Les États généraux du film documentaire 2006 Uncertain viewpoints

Uncertain viewpoints

Since the end of March we have seen three hundred and thirty seven films, that is to say sometimes six films in the same day. Nobody can imagine the anxiety of a festival selector before the projection, not even Peter Handke too busy today trying to justify his support of the Serbian ultra-nationalists. To choose films is to take a position, it means necessarily being partial, making mistakes but this is nonetheless “less serious” than making a speech at Milosevic’s funeral! We have chosen certain works and, as we wrote a few months ago, these are the films “which made us think, which work on cinema via their commitment or the relationship between the author, the characters, the audience, or via the radicality of the films’ discourse, their aesthetic invention… and which make us see the world as if for the first time.”
Other films meet these criteria and we cruelly left them aside for a thousand reasons, each one worse than the others… It is the painful principle of reality which governs any selection.
We received most of the films on DVD, a few old VHS cassettes are lost in the flood. The overwhelming dominance of the digital disk format has taken two years… This change is not without effect. Most cultural activities have been transformed by it.
In Mécréance et discrédit, Bernard Stiegler wrote: “During the 80s, American industry which had lost the home electronics market to Japan and Europe, understood that reconquest meant using multimedia, i.e. the digital handling of text, image and sound and the deployment of a telecommunications network which would totally modify the conditions of distribution. […] The US created conditions […] allowing them to retake control of the entire range of cultural technologies."
But technology is the support for a message: “The force of Hollywood’s images and the computer programmes that it designs is its industrial capacity to produce new symbols around which models of life can form.”
Jean-Michel Frodon summarised the American understanding of the power of cinema by explaining that aside from mere money, it brings with it the admiration of entire peoples and is worth more than GIs; that is how iron walls fall as well as the Berlin wall.
The development of this economic sector has become such a priority that capitalism now develops like a cultural hyperindustry. Even way back in the Ardèche hills, the noise of shots from this war resonates with particular violence. You have to be deaf not to hear them.
Facing this constant offensive by the American empire, what do we hear from Viviane Redding, European commissioner responsible for the information society and the media? “My goal is to offer the European media industry the most flexible and modern regulations in the world.”
That tells us that the digital revolution is under way and that it is telephone companies and the internet access providers who have the favour of the European Commission.
Jean-Louis Missika, professor at the Political Science Academy and head of a strategy consulting company explains, as indicated by the title of his book La Fin de la Télévision3, that television is disappearing before our eyes. The publishing and press industries are also suffering from the arrival of digital technology. Where a socially responsible economic logic suggests that it would make sense for the entire European continent to resist this thrust, the logic of finance (via in particular pension funds) impose acceptance of the rules established on the other side of the Atlantic, as brilliantly shown in Gilles Perret’s film Ma Mondialisation.
Where do we find the counter proposal of programmes on TV stations which would allow participation in a resistance in spite of a seemingly programmed death? On France 3 Regional where Gilles Perret’s film will be broadcast in a shortened 52-minute version?
France Télévisions, among others, broadcasts seventy thousands hours of programming a year, mostly influenced by audience ratings for the advertising agencies. Its officials declare that they defend documentary but seem more concerned by the prestige of the label rather than by exploiting its real capacity of stimulation.
Maybe if some of the films we saw during our selection process were broadcast on France Télévisions, there would be fewer burnt out cars in the suburbs. The ubiquity of police officers in television programming (news, fiction, reports) seems pretty ineffective.
We would like one day to negotiate with the CNC (French Cinema Authority), the CSA (French Television Supervisory Council) and the directors of the TV companies in the hope that reason could carry the day and we might invent a real policy of documentary creation.
In reality there are so few documentaries on television that we are happy to have lived through this cure of films. We needed to undergo this exercise to happily discover that the genre is still alive and well. It is true that it is not TV reports — formatted, relooked, full of self announced “innovations” to please a public constructed in the paultry imagination of marketing gurus – that were submitted for participation in the Lussas festival.
The formatting of TV programmes is one of the more pernicious mass crimes committed against the species of homo sapiens sapiens (is it cruel to remind the reader that “sapiens” means “wise”?).
The free wheel of the inert brain before the spectacle of the world served up by the “laws” of marketing suggests the mindboggling show regularly offered up on TV screens around the world: the president of the most powerful country in the world play-acting the president of the most powerful country in the world. A catastrophic failure in casting and incarnation.

And it is true that the incarnation of the questions raised by the films presented here is the real issue. Documentary cinema builds its legitimacy on the fact that it offers to the spectator a resistance to, as much as it works at the emergence of a reading of, the world. For, as Marie-José Mondzain explains, “this resistance to the Real is what stimulates thought and encourages human beings to gather together.” Brains which are made available for publicity are unavailable for thought. “When we are deprived of the possibility of making a difference between what we see and what we are, the only solution is massive identification, that is to say regression and submission” she warns.
The documentary filmmaker of 2005 shoots with whatever means she or he has at hand, but tells a story which most of the time describes a touching, difficult and violent world. The filmmaker unfolds, becomes involved in, gives a singular vision of our relationship with the world.
And God knows that there is work to do…
It’s up to you now to cover your part of the road leading to these films which invent forms, which fight against the disappearance of men and their ideas, which find the right distance from their subject, which show the power of a projection responsible for the intimate, which think about cinema as they do it, which try their luck against surrounding hostility and difficulty, which assume their responsibilities, shake up the boundaries between genres and do not hesitate to negotiate surprising trajectories giving us back our power of discernment.
The films are so many proposals awakening within us doubt along with the pleasure of a conscience at work. So many happy examples of expression to help us live in and think our world and that we will take the time to see, allowing us to discuss our uncertain ways of viewing.

Pierre Oscar Lévy, Hervé Nisic, Friday 14th July, 2006.

1. La Décadence des démocraties industrielles, Éditions Galilée, 2004.
2. La Projection nationale : cinéma et nations, Odile Jacob, 1998, p. 145.
3. Éditions du Seuil, 2006.

Guests : Débats en présence des réalisateurs.