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Blurring the lines between art, games and social work

Award-winning filmmaker Alexandre Franchi's Master of Design thesis Quest for Communitas is a unique collaborative project to examine trauma
May 5, 2023

Alexandre Franchi has brown hair, stubble and wears a black shirt Alexandre Franchi's interests in filmmaking, supporting marginalized people and role-playing games prompted him to pursue a Master of Design at Concordia.

Graduate student Alexandre Franchi, GrDip 95, is the cowriter and director of Happy Face, an award-winning 2018 film about a support group for people with disfiguring facial conditions. The semi-autobiographical drama features a 19-year-old protagonist coping with his mother’s cancer surgery and its severe impact on her physical appearance.

Franchi’s film was shown at youth employment centres across Quebec, where social workers found that its themes of self-acceptance and resilience resonated with clients, many of whom had dropped out of high school.

The Wild Hunt, a film Franchi made in 2009 that won the Toronto International Film Festival’s Best Canadian First Feature Award, was inspired by his passion for role-playing games, or RPG.

These interests — filmmaking, supporting marginalized people and RPG — prompted Franchi to pursue graduate studies at Concordia. The two-year Master of Design program he enrolled in allows students to broaden their knowledge of design in the fields of visual communication, the built environment, interaction design and design studies.

Franchi’s thesis brought together Trois-Rivières, Quebec, youth who had dropped out of high-school for a collaborative project to examine trauma by combining RPG, design and documentary filmmaking.

Named Quest for Communitas, the project, which melds performer and observer, suspends social norms and welcomes unpredictable results, was cathartic for all involved, he says. With Quebec’s high-school graduation rates among the lowest in Canada, Franchi hopes his research will provide new tools for educators and social workers while encouraging funders to invest in more novel initiatives.

“My artistic goal is to make films that will destabilize, stir and alter audiences,” adds Franchi, a Peter N. Thomson Family Graduate Scholarship recipient. “The film itself will be created for other struggling young people. For that reason, it will be irreverent, funny and not shy away from making fun of ourselves — because humour unites us all.”

At Concordia, Franchi appreciated the environment at TAG — the university’s Technoculture, Art and Games multidisciplinary research centre that brings together scholars, artists, designers, engineers and students.

“With people from all faculties working there, it felt like a natural habitat for what I was exploring,” he says. “The environment is playful and conducive to trial and error.”

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