Having gained attention on the film festival circuit with his essayistic found-footage retelling of the history of West Germany’s Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) in Une jeunesse allemande (A German Youth, 2015, the French filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot has continued the practice in the feature films Lumières d’été (Summer Lights, 2016), Nos défaites (Our Defeats, 2019) and a series of short films. All of his output uses montage to re-purpose existing film footage with the goal of shedding light on the history of left-wing politics, with a particular focus on the defeat of the 1970s and its aftermath for contemporary culture. His latest release, Retour à Reims [Fragments] (Return to Reims [Fragments]), which first screened in the Director’s Fortnight programme at Cannes in 2021, represents a new stage in this work: for the first time, a pre-existing text forms the spine of the film, the sociologist Didier Eribon’s 2009 memoir Retour à Reims, which charts the effects that neoliberalism and de-industrialisation had on the author’s family in the small northern French town. Actress Adèle Haenel provides the voiceover, which plays a prominent role in Périot’s film for the first time, but the text itself is transformed into a montage of fragments, which resonate with the kaleidoscopic array of archival material contained on its image track. In this interview, Senses of Cinema speaks to Périot to explore the cinematic and political ramifications of his filmmaking.

Jean-Gabriel Périot

In Return to Reims [Fragments] there is both the history of the working class in France, its culture, its politics, its daily existence, and on the other hand something of a history of the media representation of the working class. How did you see this combination functioning in the film?

This question of a history of media and film representation of the working class does indeed traverse the whole film. However, this history of representation is not in the foreground in Return to Reims [Fragments], contrary to other films of mine. For example, in A German Youth the question of how to tell and represent a factual history was at the heart of the film, notably because the film’s characters had themselves made films or worked in television. This question, related to a history of the working class, is not on the surface in Return to Reims, but if you pay careful attention you can see the emergence of a certain history of film and television. Then, if the film arouses the concern of the spectator, if the stakes of representation do not appear clearly, this is entirely my own responsibility! I chose, for example, not to specify where the extracts are drawn from, with captions or credits. A lot of the extracts in the film come from French television, but the quality of these reportages or documentaries is so impressive, in technical and narrative terms, that it’s hard to believe they come from TV. And suddenly, this renders the reading of the film as a history of representation a bit blurrier. You can grasp this history only if you are an alert spectator, whereas this history was more evident in some of my earlier films.

But there is a certain transition between the different parts of the film, from cinema in the first part (even the television extracts here were filmed very cinematically), to television in the second, where we see a lot of extracts from TV programmes, which is simultaneous with the disappearance of the working class from screens in the 1980s. There was a political turning point accompanied by a turning point in the history of media, with a synchronous relationship between the two.

Incidentally, this is what surprised me during the preparation for the film. In France at any rate everything changed in the early 1980s, in almost cartoon-like manner. What happened on television was symptomatic. On the one hand there was a technical change with the shift to video. Having abandoned 16mm, the television image became “ugly”. And this technical shift is paralleled by a discursive shift. The idea of a television which despite being directly dependent on the government (in France), had the vocation of speaking to the entire population disappeared. Until then, even if television mostly conveyed “official” speech, you could also find shows with other political perspectives, some of which I include in Return to Reims. But with the onset of the 1980s, television reinvents itself and becomes the way it is now, a mere soundbox for the ruling class. The workers sometimes have the right to brief piece in the news, when there is a strike for example, but this is more and more exceptional, and the point of view is rarely that of the workers, but that of the bosses. Outside of television, I am astounded that the lower classes have equally disappeared from the different types of cinema, whether fiction or documentary, commercial or arthouse. This is very concerning. Since its creation, the cinema has been a popular art. Films were produced that represented different types of public, and so there were films made for a public that defined itself as belonging to the working class, or even communist. In the. 1980s, with the advent of video, the multiplication of TV channels, people stop going to the cinema. And progressively a cinema with diverse concerns and audiences turns into a “middle class” cinema, so films produced for and representing the masses are no longer produced. There is no more room for that kind of cinema. But what is valid for commercial cinema is also valid, unfortunately, for the other types of cinema. In documentary filmmaking we also have a technical issue. It shifted to video technology, which at the time had a terrible, almost unwatchable quality. Now there is barely anything left in terms of content, and the little that has survived is terrible in terms of quality… What is paradoxical, at first glance, is that the early 1980s was also the moment that the left came to power under Mitterand. One might have expected a political effervescence that could also be found in the cinema, but the opposite happened, as if the militant energy of the late 1960s had disappeared, partly due to exhaustion, but also due to the multiple renunciations of the left in power. In any case, from today’s standpoint what is striking is how everything changed so quickly and radically.

Did this create an absence of collective memory? There are no more traces of workers’ daily life or grassroots politics. There is politics in the sense of elections, parties, presidential campaigns, but not the militant base.

