Les États généraux du film documentaire 2015 Tënk!


Let us be brief (for want of being eloquent).
Two lessons mark this second edition of the “Tënk!” programme. The diversity of films shown and the scale of programming – fifteen films born of five Tënk gatherings in 2012/13 at Erevan, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, Tamatave, Lussas, Saint-Louis-du-Sénégal – show that this selection has definitively carved out its place in the topography of the États généraux. The selection has an impact, so much the better for all the young creators and producers responsible for these films. The second lesson is a confirmation: Lussas’ policy of non-competitive screenings allows us to harmonise films into a symphony, where echoes of cinematic strategies and forms respond to one another, making it easier to compose a programme into a mosaic.
The first morning begins with a short filmed interview that Henri-François Imbert shot in Dakar with the Senegalese documentary filmmaker Samba Félix Ndiaye. The film communicates a magnificent translation of the word and very idea of Tënk, while displaying Samba’s taste for elegance and his acute sense of theatrics. We’ll never forget you, Samba! This will be followed by three essays that break with traditional forms. All three come from the Tënk at Lussas. The first film, Arnaud Lambert’s Return to Berlin, is a double journey: geographic between Detroit and Berlin, temporal between the post-war period and today. Built on the writings of Jean-Michel Palmier, the film establishes from the outset a poetic distance to which the use of tracking shots and radio archives contributes greatly. The film is not simply attempting to document something: it allows free rein to thought. The second film, Eva Tourrent’s Suspended by the Night, plunges the audience into a dramatics of suspense. The editing builds tension and the immersive, extremely close filming style creates a powerful fictional effect communicating to us the danger and working conditions of ski resort trackers. The experiences of working and of the night are captured with rare impact. Finally, Victoria Darves-Bornoz’ A Life Apart is pure direct cinema, founded on immersion within, and a judiciously distanced relationship to the inner world of the film’s sole character. This is the most creative aspect of the film, its successful attempt to represent the existence of time as lived by someone else, a time so slow and so modelled on that of nature and the seasons.
Friday afternoon’s programme may appear risky. Indeed, grouping films around the theme of death can have an off-putting effect (“Oh no, too tough for me!”). With these three films, rejoicingly different in language and tone, we discover of course how each one of these filmmakers is personally, sometimes tragically, haunted by the question of life’s finitude, but above all there is probably in these three works the demonstration, if it were necessary, of the connection tying cultural and geographic origin and cinematic style. Thus in the first film, Galès Moncomble’s Notre amour a la couleur de la nuit, we become involved in a kind of time shared by two, like a final promise of love when the inexorable is there and no escape is possible. We understand from the outset that the film is both a shared act of creation, a sort of ultimate accomplishement – Galès says to Jacques: “Let’s make the end of your life a work of art.” – and at the same time, an act of mourning which opens the way to what is to come. It is documentary art at the height of its power, an art of the imagination and the real which ritualises and allows us to overcome the unacceptable. In My Death Doesn’t Belong to Me by Charles Auguste Koutou, the film is immediately marked by the director’s body and his congenial tone. The film is not formally innovative, yet the director does not baulk at mocking death and questioning his own, and it’s this tone that makes the film. In Lera Latipova’s Film me! we are cast away in full blown tragedy. Death knocks and threatens at every portal of her life. Be that as it may! The director, laying her cards on the table for the spectator and for herself, shows us the absurdity of the situation. It is an offbeat journey somewhere between a filmed diary along the style of intimate or introspective films which have so characterised the last two decades of documentary production, and staging effects including that proposed in “real life” at Novosibirsk by a businessman dealing in death just as off the wall as our filmmaker. A journey into the absurd in the company of a talented filmmaker...
The question connecting the two films shown Friday evening, by Hicham Elladdaqi from Marrakech and Alain Rakotoarisoa from Antananarivo, is that of survival. How can you belong socially to the world of humans if society does not allow you to eat? These two directors immerse themselves into micro-societies that they frequent and know well. In La Route du pain we follow “day workers” in Marrakech who sell their labour power to the highest bidders among the buyers, when they exist. But above all, Hicham Elladdaqi films time, the time of waiting, the time you kill for lack of work. In Rendala, the Mikea, Alain Rakotoarisoa films in direct cinema style the last of the Mikeas, a Malagasy forest people condemned by all and by everything and who face a dilemma to survive: continue to live hidden in the forest as they have done since colonisation, or try to adapt to social modernity by becoming farmers. Along the film, the director, who has built a relation of trust with these people, shows us how decisions are made and who makes them concerning the threatened future of this little group of forest dwellers.
On Saturday morning we have two testimonial films which recount how, in Guinea and in Tunisia, you manage with your family’s cultural determinism. Any resemblance between the two films stops there. Un homme pour ma famille by Thierno Souleymane Diallo is a film to help the director make out in real life; we could talk about a film made to “solve a problem”. Thierno initiates action concerning his father’s inheritance and goes about trying to reconcile the family and allow his deceased father to “sleep in peace” and his family to recover their land (his plot). The director could be accused of enrolling his documentary in the service of a cause, but that would mean forgetting that, in making the film, he invites us to an exploration of his society coupled with a poetic fable. Sonia Ben Slama’s film Maktoub is not a film aimed at “solving a serious problem”, but which makes us aware of how the relation to marriage works today for young Tunisian men and women. The family ties that link the director to the characters, in particular the grandmother and the bride, put her in the position of a trusted explorer. She thus allows us access, in a sober but highly effective way, to the intimacy and limits of this world.
Saturday afternoon will be devoted to the stories of individuals confronted with History. These films confirm documentary’s function as a way of looking at history, and provide access, to citizens in the film’s countries as well as elsewhere, to chapters of their country’s history which have been ignored or played down. In the first film, The Myth of Mapout, shot in Cameroon by Mbog Len Félix Mapout, we are embarked on a process of searching for historical truth. Through a kind of family investigation, the director tells the story of the life led by his father. In a double movement, with this documentary, he hopes to rehabilitate both father and his “resistant and socialist” companions, paying back the humiliation which the filmmaker had suffered since his childhood. We discover among other things that these “resistants” in Cameroon are today at best forgotten actors of the country’s history or, worse, still considered terrorists. In Stories of a Trial, Alexandra Garcia-Vilà and Franck Moulin work on a basic equation. They show us images of the trial which finally condemned the junta of Videla and its acolytes and shows us the determination which led to the trial so that justice could be done. This explicitly political film continues the heritage of films that testify. It is the prolongation of human justice by documentary memory, a cinema of testimony and a tool for the continuation of struggle. Finally to close this dance step between human story and History, Arlette Pacquit’s film Héritiers du Vietnam focuses on the possibility of reconstructing oneself by returning to the lost territory of childhood. This trajectory is captured by the director as she films with great delicacy the process of reconstruction undertaken by a few chosen characters. Cinema is summoned here to record and preserve for the future the testimony of lives which have suffered damage from the tragedies of History.
To wrap up on Saturday evening, Pascale Touloulou’s The Voice of the Statuettes embarks on the discovery of the history of masks and statues. The director carries out a filmed investigation which leans mostly on direct cinema. She also assumes in some scenes the role of a character. This film is an anthropological adventure combined with a personal story, making a grand finale.

Jean-Marie Barbe

In addition to this programme, the États généraux will screen Paul Costes’ film The Blue Room, which was presented at the Lussas Tënk and received the “Brouillon d’un rêve” grant.

Debates led by Jean-Marie Barbe.