Les États généraux du film documentaire 2013 Viewing Experiences

Viewing Experiences


In 1960, in a text entitled Men in Dark Times, Hannah Arendt wrote: "Of all the specific freedoms which come to mind when we hear the word “liberty”, the freedom of movement is historically the oldest, and also, the most basic. To be able to go where we want is the most original gesture of the free being. (...) Freedom of movement is also a necessary condition for action, and it is in action that Humanity experiences its liberty in the world."
If this freedom of movement seems, in our Western culture in any case, never to have been so obvious and natural as it is today, to what extent, from the moment it is put into practice, does it give rise to an experience of meeting another human being, to an urge to become aware of the world and a conscience of the necessity to act? This questioning is also valid for documentary cinema.
The Ancient Greeks called hubris the aspiration to overreach, to be all powerful. It covered among things the act of causing damage or exerting one's dominance as well as the theft of public property. In ancient Greece, hubris was considered a crime.
Today the most visible marks of hubris over the past half-century have probably been the explosion of inequality in the world, the ecological disaster, the surveillance of our movements and acts as well as the appearance of new frontiers and other zones of visible and invisible exclusion, at the same time as, paradoxically, neo-liberalism is constructed on the idea of a world without borders.
The most common attitude people adopt facing our dehumanised world is that of passivity. This can be considered a form of collaboration with the systems which today govern our daily lives politically and economically.
"History has seen many periods", Hannah Arendt continued, "where the public domain darkens, where the world becomes so uncertain that people cease asking anything of politics except to relieve them of their vital interests and their private liberty. We can rightly name these periods dark times."
On the other hand, thousands of individuals have mobilised recently and are still mobilising to rise up against this state of hubris so characteristic of our societies. Whether we refer to the Arab revolutions, the Indignant in Greece and Spain, demonstrations in Turkey and Brazil, cooperatives of production and consumption, associations of solidarity, to only cite some examples among many, it is abundantly clear that an ever larger number of citizens are refusing to remain at peace with those who govern the planet. By marching in the streets, sometimes at the risk of their lives and by inventing other ways of imagining the relation with the other and with our environment, they have given rise to a wave of concrete protest, and declared a belief in citizens' initiatives capable of giving birth to possible political alternatives.
Among the thousand or so films screened for this selection, we have discovered films where the filmmaker's approach is precisely to reclaim that liberty of movement that Hannah Arendt referred to, to take position within the concrete nature of the world and act, with the camera this time, against that state of hubris which is its prime characteristic. These films are important for they constitute a counterpoint to the majority of documentaries made today that, too often, remain blind and subservient to humanity's current inhospitality. In this sense, the cineastes behind the films that make up this selection are fully engaged in action. By moving to encounter lost, broken or vacillating lives, people who like them reconcile reflection and action, these filmmakers allow us to feel, thanks to their rigorous and inventive search for form, what it means today to come to grips with the world.
The movement and action we are talking about does not only mean going to places where tensions are high to film what's happening. On the contrary, several films we have selected start out from the filmmaker's daily life or their own internal reflection. But each time, the film is not a movement of withdrawal into the self, but an opening out of generosity and understanding towards humanity in general.
If each of these films is marked by a particular aesthetics, they all proceed from what we could call a diagnosis of reality. Making a diagnosis is not only a medical act. It is also the gesture constituting the essence of documentary cinema. To diagnose, in cinema, is to be able, by patient watching and listening, to make tangible the hidden part of what is visible. It is the art of leaving to each viewer the job of guessing the plurality of truths existing behind each truth that is announced.
In parallel with the fifteen films we have chosen combining freedom of movement and of action, we have selected some short films for the poetry they bear. And this is because it seems to us that defending beauty is also a political act.
Whether the problem in the films making up this programme is to film thought or bodies, to make the act of filming a human experience, or to confront the intimate with the movements of the world, these filmmakers are above all calling on us to mobilise so that we, in turn, may retrieve our liberty of movement and action.
In this sense, most of these films are so many calls to arms.

Pierre-Yves Vanderweerd and Philippe Boucq

Debates in the presence of the directors and producers.

This year, will be reviewing the Viewing experience program. The workshop will choose a three minutes excerpt from every movie, which will be shown after the screening and the debate.