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Les États généraux du film documentaire 2021 Skipping school?

Skipping school?

The Lussas École documentaire celebrated its twentieth birthday last year. That provided the opportunity to reflect on the way that documentary film, so diverse in its forms (from internet to television, from cinema to the art gallery…) has invented its sites of learning and transmission, often outside the major film schools, prefering the peripheries to the major centres, nomadic adventures to the institution.
In their desire for freedom, autonomy or invention, were these schools more marginal than others? Did they tell (or do they still tell) a particular pedagogical or cinematographic story? We hope that our workshop will, in turn, hike off beaten tracks to stimulate exchange, improvisation, idea association, digression. We have divided these two days of discussion into six chapters, necessarily connected to one another. We know we will not necessarily follow this programme to the letter. It reflects rather the questions we have asked ourselves, hypotheses that have emerged, intuitions that have accompanied us. Films and excerpts will be projected along these discussions, as they appeared to feed our preparatory discussions, and as we hope they will enrich the course of this workshop.

First Day
At the school of schools

We will begin with a brief reminder of a history that is actually little told, that of documentary cinema as an object of learning. The first great historic schools seem to have left it some space (Moscow’s VGIK, Rome’s Centro Sperimentale – also for propaganda reasons), but this space was reduced elsewhere given the pre-eminence of fiction cinema. Documentary seems to have found, at least in France, its own hiding spaces, like the screenings by Jean Rouch at the Musée de l’Homme and the Cinémathèque française, and the Ateliers Varan, which he helped found in 1978. We will take the example of Idhec/Fémis and its fluctuating relationship with documentary film, and of universities, which seem to have been more open to the practice, notably via the example of Université Paris 8 Vincennes - Saint-Denis. We will close the morning session by discussing the creation of the École documentaire in Lussas.

At the school of practice

The teaching of documentary cinema seems first of all to be anchored in practice. And rather than wondering if creation is teachable, we can ask ourselves the question: what is there that can be taught for creation? We will explore some special pedagogical experiences that involve the concrete production of films: from children’s workshops to those of Abbas Kiarostami, the field of his “mis-didactic” pedagogy. We will show a few workshop films from the Iranian filmmaker. We will also resume the evocation of some of the experiences of the Lussas École documentaire, including the “collective film”, an exercise where each individual is asked to engage his own personal touch in a film made collectively from beginning to end, by a team of twelve.

At the school of the first gesture

The Ateliers Varan gave the opportunity to Mariana Otero, then a recent graduate from Idhec, to make a first documentary film entitled Non-Lieux (1991), codirected with Alexandra Rojo and broadcast by La Sept (which would become ARTE) on FR3. She will tell us about this practice and this discovery of a cinema written camera in hand, of which her film bears an eminently perceptible trace.

Second day
At the school of criticism and theory

In France, film has always been accompanied by critical thinking. And its liveliness, including its esthetic quarrels, has played a major role in instructing generations of spectators. The history of film reviews testifies to this, at least in fiction. What about documentary? Does “cinema creation” also inhabit the documentary gesture? Has documentary provoked a specific critical echo? The idea of a “third cinema”, defined above all as not belonging to dominant fiction cinema, did lead to a few theoretical innovations. La Lettre du cinéma could be an example, bringing together classical cinephilia and non-narrative preoccupations.

At the school of films

Could documentary film be an ideal “ignorant schoolmaster”? We will question certain aspects, stimulated by the thinking of Jacques Rancière. We Can’t Go Home Again, the film that Nicolas Ray shot with his students in New York in 1979, prolongs this question of the “teacher” and of the political and aesthetic energy that a film can carry right to our time. We will no doubt say something about militant cinema and its project of emancipation. We will close with the question of cinephilia, so connected (in France in any case) to the critical perception of films and which seems to be positioned differently today – in particular for documentary cinema.

At the school of rebellion

For any school of cinephilia, there must be transmitters. Federico Rossin is one of these. He will come to speak of the experience of school as a site of creative rebellion. The Workshop of the Film Form was an artistic group active between 1970 and 1977 within the famous Łódź film school. It became a subversive force in Polish experimental and documentary film.

Coordination: Vladimir Léon

Alain Bergala, Mariana Otero, Federico Rossin, Chantal Steinberg, Dork Zabunyan, students and instructors from the Lussas École documentaire, as well as other surprise guests.