18 July, 2014

Montreal Stars Documentary Shines Bright and Proud

Since its debut on June 5, the documentary Les Stars has succeeded in grabbing the imagination of hockey and film fans throughout the city of Montreal. Chronicling the proud Montreal Stars franchise in this 25-minute piece, Jess Desjardins captures the spirit of what motivates and drives an amazing group of proud hockey-playing women. 

Actually beginning as part of a documentary project for Desjardins’ final year of cinema studies at the University of Quebec at Montreal, it has evolved into a visual appreciation for the game and its players. While the documentary focuses on the all-too obvious issues of media fairness and the well-known dilemma of players tirelessly finding a balance between hockey, career and personal life, it is also a celebration of the sacrifices which makes the players so unique. 

While the overall substance of the documentary is a window into a world that is not often observed, the most redeeming aspect is the opportunity to get know team founder and three-time Clarkson Cup champion Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux. As the winner of the 2014 Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award for her contributions to the game, the Stars truly represent her life’s work. 

The club’s captain for the first six seasons of its existence, Breton-Lebreux is truly the heartbeat of the franchise. Her efforts are truly the embodiment of the raison d’etre for the Stars. Sharing her stories, it is a heartwarming narrative which shows that her role with the club goes beyond the action on-ice. Breton-Lebreux is not just an athlete; she is a spokesperson, role model, ambassador and a businessperson. Desjardins masterfully captures her authenticity, bringing to light a common thread among all women in sport.  

Of note, Desjardins’ first exposure to the Stars came during the 2012-13 campaign. When a friend engaged in some research to see what women’s players did in between Olympics, the result was club play. From her very first game, Desjardins was captivated by the desire and skill on display. With the action on-ice serving as her canvas, she would place camera in hand, finding inspiration in her work. 

The true definition of a renaissance woman, Desjardins is an avid musician who also worked as a sound recordist for the documentary, her other passion is behind the lens. Currently, the official photographer for the Stars, she can be seen at home games , her love of photography has resulted in a portfolio of stunning images, capturing some of the finest in the game. 

Since the initial screening, Desjardins has focused on increasing the visibility of the documentary with viewings at other film festivals. On July 9, Les Stars was featured at part of the Lez Spread The Word (an LGBT group) Aires Libres movie nights. For those in attendance who may have been a novice to sport, there is no question that Les Stars has helped bring a new appreciation. As a side note, it also served as the first time that the documentary’s musical composer had the chance to see the finished product. 

Part of an outdoor screening at Montreal’s Parc de l’Espoir, another unique feature to the documentary is addressing perceived views and stereotypes of body image and orientation among female athletes. Conveying the message that strength should be celebrated and not a negative assumption of what a player’s orientation should be, it is a powerful message. Just as the players on the club represent a diverse group of individuals from all backgrounds, it reinforces Desjardins’ view that beauty and femininity take on several forms.

As an avid filmmaker, Desjardins adores the documentary genre because it allows her to take an existing story, get closer to the people who help form the substance of that story and possibly learn something new in the process. 

Taking into account that three years ago, Desjardins had no association with the game; she has done more than just preserve a series of moments. It is a strong sense of trust that has been developed, cultivating a mutual respect that transformed this project into a labor of love. With Les Stars, Desjardins tells a first-hand account of how the team encompasses a sense of family while perceiving their strength and character as a way to redefine how hockey is perceived while providing young women the inspiration to follow in the legacies of established players.

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