night cap with Les corps interdits (The Forbidden Bodies)
How did you gather the material that you used for the images? Did you take all the shots yourself? Why did you choose not to show all the voices we hear?
The Jungle [the Calais Jungle refugee encampment – editor’s note] is a dangerous, sordid place that I find fascinating and revolting. For the inhabitants who’ve been living there – sometimes for months – the situation is dramatic. Some have experienced the horrors of war as well as a long, perilous journey in conditions that we’ve all heard about. They are traumatized, harassed by the police, they are ill, at the end of their tethers, huddled in this revolting place, they are then detained at Calais with no idea of their future. So the constant presence of journalists and peering cameras, whether held by journalists or activists, is simply one final act of aggression that strips them of what little they have left, the right to control how their image will be used. Their understandable hostility towards the slightest sign of a camera forced me to completely rethink the very act of filming. I was astounded and crushed by the feeling of powerlessness. Filming the people I met was absolutely out of the question; many of them had nearly nothing and yet they invited me to share that little with them. They were afraid that their images would be used against them if they ever managed to get to England; they were afraid that their families would see them in that situation or that their lives would be in danger if the authorities in their homeland recognized them. That is why there are no images of them. So I simply experimented a bit with exclusively audio recordings and, to my great surprise, they began to talk immediately and my microphone became a sort of loudspeaker for them, a way of telling the world about their feelings of revolt and injustice, and way for me to do the same. For my part, I felt I had to get back to basics, and I decided to experiment with silver halide photography and Super 8 film. And that was it, I was only going to film empty spaces and silhouettes, respecting their right to control their images. We don’t see those troublesome bodies, the denied and forbidden bodies. Then I returned for a second phase and worked in black and white to distance myself again from the immediacy of journalistic photography.
Where do the drawings come from?
The drawings were made by a young man of about twenty who lived in the Jungle. They tell of his journey (and that of so many others), as well as of the violence suffered by those who tried to make it through the Euro tunnel or the port in Calais.
And what about the audio testimonies? How much did you keep of what you gathered? Are those real voices or were they played by actors from original recordings?
I must have recorded some ten people. All of the voices are those of the people I met on site.
How did you come about questioning human beings and their real or supposed animal nature? And what specifically interested you about the question?
The question arose from what the exiled people whom I met said. The fact remains that, even if I hadn’t brought it up, the question is present in the testimonies of several people who had no connection to each other.
Any cinematic coups de cœur in the past year you’d like to tell us about?
It’s difficult to take stock of all the films I’ve seen, but one that definitely stands out is Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra. For me, that is close to a masterpiece of direction, the sublime images, and of narrative construction. But most of all for what the film says (about us and about what colonization is). I also really liked The Law of the Jungle, and I love Antonin Peretjatko’s fresh humor. Moreover, his films very subtly carry an important political subtext. Hats off to him!
If you’ve already been to Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this year?
No, I’ve never been. I have, however, twice had occasion to come to Clermont-Ferrand. I was invited by the documentary festival Traces de vie and I received a very generous welcome, even though they did not select my first feature-length documentary Sangre de mi sangre [Blood of My Blood]. Which, incidentally, represented a great deal more work than the short film they had selected, but I understand that the film was also considerably more disturbing since it contained a number of scenes that were filmed in a slaughterhouse. My expectations for the Festival? Well, I don’t expect anything in particular. I’m happy to be able to show my work here and even though the Calais Jungle has been demolished, the situation is far from settled and the film may help raise awareness about what exiled peoples experience from a point of view that differs from the usual one we see in the media.