Les États généraux du film documentaire 2015 The Documentary Fable

The Documentary Fable

Cinema weaves with reality the most inventive patterns. Desire and the pleasure of representing invite the filmmaker to grab hold of the Real and imagine contemporary tales.
By inventing the set, working with actors (professional or not), drawing on fantasy or a dramatic narrative, fables are constructed which blend documentary material with stories imagined or inspired by tales and myths.
Each one of the films screened here is solidly rooted in reality and the present time. They are political – precisely because they manage to tie together different periods. The present is that of the shoot, a putting together and to test the narrative and the encounter, the kick-off to a game. From the desire of transmission shared by all these films is born the fable, and childhood or the child inhabit these films.
The film can become an experience of collective creation where people and characters are united to create amid this encounter with the cineaste, alone or with their crew, a cinematographic narrative. More intimately, the story can explore the representations of a history which is as real as it is ghost-like. Directly grappling with a current issue, based on stories from day-to-day existence, the film distils the marvelous.
But a story does not necessarily imply a dramatisation. The direction is a staging which is unique to each film and the film’s style is not entirely dependent on its story.
This workshop has invited film directors to share their reflections, experiences, the stories of their new films. With Love and Metamorphoses Yanira Yariv draws from Ovid’s mythological fables to embody stories of transsexual men and women, to “cross borders”. David Yon’s The Night and the Kid plays with the desire to film and to tell a story of Algeria, somewhere between scenario and improvisation, vision and parable, so as to “keep on moving”. Safia Benhaim in A Spell of Fever shapes a fantastic tale of “exile as a way of perceiving the world”.
Arabian Nights by Miguel Gomes, with joyous fantasy and biting irony, teleports us into a sharp and attentive modern tale of Portugal, worn and broken by the purveyors of financial crisis.
“Why choose between Méliès and Lumière?”

Love and Metamorphoses

Summer 2007, I arrive in Rome. On the way to the beach at Ostia, I cross the Cristoforo Colombo, a shadowy road connecting the city to the sea. Strange visions appear little by little from behind the trees of the pine wood: women, men, the outlines of bodies never seen before, mocking, seductive faces call out to me, grimacing as I pass. A knowledgeable and disturbing mix of the divine, the human and the animal reminds me of the black silhouettes of bacchanal festivities on ancient vases. They are the Ostian transsexuals, I am told, without understanding what has shaken me. I don’t know what connects me to them at that precise moment but I feel there exists a bridge I must cross in order to join them. I spend months looking for a mythological text with the idea of staging it in this setting and of questioning these first sensations, this “intuition”. On discovering Ovid’s Metamorphoses in an edition illustrated by Pablo Picasso during the thirties, no doubt subsists. The exiled poet had written in the 1st century what I wanted to make our future interpreters sing twenty centuries later: the marvelous power of changing gender. A delight caused by the vivacity of the language and a kind of self-evidence pushes me irresistibly into the adventure. From the first discussions with the actors, it is the idea of staging the Metamorphoses that moves them. Intimate stories of sometimes difficult, painful but also marvelous trials emerge little by little with the trust established through the text that each one discovers with enchantment. It is indeed the filter of distancing that we all needed to find our place in this process. Rehearsals begin. A back and forth between Ovid’s text, on camera interviews and a collective rewriting bring us to a final version. What connects us is the need to cross frontiers, defy boundaries, the walls that separate us, supposed to protect us from the Other, which by its difference might imperil our identity. I feel that the cinematographic style of this film must be fragile, fragmentary, like our lives. I imagine the tale not like a discourse, a linear story, but a certain form of movement, crossing permeable frontiers, displacing the spectator’s way of seeing, from fiction to reality, from nature to artifice, from “insanity” to “normality”.

Yanira Yariv

The Night and The Kid

On November 5, 2004, in the Lussas cinema and at the time a Master’s student in documentary, I wrote these words in reaction to a film I had just seen: “Not an image of reality. An experience. Molecules combine. I am there, here and now. Elsewhere, people speak a different language. They have a history. I will never know their lives.” An admission of powerlessness or an aesthetic manifesto? In any case, ten years later, the films I make are still guided by this orientation. With my camera, I try to record a presence in the world, the light in which I am and of which I follow the trace. The Birds of Arabia (2009) and The Night and the Kid (2015) are two films shot in Djelfa, Algeria. With passing time, a relation of trust has been established with some inhabitants and the making of a film has allowed us to share a common experience in spite of the difference of language. The Night and the Kid (2015) constructed its form in a series of to and fro movements between scouting locations, collective writing, improvising, shooting and editing. The thrust of the film was to walk once again in places which had been deserted since the passage of the terrorists in the nineties. Lamine and Aness occupied these areas based on a few indications (action, subject of discussion, dialogue) and appropriated the situations for themselves. Little by little, a personal story was outlined and fable met documentary, as a necessary distance to be able to evoke the intimate and to lay down the weight of history. Through this interminable night, the film evokes a story connected to childhood and loss.

David Yon

A Spell of Fever

The Hinterland (2009) and A Spell of Fever (2014) form a diptych around political exile: that of my mother, a Moroccan communist refugee, who sought political asylum in France in 1973. The Hinterland was filmed in the country of exile, France. A Spell of Fever was filmed in Morocco at the moment of return: a phantom exile returns to her country after a long absence to recover her lost memory. This strange gesture of turning my mother into a ghost who “haunts” is first of all connected to the way this story was communicated to me: her childhood under colonisation, the memory of a struggle which lead her to exile was transmitted to me in a subterranean manner, like in a dream; memories are not for her scenes which can be summoned at will but reminiscences, phantoms surging from the waves. Exile is at the heart of the films, but I never wanted to make a film “on exile”, my desire was above all to experiment with ways of giving form to a perception: I was brought up in exile, exile is my native country. I grew up in France but those who raised me had in their gestures, their thoughts, their dreams another country, a country that doesn’t exist, simultaneously their country of birth, the country of their childhood from which they are cut off, and a utopian country yet to come. This mental territory without “reality”, shapeless but active, was inoculated into me and constructed my way of seeing. The world is, in my eyes, constantly haunted by a double, a territory that doubles the visible – a sensation firmly anchored in the Real. This form of fable, or fantastic tale, that A Spell of Fever naturally adopted is here documentary. It testifies as to how exile can manufacture a perception of the world. But the form of a tale, a fable, perhaps instinctively imposed itself because fundamentally we are dealing with a story of transmission, and the fable is a story “for children”. It was in 2010-11, during the demonstrations of the “Arab Spring” that I wanted to re-evoke this story of old and repressed struggles. The contemporary rebellions, even if they were radically different in their nature and their demands, seemed to me to “awaken” the memory of buried struggles, wandering like ghosts in the grey zone of forgetfulness. The story of a ghost coming to life could connect first the struggles of decolonisation then the struggles of the Marxist period with contemporary movements. This is how the desire was born to tell the story of a child, in the present, haunted by a story of the past. The child who, on awakening after a night in the company of ghosts, must face new revolts, whose form and future are unknown.

Safia Benhaim

The three volumes of Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, presented as special screenings on Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday morning, will also be discussed during the workshop.

Workshop led by Christophe Postic.
In the presence of Safia Benhaim, Yanira Yariv and David Yon.