Les États généraux du film documentaire 2016 Docmonde


The selection of films drawn from the international network of documentarians that we are trying to build is henceforth entitled DocMonde! But changing a title doesn’t mean changing content. For this edition, we have chosen eleven films for you to discover, produced in the four geographic zones where writing residences and coproduction meetings took place.

To kick off, four first films from West Africa, two Friday morning and two Friday evening. To describe these films, we could quote the words of Camus which, it seems to me, define them quite well: “don’t confuse tragedy and despair.” These four filmmakers live harsh lives. In Anger in the Wind, Amina Weira, a frail figure, strides through her home town of Arlit, in the North of Niger, from house to house with her father as guide. She reveals the day-to-day dimension of nuclear contamination. From the outset, the film’s objective is stated. The determination of this little silhouette of a woman seems to be such a miracle that the film never loses its grip as it documents a reality close to the people it films, a reality that has never been seen before. The images of the dust storm at the end of the film remain in our memories, so heavily are these clouds laden with toxic dust, giving the film its full poetic dimension.
Ousmane Samassekou is a student at the University of Bamako, the place where he sets his camera. He also films “his world” in Les Héritiers de la colline, taking us along an edifying journey into the heart of the elections for the student organisation at the University of Bamako demonstrating the manipulative and corrupt practices that go with it. Immersed in the campus for weeks, he allows us to understand that this is the laboratory for the rules of democracy or totalitarianism that will govern the future Mali. Even if the result provokes shivers, this is a cinema which reveals in order to provoke understanding and to change the unacceptable. Ousmane Samassekou’s film is characteristic of the political function of independent documentary production in Africa today, of its capacity to organise narratives that construct daily life and paint unforgettable social frescoes.
This is also the case of the film by Eddy Menyaneza. We take a step further in “the tragedy of immediate history”. As a journalist obliged to flee his country, Burundi, and without news from his family, he made Le Troisième Vide in the Master’s programme of Saint Louis, Senegal where he has just spent eight months. This film is a kind of testimony for history. This is also what gives it its power. The journal of a personal tragedy and an untiring demonstration of hope.
Like Amina Weira, Aïcha Macky is Nigerian and also a graduate of the 2013 Master’s programme at Saint Louis, Senegal. Her film The Fruitless Tree, like the three preceding African films, is first of all the story of something that happened to her: Aïcha is married and has had no child. In the eyes of Nigerian society, women are responsible for the infertility of the couple. Like its superb images and its characters, this film is luminous from all points of view. It is not just a document about a social issue: it overflows the frame to carry us along into movements of feminine complicity, solidarity and intimacy where the poetic dimension is more important than any other consideration. A particularly successful film.

Friday afternoon, we change geographical and cinematic context with the selection of films drawn from the residences and Master’s programme at Lussas. We start with Slow-Ahead, a pictorial film telling a frail story by Marie Bottois. Here it is a different way of viewing that is important: a strong sense of lines and shapes in space, blocks of colour, the boat-machines become masses in movement, the obsession with form and colour draws an interior landscape that we pass through with pleasure.
The film by Anaëlle Godard, Au jour le jour, à la nuit la nuit, is a return to an abundantly filmed terrain: that of La Borde. Its particularity probably lies in the fact that she films this shrine of institutional psychiatry in the same way one might film one’s family community for the purposes of a reconstitution, to reassemble the pieces using images, trying to leave no one out – neither the mother who works there, nor the father of the site, Jean Oury, nor the patients or the staff – by filming the individuals like a group and without forgetting to film from time to time – and it’s one of the major qualities of the film – the trees swaying in the wind.
Lettre à ma mère – Les Fantômes de Marguerite goes well beyond a personal story. It is one of the rare documentaries on alcohol addition told in the first person like a diary. By the recurrence of certain images, it plunges us into the “state of dependence” and the search for lifebuoys in the admired figures of Marguerite Duras and Gilles Deleuze. So many thoughts that indicate the variety of answers that can be brought to the disease that is alcoholism. The film, by its very existence, testifies to the distance taken by the director and indicates in itself a possible way out of this nightmare.

Saturday’s programme is divided into two parts: the morning will be devoted to two films from Madagascar emerging from the writing residences and coproduction meetings in Toamasina. These films are in and of themselves miracles, so harsh are the conditions of life and filmmaking today in Madagascar. Longue vie aux morts is the first film by Maminihaina Jean-Aimé Rakotonirina and if it is so astonishingly polished, it is in large part due to the correct distance separating the camera from the protagonists. The filmmaker shoots with immense respect what is left of traditional beliefs and rituals, as if filming meant celebrating and perpetuating! What could be an ethnographic or, on the contrary, exotic point of view escapes in this way from both approaches. The filmmaker films and sanctifies, and you will not soon forget the long shot slowly revealing the guardian of the temple advancing from the end of the street.
Njaka Kely is Michaël Andrianaly’s third film. He shoots his films himself. It falls in the tradition of direct cinema: the central question is to record over time transforming situations and evolving characters. The filmmaker shoots from the inside a small community of pedicabs masterfully organised by a Madre Padrone: a cinematic journey into a poorly documented reality. The film informs us of the life of thousands of pedicab drivers who work in Toamasina today and the way this little business of poverty is organised. It is a perspective that we can only access via the obsessional work of a filmmaker like Michaël Andrianaly.

Saturday afternoon is devoted to two first films by Russian filmmakers. After a residence in Siberia, they presented their projects at the coproduction meetings of Erevan, in Armenia, in 2014. Anna Moiseenko has just graduated from Marina Razbeshkina’s school of direct cinema in Moscow. In this film, she tackles the universal question of immigration via Tajik exiles in Moscow. Alone and over a period of months, she filmed Abdul, a Tajik musician obliged to do odd jobs in order to survive in Moscow. Songs of Abdul takes on its full dimension in the long sequences where we approach Abdul’s intimacy. Just like those of a folk singer, his laments speak of his hassles and the small joys of his daily life. This ballad-like aspect lends the film a tone close to a fable. The cutting back and forth between what is related in the sung improvisations and the sequences of real life provide the strong particularity of this first film.
Maria Murashova concludes this programme with The Gatherers of Sea Grass. She is from Saint Petersburg, has chosen to film in Siberia and literally plunges us into the aquatic world of seaweed gatherers. It is also a film about space and a community of men grappling with themselves and with the fickleness of nature. Like Anna Moiseenko, Maria Murashova tries to capture something that goes well beyond the simple function of documenting. This film contains a cinematic proposal: that of filming a melancholy that is particular to this end of the world and its relegated human beings.

Jean-Marie Barbe

In the presence of the directors and/or producers.
Debates led by Jean-Marie Barbe.