Watch Sean Nicholas Savage's songwriting process

Montreal doc A City Is An Island casts a penetrative gaze on the power players in the Canadian hub's music scene

Montreal’s indie music has been fed by the city’s low rent, attracting artists to Canada's second largest hub, and the subtle friction between its Francophone and Anglophone sides. A City Is An Island, which screened at Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX fest, ranges wide across the scene’s tendrils with chats and performance snippets from musicians who now call the city home.

Director Timothy George Kelly: “I do really long interviews if people have the time, and 95% of this always ends up on the cutting room floor. I use the camera selfishly as an excuse to get to know people that interest me. We woke up Sean Nicholas Savage one summer morning and interviewed him. It was a long one, and a good one. You can see a big bit of sleep in his eye on the close up. There was a part where we were talking about his idea of God, which is all about some kind of forward-moving energy. I asked him to compare his energy to a still object like a rock. He stopped for a moment, glared at me and replied: “I can't possibly answer that man! I can't speak rock!” A nice little moment, cut out of the film. It's interesting to think of how long we've had cinema and how many of these moments are deleted, cut, excluded from the permanence of the final vision. Little ghosts in the memories of directors and editors.   

People talk about “the waves of Montreal” which are defined by three key periods and acts since the 1995 referendum: late-1990s is Godspeed You! Black Emperor, mid-2000s are Arcade Fire and people have started defining the last few years around the success of Grimes. Talking about waves and scenes in this way is something that all those inside the scene have conflicts with. It excludes those who felt necessary from within, but were deemed unnecessary when the (likely foreign) media decided to write the history of the city. I hope there are some personal histories from the less famous, the more underground, the less sellable expressed in A City is an Island.”

A City Is An Island was first screened at CPH:DOX in November