My friend Gil

“Me, I want to be in the camera!”

By Jean-Emmanuel Allard

At Christmas, one of the brothers-in-law often brought a video camera. And every time, Gil asked to be filmed. One year, when the brother-in-law forgot to bring the camera, Gil was really upset. It was one of the first occasions that his family saw him in such distress. Marie tried to reason with him by explaining that it wasn’t necessary for him to be filmed every time. Gil responded, “Oh, no, no! Me, I want to be in the camera!”

Based on these observations, we decided to offer Gil a professional photo session complete with lighting, a backdrop and all the necessary photo equipment.

Gil played along with great enthusiasm and concentration. He chose his own outfits and came up with different poses. He was also very attentive to the instructions we gave him about shooting angles and working within the lighted zone.

The photo shoot lasted several hours, and Gil was very present the whole time, watching us work and even helping us assemble and dismantle the mobile studio equipment.

Gil and Nora

All of this took place in the living room of Gil’s home, to make it easier for him to have access to his clothing. One of the members of L’Arche Agapé, Nora, sat quietly through the whole photo session, embroidering. Gil and Nora posed together for a souvenir photo.

Gil and DubertGil’s house leader at the time, Dubert, came home following an event for which he was all dressed up, so we photographed them together, too.

A year later, we produced a whole series of outdoor photos with this same duo, Gil and Dubert, for an advertisement in a magazine. We’ll publish a clip on that series soon.

Back at the photo shoot, something special happened at the end, once we had already taken apart the lighting system and put away the cameras.

All that was left was the big roll of white paper that we had used as a backdrop. We were just about to roll it back up with Gil’s help, when suddenly he stopped, as if he was looking for something. Then slowly, he leaned over, got down on his knees and placed both hands on the area of the back drop that was spread out across the floor. We waited, trying to understand what he was trying to say. He stopped moving, completely focused on the expanse of white paper underneath his hands, as if nothing else existed.

When we asked what was happening, he slowly lifted his head and his eyes were filled with tears. “This not leave… stay here, always.” With few words he made us understand that he didn’t want the backdrop to be put away; he wanted it to stay in place.

It was clear that this photo session was important for Gil, that he realized that this privileged moment was about to end. By trying to hold down the blank white paper that had served as a stage where he could express himself, Gil was telling us how important this space was to him – a place where he could be in the spotlight in the lead role.

We all need this positive regard, especially people who have been marginalized by society.

Thank you, Gil, for reminding us!

Feet on white backdrop


Mon Ami Gil – Clip 10 – Photo Shoot from L'Arche Canada on Vimeo. 


Project initiator: Gil Frois
Filming: Voices and Colors New Media
Production: Jean Vanier Association
Web series adaptation: L’Arche Canada
Filming and dissemination partners: L’Arche Agapè and Association des Arches du Québec

Percussion: Kéman Seck

Sometimes it takes a long time to truly listen to people who express themselves differently, who don’t fulfill roles in society from which they can be heard.
Most documentaries are inspired by exceptional subjects or unusual situations. In this film, the camera follows Gil as he goes about his everyday tasks. He completes each job with the same tireless enthusiasm, never giving up.
These days, everyone is rushing everywhere, always seeking more, never feeling enough. Yet, you seem to be content being just where you are, present to people and the moment, and open to wonder.
I did not know Aurèle, but I was sad when I heard that he died. I was sad for him and his family and friends, for his friend Gil, their housemates and their L’Arche community.
Do you have an intellectual disability and dream of being a model? Gil invites you to step onto the stage and participate in our ExpressYourself Contest by posing in front of the camera!
One of Gil’s greatest gifts is his capacity for mutuality in friendships where each helps the other to grow, each brings out the best in the other. When he was young, Gil was fortunate to be accompanied by an extraordinary special educator, François Villemaire, who at the time worked for the “Pavillon du parc”, an establishment that is part of the network of health and social services in Gatineau, Quebec.
Many thanks to everyone who answered our invitation and shared their smile for World Down Syndrome Day. We are now launching a new invitation… to share the stage with Gil. Do you know anyone with an intellectual disability who, perhaps inspired by Gil, would like to be in the spotlight? Write to us at
Why does my heart melt when I see a picture of Gil Frois in my Facebook feed or on I’m either rushing or exhausted, but I jump online to make sure I’m not missing yet another thing… there he is smiling at the camera, or captured at work, or making music. His photo makes me pause and catch my breath.
How can we describe Gil’s music? Innate, intuitive, inspired, free, without reference? Different, for sure!