Les États généraux du film documentaire 2014 Scam Day

Scam Day

Our Obscure Homeland, the Documentary

to JMP

A selection of a few films made with the support of the “Brouillon d’un rêve” seed fund. Surely not a series of prize winners or else many would be missing, without taking into account those that received our aid and ended up in the “official” selection at Lussas, so true is it that “Brouillon d’un rêve” has become soluble with documentary production as a whole. A few representative films. Of what? Of themselves first of all, of the vitality of the genre, its wealth, its diversity, its capacity to invent and to stir emotions, to make less incomprehensible the world in which we live, the present and the past which explains so much that remains incomprehensible in the present. Documentary is always an art of the encounter: with oneself, with one's memory, one's family, ancestors, tribe, with others, indeed one's adversaries, with our contemporaries as well as with those who have disappeared. A way of looking, searching, deciphering. Contrary to the journalistic report which is always in a hurry to reach its goal, documentary always requires time, time to move ahead or lag behind, time for the unforeseen. Style is essential. Humour or irony also but that is less widely known.

My dream this year, our dream would have been to present more films, present them in duos or trios: we would have seen then how without knowing it or wanting to, films made independently from each other take the same approach, explore the same question and do completely different things with it, each time creating singular artistic works. This is no doubt true of all commissions. We always see things emerge which are in tune with the times, those vibrations in the air that projects pick up simultaneously without knowing it. But we had to choose, you always have to choose. Who says “choice” immediately says “a plethora of choices”.

It's the same thing for the projects themselves. After two years on the commission I never cease to be surprised when on reading the submissions for a session, you are convinced that such and such a proposal stands out above the crowd and will be universally recognised as worthy of support. Alas no, it's very rare in fact. This sort of project is the exception. Much more often, you have to convince, discuss, wage battle, concede, negotiate and cede ground. Above all say no to the search for a common denominator which very quickly becomes the lowest common denominator, refuse compromise, accept to be bewildered by the eyes of others.

What is so striking in this highly original spot, dedicated to so many beginnings as well as to the essays which have less and less space to exist, is that the genre is not drying up, on the contrary, its inspiration is not dwindling. Of course some films are more pertinent than others, there are disappointments, attempts which do not succeed—and mistakes, obviously. The taste for risk is part and parcel of documentary—an extremely relative risk on the part of the commission who risks nothing strictly speaking, except the failure of a project we have defended.
Each commission member, each reader comes with their experience, but above all their good will (here there is little superego, no desire for revenge, no lust to distinguish good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly, the useful and useless, no fantasy of a public nor any moral judgement on the interesting or accessible subject, etc.). But how to decide, how to judge while never ceasing to preserve the trembling, never forgetting that we could be on the other side...

Let's admit it. There is something harassing about reading those piles of projects, texts sometimes too vague, often too verbose—the fear of the void you can sense in the candidate, the panic of running dry, of not covering enough pages to convince the commission of their seriousness and the worthwhile nature of their intentions—without imagining that on the other side, those first readers would like nothing better than a clear line, a sketch drawn in a trait. There is a sadness too in observing that the virus of the “documentary scenario” has contaminated even the margins of the craft: that invention of those who want to be reassured and to whom you must recount the succession of future images as if they'd already been shot, as if each scene were the execution of a plan, as if each interview were programmed to record an answer known in advance, as if each image had been frozen before being reheated—it's enough to send shivers down your spine. Look around you when the ritual of a screening takes place at those who do not lift their eyes from their notebooks except occasionally. Preferring not to risk being troubled by the film and what it might provoke within them, they note down everything they hear, frenetically, dialogue, words, commentary as if the meaning were only verbal and the images mere illustrations. Documentary is an art of surprise. It must never be forgotten. What is seen or glimpsed is never expected, never completely, not quite, not at all. Fortunately.

How many times have we heard that anguished question: what does a good documentary project look like? The recipe is simple: there isn't one. The content draws forth the form. What you want to say already permeates your way of saying it, what you are trying to make people see. Every project must strive to be a projection, a story that is not pure fiction, characters, a style, a narrative still partially sketched out or materials for an essay, an aesthetic, in short, the essential: a point of view. A way, not of handling a subject, but of looking at and questioning reality, the construction of the object that you have given yourself, your choices as well as your refusals. I have come to the point where I wonder if it's not what you refuse to do, deliberately, which is crucial in a film project, in this sketch presented as a potential film, in these “sketches of dreams”. No offense intended to its inventor and tireless organiser, no offense to the Scam, this title has troubled me for a long time—before it became an emblem. These films are not sketches. There is uncertainty to be found, desire, obstinacy, chance, and a touch of the infinite. Each film is a sketch of the ones that will follow. These documentaries do not fear cinema, these films do not fear spectators.

Jérôme Prieur
Writer and filmmaker
Member of the “Brouillon d’un rêve” seed fund 2013-2014 jury

Aid Fund for Creative Documentary Films and Essays.
The 2013-2014 jury and reading commission: Chantal Briet, Dominique Loreau, Jérôme Prieur, Amalia Escriva, François Porcile, Robin Hunzinger, Matthieu Chatellier, Elisabeth Kapnist, Anna-Celia Kendall.
Some figures: 888 projects aided to date, 66% films completed*, 51% broadcast on television, 25% in independent circuits, 10% in cinemas, 14% on the internet, DVD, various formats (* taking into account a two-year period for full production).

Debates in the presence of the directors.