"I found an article about kids 12 to 17 committing suicide," he said.
"It was a shock for me. I was 50. I know how life can be difficult, but I know it can be rewarding. What could I do to help some of them not to do it?”
That article inspired Demers to make the iconic La guerre des tuques, a feature film about a children’s snowball fight in a small Quebec town. Demers thought the movie's message of hope and courage would help young people understand that life can be difficult, but it is worth living.
La guerre des tuques was the first in what became a series, Tales for All. The movies are all live-action and set in a contemporary setting. They often feature animals, some element of tragedy, lots of good humour and strong young leading actors and actresses.
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La gang des hors-la-loi
Now age 81, Demers is releasing the 24th feature film in that series, La gang des hors-la-loi (The Outlaw League).
La gang des hors-la-loi is about a gang of kids, ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old, who live in a small town in New Brunswick. They’ve always spent their summer holidays playing baseball, but the mayor has turned the baseball diamond into a municipal dump. So the kids set out to get it back.
First launched at the Zlin Film Festival in Czech Republic, Demers says the audience of 800 children and 200 adults were moved to tears.
“Men, adults in the theatre, started crying — they were so moved by the children’s reaction to the film," said Demers. "The next day, I was invited to participate in a competition in Brussels. Three days later, in a competition in Romania, five days later at a competition in Mexico, in Italy, in Poland ... So there is a [demand] for such a film.”
In fact, the success of the series Tales for All is remarkable. One of the features, Bach et Bottine, a story about a young orphan girl who is sent to live with her uncle, an organist who is preparing a Bach recital, ran for six months at a cinema on the Champs Elysée in Paris.
Demers says millions of people in the former USSR watched La guerre des tuques.
The films have been translated into numerous languages. Some, like La guerre des tuques, are in French in the original version. Others, like Tommy Tinker and The Stamp Traveller, were released first in English.
Now, a 3D version of La guerre des tuques, directed by Jean-François Pouliot (La grande séduction) is in the works. It’s expected to come out in 2015.
La gang des hors-la-loi is now playing at the AMC Forum in French with English subtitles. An English version of the film will be released in August.