Les États généraux du film documentaire 2014 Tënk!


Some of you will smile on discovering this title, “Tënk!” It's a word in Wolof very dear to me and means “summarise your idea for me”. In my opinion, it is appropriate for the world of creative documentary and should with time replace the word “pitch”. A little history of our programme. In 2002, Ardèche Images decided to launch a modest training programme at Gorée, in Senegal, “Africadoc”. It proposed a writing residency and a meeting with “fair trade” coproductions that we could not decently call a “pitch”. So the Senegalese colleagues proposed the word “tënk” and we adopted it.

Both tënks and pitches are exercises in synthesising proposals in gatherings of directors, producers and broadcasters with the following objective: making it possible for proposals to become films. That's where the resemblance ends.
– Tënks put the accent on human thought and relations; they are constructed in two periods: a short period of synthesis followed by a longer period of about one hour, face to face, for a detailed meeting between a director and a producer and often a broadcaster around the project. To put it bluntly, it’s closer to a friendly—indeed loving—encounter around cinema than to a slave market.
– Pitches develop a synthesis over a single, very short time—generally less than ten minutes—spectacular, effective, founded on seduction and the motors of competition. They privilege those projects which are most likely to fit into the “slots” of television stations, and to summarise, we can compare them to Roman circus games.
The word “tënk” comes from a West African language spoken by seventeen million Senegalese and a few hundred “creative documentary professionals”. As for the word “pitch”, it belongs to the planetary language of “commerce”, “business” and “communication”. More than a billion and a half people speak it. Look for the problem! The difference between these two words is not just a detail: the semantics, as often, covers two different visions of the world. You are tënk or you are pitch! You are either creative documentary makers or creators of product. You belong to a world vision of cinema, a certain idea of the function of images, or you belong to the dominant world of communication!

Finally, Tënk meetings are gatherings between fair-trade North-South coproducers which establish a parity in the industrial property of the film. We have the participation of small television channels who bring industrial participation or work in kind, who are in the spirit of the films and not in the idea of formatting products. And of course it is the authors and independent producers who triumph. Again this year, via the Tënk meetings, more than sixty films written by young author-citizens of cinema will begin production. An international network of documentarians is taking form, the RID. This selection of the most remarkable films presented at a Tënk is a turning point in the road, it closes the period of voluntaristic actions which consisted of presenting over the last dozen years a selection of about ten films by African authors. From the beginning, this “Africa” selection was considered an opening to “the world's peoples and cultures without creative documentary”; I have always thought that if we managed to succeed in accelerating the training of a tissue of authors and producers, we would be able to extend this type of action to other countries, other populations who are not, or too little, represented by documentary film. It is henceforth the case. In 2014, Doc Monde and its network of trainers and sympathisers organised writing residencies and Tënk meetings in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, in Siberia, in the Francophone Caribbean, in New Caledonia, in the Indian Ocean, in sub-Saharan French speaking West Africa and in French speaking Europe and plans within five years to extend to six other geographical zones.

So for this first “Tënk!” programme we will screen:
– Two films from the Eurasia Tënk. The first, Love in Siberia, was made by Andzhela Abzalova who was first a psychologist before becoming head of human relations at a television station in Surgut, Central Siberia. Although slightly repetitive, the film goes further than a simple portrait of its main character. The director wisely made the lovely relationship she established with her character the core of the film. The other Siberian documentary was directed by Alexander Kuznetsov, from Krasnoyarsk. Territory of Freedom follows Territory of Love, already shown at the Festival. It precedes Manuel de libération which he will shoot in 2015 and which has just received a grant from the French advance on box-office receipts fund. It is indeed the second part of a trilogy in which the director and cameraman gives an insider’s look on his spiritual family, a fringe group of citizens resisting the stifling atmosphere of Russian society.
– The Malagasy film by Nantenaina Lova Ady Gasy, which we saw in an early fifty-two-minute unmixed version last year under the title With Almost Nothing… and which won an aid in industrial support at the last Venice Mostra. This is a particularly coherent film, whose form and aim are consistent with the reality it celebrates: people getting by with an unflinching desire to be part of the world.
– Two films from Tënk Primavera demonstrate, if it were still necessary, how determined authors and producers can be when it comes to transforming proposals into films: Vivant! by Vincent Boujon is the result of four years of resolute effort. Little by little, it gives us access to a community of people and successfully renders the singularity of each member of this group, which is not so common. Beneath Our Feet by Alexis Jacquand, a film begun during the year of studies that the director took at the Lussas École Documentaire (class of 2009-2010). Following the establishment of an alternative sheep farm over several months, the film is particularly striking in the sensual way it depicts the animals and the nature surrounding them.
– Emerging from Tënk Africadoc, a fine surprise: the first film by Togolese filmmaker Egome Amah The Hustlers, which owes a lot to the work of a camera operator who managed to catch the essence of this underdog world within his frames. It also owes a lot to its chief editor, who found a way to organise these images into a story. An extreme proof that cinema is teamwork. Finally, there is Sani Magori's fourth film Koukan Kourcia, les médiatrices, the second chapter in his Nigerian saga. This time, the women’s singing is summoned so as to establish peace. The director decided that by making this documentary and being one of its characters, he could set off a flow of repentance and calmness. The making of the film triggers an upheaval of society in which cinema is involved at every level: it’s part of the action, it represents it and also keeps its memory.

The idea that the form of each of these films is a vision of the world marries with the idea that so also are their modes of production and distribution. This selection will be the opportunity to discover independent producers who have accompanied these works in the North. These films are the first fruits of the ecosystem we are building. I would bet that in five years, in the same place, ten sessions will not suffice to show the remarkable works which will have been produced. For the moment, let us discover this first selection—where obviously criticism and jubilation will both be welcome.

Jean-Marie Barbe

Debates led by Jean-Marie Barbe.