Les États généraux du film documentaire 2009 Interventions in the Public Space

Interventions in the Public Space

This day is organized by the Friends of the États généraux du film documentaire de Lussas.

The idea of questioning public space is not unrelated to a time when, from all quarters, arise cries of alarm at the collapse of public services. Before taking into account the sum of knowledge produced on the subject by sociology, we wanted, as Friends of the États généraux, to make visible this public space first of all and simply as one where bodies move, where gestures towards others are constituted, where subjects who compose a shared world meet — or not, where alliances are made and conflicts carried out. Public space is a question of cinema — in particular in documentary which of necessity films it. The very screens of cinema houses or festivals are part of this public space. As for the contemporary multiplication in the number of documentary productions observed everywhere, this affects the very definition of public space, constitutes or reconstitutes it, configures and becomes coextensive with it.
Public space? The word "public" has the same etymology as the word "people". People is the word which designates the political nature of a community, the way in which that community is not an indistinct mass that is supposedly consensual but an assembly of subjectivities susceptible to contract and conflict. What is the social practice which determines the public nature of a space? We propose that it is precisely the quality which allows the sharing of time — that is to say the sharing of a political history. This space is marked by its indetermination, as it is a field of possibles which have not yet been realized. It is therefore a space of gestures, actions, creations which constantly reset in motion the social link in its widest, most open, indeed most universal sense. In a certain way, art is the quintessential field which produces public space – architecture, urbanism, assembly areas, zones of circulation, places where are executed all the services which are the rights of all without distinction. The public space in this sense is not opposed to a private space as the outside would be opposed to the inside: a neighbourhood, a school, a hospital, a town hall are part of the public space just as a street, a crossroads, a square, a stadium, a theatre or a garden.
All of public space is today threatened with privatisation. Streets, building façades, garden fences, street corners, everything or almost which confronts our eyes as we cross public space is converted into spaces of advertising devoted to the market. As it becomes disinterested in everything which is public, the State itself progressively breaks with the people. If art is the exemplary field of political practice, it is in the way that any creative gesture has an effect on the social link based on the subjective experiences of each individual.
Intervention in the public space (what is left of it) is a practical question. Our guests have situated their practice in the very heart of public space, with the firm intention of acting upon it and sharing within it the meaning of their action.
One is painter and drawer, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, who sketches, produces drawings in series and places them in public spaces. The other was co-founder of Grapus, a group renowned in the sixties for placarding graphic creations on the city walls. Gérard Paris-Clavel is today head of the Association Ne Pas Plier and continues his work of creation and intervention in public spaces with the explicit desire of transforming the social fabric in which he intervenes through his gestures, signs, images and words.
Their presence is something new at Lussas, and we believe it is of precise significance at the moment when, all around, separate mobilisations seek out convergence and alliance. The entire world of creation should collaborate, it seems to us, in the production of political solidarity with the struggles being carried out on all fronts. Reconquering public space is reconquering political life itself. Investing the public space is a way of assuming responsibility for the life of the bodies that share a world, share a time. Thinking space is thinking time. All those who make films know well that framing, editing, sound, voices, rhythms and the places granted or refused, all this composes — around the encountered bodies, the recorded voices and the exchanged looks — the possibility of allowing the people to emerge and reconquer political life.
We will open the day's programme with these artists. We will then continue the dialogue with Marcel Trillat, journalist and documentary filmmaker. From 1967 (Le 1er mai à Saint-Nazaire) to today, Marcel Trillat has directed or co-directed films which can undoubtedly be defined as films of intervention in the public space. Echoing his activity as journalist, he has filmed for public television working class struggles, strikes, difficult situations little or not at all taken into account by the ordinary programming of these same public television companies.
This constancy, coherence or obstinacy are in themselves an important reason for proposing a dialogue with Marcel Trillat about his practice as well as about his conception of public space as an area that television has been able to constitute and then dismantle. The documentary filmmaker is not just an eyewitness, he is not content simply to record what took place, what has disappeared (something which is already significant). He is also an actor within this public space which becomes an intimate link when a television screen opens up to a nonconformist programme — not to mention the silver screen in a cinema.
Filming what is off-frame in the media, off-subject in the spectacle of consumer society and showing it through the very device of ordinary alienation, in the space and time of commercialized television screens, is not only a way to protect that which in our time refuses to yield to the various powers that be and their accomplices; it is also a way to affirm another relationship to spectators, another way to practice addressing the public.

Coordination : Jean-Louis Comolli, Marie-José Mondzain.

Guests : Gérard Paris-Clavel, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, Marcel Trillat.