in 2009 it was followed by La belle visite, which Caissy directed as an artist-in-residence at Les Films de l’Autre, a centre for independent filmmakers in Montreal. An internationally-acclaimed look at life in a senior citizens’ residence in an abandoned motel on the St. Lawrence, the film had its world premiere at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, won the award for best documentary at FICFA (the international francophone film festival in New Brunswick) and was nominated for Jutra and Genie awards in the best documentary category. It was also selected to screen at several prestigious film festivals, including the BFI London Film Festival, the Visions du Réel festival in Switzerland and the Hot Docs festival in Toronto.
A photographer by training, Caissy continued to work in the visual arts while making films, and he has exhibited his work in several galleries. Early on, he put his talents as a videographer to use in the theatre. In 2006 and 2007, he developed videos for the stagings of Under Construction and Nager en surface, two theatrical productions presented at Espace Go in Montreal. In 2011, his video installation Derby was shown at the Centre Clark and Galerie F in Montreal. Caissy has also given lectures about his artistic practice at the Université du Québec à Montréal (“Stratégie de communication,” 2011) and at the Institut national de l’image et du son (“Filmer le réel,” 2010). For nearly 10 years, he has been an active member of the gallery Espace F, as well as of the Vaste et Vague artists’ centre in his native Carleton-sur-Mer.
Caissy returned to filmmaking in 2014 with his third feature doc and first National Film Board collaboration, La marche à suivre (Guidelines), a meditation on adolescence composed of a series of long takes chronicling the lives of teenagers at a rural high school. The film was screened at the 64th Berlinale and enjoyed lively success with both critics and audiences. In 2016, pursuing his interest in the various formative stages that mark the lives of individuals, Caissy began shooting Premières armes, immersing himself in the lives of young recruits in the Canadian Forces. This exploration of a little-known world represents yet another milestone in an exemplary artistic career founded on the ability to carefully observe different microcosms of society. Premières armes is an NFB production.
Photo : Michel La Veaux
Following her university studies in communication and film, Johanne Bergeron embarked on a career in the private sector. During a successful stint at Vent d’Est Films from 1992 to 1999, she produced such films as La République des Beaux-Arts – La Malédiction de la momie / The Republic of Fine Arts – The Curse of the Mummy (1998) by Claude Laflamme and Les survivants de l’apocalypse (1998) by the late Richard Boutet.
In 1999, she joined the National Film Board of Canada’s French Program as a line producer, working in close collaboration with producers Nicole Lamothe and Yves Bisaillon. She was subsequently put in charge of national and international co-productions and was appointed to the position of producer in 2007. In 2009, she joined the Quebec Studio where she continues to develop documentary film projects. Over the years, she has produced a number of films, including Junior (I. Lavigne and S. Thibault, 2007; Best Canadian Feature Documentary award, Hot Docs), Shots in the Dark (L. Moreco, 2008), The Battle of Rabaska (M. Duckworth and M. Isacsson, 2009), The Coca-Cola Case (G. Gutierrez and C. Garcia, 2009), They Think I’m Chinese! (N. Giguère, 2011) and, more recently, Triptych (R. Lepage and P. Pires, 2013) and Guidelines (J.-F. Caissy, 2014), which has been screened the world over, from Berlin to New York.
For the 75th anniversary of the NFB, Bergeron produced the content for the Making Movie History: A Portrait in 61 Parts website (D. Desjardins and J. Robertson), which went online in 2014, as well as The Red Path by Thérèse Ottawa, the first film resulting from the Tremplin NIKANIK competition.
Since 2008, Bergeron has also been responsible for the ACIC (Aide au cinéma indépendant – Canada) Unit, which provides support to many filmmakers year after year, enabling them to complete their films. They Dance at Night (I. Lavigne and S. Thibault, 2012), The Sower (J. Perron, 2014) and The Work of Days (B. Baillargeon, 2014) are eloquent examples that have been acclaimed at festivals.
In addition to serving on the board of the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) from 2002 to 2006, Bergeron expanded the partnership between the NFB and the René-Malo Chair at UQAM through the creation of a competition for most promising documentary filmmaker in 2010. In 2014, she brought the NFB, SODEC and the Conseil des arts de Montréal together to launch the Regard sur Montréal residency for culturally diverse emerging filmmakers.
Photo : NFB
Colette Loumède oversees the French Program’s Documentary Studio at the National Film Board of Canada. She has produced or co-produced some 50 documentaries, most of which have won prestigious awards and screened at major festivals such as Hot Docs, IDFA, TIFF, Sundance, Visions du réel and Rotterdam. She has always sought out
emerging as well as established talents, resulting in a range of social-issue documentaries with different narrative approaches, from geopolitical investigations to explorations of complex personal experiences.
Colette constantly redefines the limits of possibility in filmmaking and in creative research through her deep commitment to sharing an artist’s vision and making documentary a universal platform for visual storytelling.
For many years, Colette worked as a documentary project analyst for SODEC, Quebec’s public film funding agency. She also founded and directed the Documentary Program at the Institut national de l’image et du son de Montréal, the first professional film school in Quebec. During her time with the institution, she drew on her extensive experience as a producer to share her passion and vision for auteur documentary with many aspiring filmmakers and producers.
Today, Colette is more involved than ever in new NFB productions, exploring fresh ideas alongside new talents and working with experienced creators, all in an effort to produce works for audiences around the world to discover.
Researched, Written and Directed by
Additional Camera and Sound Recording
Additional Sound Recording
Graphic Design and Titles
Jean Paul Vialard
Music Research and Additional Editing
Research and Rights Clearance
Digital Editing Technician
A National Film Board of Canada Production
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.