Who remembers the "bonimenteur"?

Everyone knows that the first films were silent. But who remembers the role played by the "bonimenteur"? The bonimenteur was a live narrator who provided commentary for the first silent films shown in Quebec. Without him, these films would have been largely incomprehensible. 

This is one of the discoveries made by the Groupe de recherche sur l'avènement et la formation des institutions cinématographique et scénique (Research Group on the advent and development of Film and Theatre), directed by André Gaudreault from Université de Montréal, that allow us to go back in time and rediscover the early beginnings of Quebec cinema. One of the group's projects, a collective examination of the Quebec press from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, resulted in the repatriation of Danse indienne (1898), the earliest film shot in Quebec still in existence, to the Cinémathèque québécoise. 

The data collected during this examination made possible the creation of the Filmographie des ‘vues' tournées au Québec au temps du muet, an online database offering access to information on films shot in Quebec during the silent era, showing that cinema production in Quebec was far more abundant during the first decades of cinema than was previously thought. This documentation has also allowed these films to be placed in their proper social and cultural context. 

In 2008 and 2010, the research group launched two websites that tell the story of the first decades in the history of Quebec cinema – Silent Cinema in Québec, 1896-1930 and Cinema in Quebec: The Talkies and Beyond, 1930-1952 – where a selection of films, texts and documents can be found testifying to the prolific beginnings of the seventh art here at home. The research group is preparing an anthology of texts on early cinema, bringing together contributions from more than thirty international researchers, to be published by the prestigious Blackwell Publishing.


Groupe de recherche sur l'avènement et la formation des institutions cinématographique et scénique


André Gaudreault, Université de Montréal

Regular members

  • André Habib, Université de Montréal 
  • Jean-Marc Larrue, Université de Montréal 
  • Rosanna Maule, Concordia University 
  • Bernard Perron, Université de Montréal 
  • Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, Université Laval 
  • Pierre Véronneau, Université de Montréal