Les États généraux du film documentaire 2014 The Frame, between intuition and intention

The Frame, between intuition and intention

Translating into Images

When I started to write Au nom du Père, de tous, du ciel, the portrait of five “Righteous” individuals in Rwanda, my desire to make a film was very simple: I wanted to transmit words that were still inaudible and to give visibility to people who didn't exist in the memory of the genocide. I finished writing when I saw Olivier Dury's film Mirages. Some shots that I had imagined suddenly became possible. His framing was not merely beautiful or well composed, it had another quality that I was striving for but that I couldn't really define. I had just met a sensitivity to image which could match my own. The choice of frame intervened at each stage of the film: some were made at the moment of writing or scouting; others became evident during the shoot; some of them evoke distant memories from literature or cinema.

For Si j'existe je ne suis pas un autre, that we directed together, I spent six months observing a class of youngsters having trouble staying in the system before we began shooting. I wrote down in my notebooks the students' dialogues and what I saw. Above all I related a human and sociological experience. To return to film, I had with me a little camcorder and started taking visual and sound notes. The place I occupied amid the students little by little opened up that of the camera and the various possibilities of framing. A place seated, fixed, beside them, my eyes turned towards them. These experiments determined our choices of direction.

At the moment I'm working on the life and poetry of Thierry Metz, a poet who was also a labourer. My approach to the framing is being constructed by the verses he wrote, places he crossed, people he met. Two questions guide my research: how can I film a poet who has disappeared? How can I translate in images the essence of his poetry?

The frames that inspire me are those that do not close up vision, that work at the same time on our senses, our reflection and emotion while leaving to the viewer the possibility to escape whether it be off screen or into their own imagination.

Marie-Violaine Brincard
Director of In the Name of God, of Us All, of Heaven (2010) and co-director of Si j'existe je ne suis pas un autre (2013).

The Image Serves the Film

My work on the frame comes first from photography and from several years' experience as assistant camera operator. Today, as filmmaker and cinematographer, I try to practice as often as possible, as a musician does with his instrument or a craftsman with his tools. Between two shoots, I exercise, I experiment, I film. I can for example spend a long time in nature observing, waiting for a particular light or hue, a gust of wind; this is how I continue to build and invent my relation to the image. Once I have mastered the technique, I can forget it to concentrate on the creative dimension of my work and in this way make the image serve the film.

Numerous parameters come into play when composing a shot: the position of the camera, distance from the filmed subject, the use or not of a tripod, focal length, light, colours, contrasts, etc. It is in the combination of these different elements that sensations, feelings, emotions can surface.

The length of shots and the rhythm of the film also have a great impact on the choice of frame. My personal preference is to allow time to unfold so that the images can place us in the presence of a world, sometimes enigmatic, that touches our senses and does not reveal everything instantaneously. If the frame creates a visual limit, seems to enclose a vision, it also invites the spectator to imagine what there can be beyond.

Olivier Dury
Director of Mirages (2008) and Sous le ciel (2012), co-director of Si j'existe je ne suis pas un autre (2013) and cinematographer on documentaries.

On the Frame

I started operating the camera a little more than twenty years ago in the middle of the shooting of Animals and More Animals. Frédéric Labourasse, the cameraman with whom I was working at the time, could not finish the film. First, I hesitated about finding a replacement—up to that point I had always worked with a camera operator—but finally decided to take the risk, and thanks to the complicity of an assistant, Katell Djian, who was able to make up for my technical failings, I wound up not doing a bad job.

Then came the filming of Every Little Thing and this time I chose to shoot the film from beginning to end. I needed to put myself more on the line, more than I had up till then. In the La Borde psychiatric clinic, amid all those mad people, I had to come to terms with my fear and I sensed that the camera could at the same time protect me and allow me to move towards people, with no other intermediary.

Since then, I've never looked back: I continue to shoot my films while Katell has become the director of photography.

By taking up the camera, the idea was obviously not to do “better” than a professional—more “beautiful” shots, more carefully composed, more technically polished...— but to keep hands-on control of the frame, that frontier between what's on screen and what's off, between the visible and the invisible. A need to refrain from the temptation to see everything, to show everything, for I sensed that it was there, in that tension, that specific resistance, that some important issues were at stake.

Today, it seems to me that this question is more important than ever. At the time of digitisation, tiny cameras, the exponential multiplication of the number of screens, ever greater threats to the sphere of privacy, of the "totally visible" world towards which we are inexorably sliding, the question of the frame—and with it, the question of the off-screen, the shadowed—seems to me crucial. It is a question of ethics and politics.

Nicolas Philibert
Director of Back to Normandy (2006), Nénette (2010), La Maison de la radio (2013)...

“What I have not drawn, I have not seen.” (Goethe)

Of reality, we only ever film fragments. First of all there's the subject. For me, documentary is less a problem of subject than of approach. What is important is the point of view that you bear on what you have chosen to film. When I choose a frame, I fragment real space. The shot that I record is a reduction of volume into two dimensions, it is also a compression of real time. Editing is a supplementary contraction, another metamorphosis of time, of this space that we call “the material”.
The act of transforming material brings us closer to a certain idea of spirituality.
By decoction from mineral and vegetable substances, our ancestors made the pigments necessary to paint their frescoes. These are not only representations of reality, they are its depositaries. They affirm the essence of life.
In 1885 with oil colours on canvas, Vincent Van Gogh did a group portrait of The Potato Eaters. This tiny peasant interior lighted by a feeble oil lamp shines well beyond ages, frontiers and social conditions. It vibrates with humanity.
So why with our films, our chemical and digital palettes, are we concerned with reducing the world?
Perhaps, in our turn, we need to extract its substance in order to see it better, attempt to understand it, interpret it, dream it... So that the Real continues to surround us rather than swallow us up. To live it and not to survive it... Film little worlds in order to show the WORLD... For what spectators have not seen, they will never see.

Benoît Dervaux
Director of La Devinière (2000), Black Spring (2002), Rwanda, la vie après (2014) and cinematographer for the Dardenne brothers, among others.

Workshop schedule

- Tuesday, August 19 at 10 am, Cinema 2
Presentation by Marie-Violaine Brincard followed by the screening of In the Name of God, of Us All, of Heaven.
- Tuesday, August 19 at 2.30 pm, Cinema 2
Presentation by Olivier Dury followed by the screening of Si j'existe, je ne suis pas un autre.
- Tuesday, August 19 at 9 pm, Cinema 2
Screening of Mirages by Olivier Dury and La Devinière by Benoît Dervaux.
- Wednesday, August 20 at 10 am, Cinema 2
Presentation by Nicolas Philibert followed by the screening of Every Little Thing.
- Wednesday, August 20 at 2.30 pm, Cinema 2
Presentation by Benoît Dervaux followed by a closing discussion with the four filmmakers.
- Wednesday, August 20 at 9 pm, Cinema 2
Screening of Nénette by Nicolas Philibert and Rwanda, la vie après by Benoît Dervaux and André Versaille.

Workshop led by Emmanuel Parraud.
In the presence of Marie-Violaine Brincard, Benoît Dervaux, Olivier Dury and Nicolas Philibert.