22 March 2011

Gondry at the Pompidou

Paris' imposing Centre Pompidou, which rises above the surrounding buildings like a post-industrial sci-fi behemoth with its spaghetti-like maze of heavy piping and metal walkways, is currently hosting an intriguing interactive film installation by the acclaimed French director Michel Gondry. By the time it completes its nearly six-week run this Sunday, the installation, L'Usine de Films Amateurs (The Amateur Film Plant) will have helped hundreds if not thousands of Parisians to live out their film-making fantasies, deploying their creativity in cooperative and free film workshops in a variety of settings and genres.

Gondry, famous for directing both music videos and films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dave Chapelle's Block Party, The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind and (ahem) The Green Hornet, wanted to give back a little of the film-making elan that he absorbed growing up in Paris, and to encourage people to try film-making for themselves:  

I always had a kind of guilt by making a creative profession. I often say: "This man might be a better filmmaker than me if he could access this type of art." Creativity is too little shared. And then when I lived in the 13th arrondissement in Paris, there were these smaller theaters, which have disappeared. I have long been the secret project to recycle one of these rooms by installing a community space where everyone could come and shoot what he wanted and then project it. This utopia of an autonomous system, I had the opportunity to achieve it in a fictional dialogue with Be Kind Rewind. I then wanted to go to reality. The protocol that people follow is designed to foster creativity and the system ensures that each participant takes the floor. It is a kind of "visual socialism" if you will pardon the expression. The system prevents the egos take over and guarantee equality of participants.  [Via Google Translate]

In practice what this means is that Gondry has set up an interactive video workshop with a variety of commonplace set types, including a forest (with two-dimensional trees and bushes around a campfire), a suburban kitchen, an old video rental shop, a squatter's campsite and a fly-bill strewn inner city street. Punters are encouraged to come along and join a cooperative film-making team under the stewardship of young film students, who set up the groups, learn what they want to film and then help them to make it work.

I saw the early stages of one workshop, with about a dozen participants voting on a huge list of movie genres to determine the most popular setting. Once the genre is settled the team moves on to a story-boarding exercise, with the most prominent entry on the board I noticed being the tried and tested 'Zombie attaque!' Then after a visit to the costume department the cast and crew move to one of the sets to shoot their movie. One being filmed during the visit was some form of kitchen sink drama, or perhaps it was a kitchen sink drama with clandestine zombies. At any rate, it was set in a kitchen. It was a charming scene too - two young women and two girls aged about eight were all dressed up as suburban housewives around the kitchen table. The little girls were giggling madly, and in their headscarves they looked like hobbit versions of Ena Sharples. Later on, in a different part of the installation, there was a burst of noise and two of the housewives rushed past, howling in fear or rage as they erupted from the set they were filming on. Exit stage right!

There are a few clips posted of the finished product. Monoglots like me will struggle to pick up the nuances of the timeless performances on offer... well, actually, it's just a bunch of French kids dicking about and having fun, and it's not at all difficult to work out what's going on. You don't need to speak the language to see what a great experiment and outlet for creativity this installation is. And it's undoubtedly a great gift from an artist to the city he grew up in.  I therefore present, for your viewing pleasure, Helène vs. les Garçons II - le Return. Keep an eye out for the mysterious femme fatale Helène and her sparkly jacket. Tres bien ensemble!

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