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Montreal filmmaker 'amazed' by third trip to Cannes fest

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TORONTO - Few young filmmakers can claim to be Cannes veterans.

But at 24, Chloe Robichaud heads to the prestigious film festival Monday for the third time with her 13-minute tale "Herd Leader" (Chef de meute).

Although she's been on the Croisette twice before, the writer-director notes this is the first time she'll be competing for a coveted Palme d'Or in the short film category.

"I'm quite amazed by what's happening," Robichaud said in a recent phone interview from her home in Montreal.

"There are so many submissions in short films for the official competition. For sure it was a dream to me to one day achieve, to have a place in official competition. (But) it was too soon to say, 'OK, at 24 I'm going to be there.' It's a great surprise."

Robichaud's Cannes debut came in 2010 when her short film "Me Neither" (Moi non plus) was selected to screen at the Short Film Corner, a side program where directors and producers can mingle and gain international exposure.

She returned in 2011 when "Still Life" (Nature Morte) was selected as part of a Quebec showcase of homegrown talent.

Robichaud says she broke into tears and laughter when she learned she had made the cut for the short film competition.

She'll be up against nine other filmmakers from countries including Turkey, Syria, Puerto Rico, Germany, France, the United States, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand.

Other Canadians headed to Cannes include David Cronenberg, whose Robert Pattinson thriller "Cosmopolis" is part of the main competition. His son Brandon will bring his debut feature "Antiviral" to the "Un certain regard" category, which features work by young and innovative directors.

Quebec phenom Xavier Dolan will also be in the "Un certain regard" section with his third feature, "Laurence Anyways."

Robichaud's dramedy centres on a 30-something woman named Clara who faces constant pressure from her overbearing family to find a man and settle down. When her aunt suddenly dies, she's left to take care of the woman's dog, forcing her to gain control of her life.

"I had a dog two years ago and I had to go through the same process," Robichaud says of learning to be a pack leader, adding that she got her dog through a breeder.

She eventually gave her puppy to a family who could better care for it.

"With a dog you have to show that you're the leader so that they respect you and I just took that (idea) and put it on a character — that she had to do the same but with her family."

The dog in the movie is actually Robichaud's former pup — now a three-year-old pug on the way to stardom, she jokes.

Robichaud describes her cinematic approach as "really minimalist" and says she's drawn to coming-of-age themes. Her previous film, "Me Neither," also featured a young woman struggling to establish her independence.

"I want to make optimistic films," Robichaud says of her philosophy.

"At the end, often, the character, she realizes that she has to take her place in life and I think it's a recurrent theme that I have. There's a lot of pessimistic films right now in our cinema, which I think is fine ... but I want to propose something more optimistic."

And like her characters, the Concordia University grad admits to having more confidence in herself as she returns to Cannes with her third film, shot for $2,000 in Montreal.

Robichaud has booked a two-week stay which she'll spend with the film's star, Eve Duranceau, and two producers.

"We really wanted to live it, you know," she says of the lengthy visit.

"It's our first time in official competition so we said, 'Why not?' We're going to go and just live it from the beginning to the end."

That should also give her plenty of time to lay the groundwork for her cinematic ambitions: Robichaud says she'll be promoting her upcoming feature film debut, "Sarah Runs."

It centres on a 20-year-old track star who is invited to join the best club in Montreal.

"But she really doesn't have the money to go to that university so she decides to marry a friend to get better loans from the government," she explains.

"But you know, a wedding is more than a word so it has some consequences for her."

Shooting is expected to take place in Montreal in August.

Robichaud says being in a competitive slot should bring more attention from other festivals and possibly film buyers.

"For sure my dream would be to have my first feature film in Cannes next year. I'm going to try to tell them that I'm coming with a feature film next year," she vowed.

The Cannes Festival de Cannes begins Wednesday. It ends May 27 with awards for feature and short films.

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