There has been a dispersal, if not a disappearance, of left-wing politics. In any case, what remains is pretty invisible, it no longer finds an echo in the public sphere. In the cinema, a few politically engaged films continue to be made, but they remain on the margins. Since the disappearance of the film societies, it has become complicated to distribute such films. In a way, the history of progressive struggles seems fixed in time and totally outmoded, and the history of left-wing cinema is parallel to the history of these struggles. All the political combats of the late 1960s and 1970s were copiously documented, whether it was the movement to legalise abortion, the betrayal of the PCF; the revolutionary movements, the debates around direct action, etc. Almost everything was documented and we still have access to these images. On the contrary, almost nothing is left of the images produced to document the struggles of the 1980s and 1990s. These years were politically less active, but there were still some militant movements. But who remembers anything of it? What image is left of it? Almost nothing. Apart from images linked to Act Up or anti-racist struggles, not much comes spontaneously to mind. You have to wait till the 2000s, with the queer, feminist and environmental movements, for militant images to once again become visible. But before than there is a visual “hole” corresponding to a gap in memory, as if we had erased a part of our own political history. In any case, during the research work for Return to Reims, I spent a lot of time looking for films or TV shows from the 1980s and 1990s and I found hardly anything.

A German Youth

I was reminded of André Ujica’s Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu (Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, 2010), where you can trace the decline of the Romanian regime with the degradation in the quality of images, since it begins with black and white 16mm and ends with almost totally decayed video images from 1980s Romanian TV. I had a similar sentiment when watching your film.

It’s inevitable, in a way. It was the same in A German Youth. If you make a film with archival material that includes the period of the late 1970s, you are confronted with the major technological changes of the era. When video replaced 16mm on television and certain spheres of cinema (mainly documentary, but also some experimental and fiction film), the rupture is very striking, very visible. Video is so ugly! You get the impression that everything is horrid during these years, including the technology. In fact, the images are ugly but they are also very poor, very empty. As we mentioned, this technological change is concomitant with a change of political paradigm (the glory days of Thatcher and Reagan), and with a change in the modes of narration and discursivity. Suddenly, if a film has the ambition of telling a history of the twentieth century including the passage to the last quarter or third of the century, you will very clearly see a history of film and television technology.

What led you to work with archival images in your films? It is a common element for practically all your films.

In fact, everything began with what I would now call a fortuitous happenstance. When I was still a student, I did an internship with and then worked for the audiovisual service of the Centre Georges Pompidou, where I made little videos for the museum. One day, I was asked to edit a hundred pre-existing films for a grand exhibition on architecture. I was to make montage clips of three minutes from these films, which were intended to highlight a specific building technique which was not always the subject of the original film: the construction of a bridge, the different types of concrete, things like that. It was then that I discovered, as an editor, that you could appropriate existing works and draw new “stories” from them. I found this truly exalting. And when, a few years later, I began to make my own films, using archive images went without saying. There was the special pleasure of working with this material, but it also gave me the possibility of making films alone, without money, without looking for a producer, without setting up a team. When I began to make films, I was very fragile as a filmmaker, unsure of myself, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t want to embark on a project that required significant financial and human resources. Rather, I wanted to preserve the freedom to try, fail and begin again. In parallel, working with the archive means working with history, trying to probe it, if not understand it, or at least understand certain issues. I come from a family without any tradition to transmit, without a history so to speak. It was only upon reaching adulthood, when I had difficulty understanding the political issues of the world I was living in, that I felt the need to question myself on our history, in general, and in particular on the history of struggles and progressive movements. Working with visual archives requires a lot of preparation, a lot of research and reading. It is like an academic research project. This work is necessary not only for finding images but above all for trying to understand them.

Did you take inspiration from other figures from film history who worked with archives? Dziga Vertov, Nicole Védrès, Jean-Luc Godard, etc.?

Yes and no. In fact, I grew up in the country, where the cinemas only played commercial movies. I. could only catch up on my film culture once I had arrived Paris in my twenties. All of a sudden, when I began to make my own films, I hadn’t yet seen anything. I was still unaware of the montage films of Godard or Vertov. But for me this was fortuitous! There are probably certain films I wouldn’t have made if I had a more complete film culture. In fact, I avoid using a narrative or technical gesture that I have already seen in another film. It is almost impossible to not “repeat” something that has already been done, but I refuse to do it consciously. Later, the most important, inspirational filmmaker for me was Vertov. Obviously the virtuosity of his montage was impressive but it was above all his assertion that montage can or should be the main language of the cinema that mattered to me. The site of a film’s writing, for me, in theory and in practice, is montage. But there is also the idea and the belief, in both Vertov and Godard, that to politically reach spectators you have to use the specific tools of the cinema, tools, that allow for the elaboration of a political language as such. These are idea that are still important for me today. I don’t believe in the effectiveness of a cinema that would define itself as political because it deals with a political subject. How a film recounts is just as important as, if not more important than, what it recounts.

Retour à Reims is your first film with a voiceover commentary, but I had the impression that your manner in treating Eribon’s text is also a way of doing textual montage, the same way you work with images. There are two editing tracks in the film: the editing of texts and the editing of images.

I began this film by re-editing the text. Eribon’s text is both long (for an adaptation) and very scattered. He constantly passes from one subject to another, from one character to another, from one era to another. For the film, I needed to recreate a narrative linearity. The manner in which I did the montage of the text was rather “classical”, precisely because of this linearity. Unlike the text which was “finite”, the images available to make the film are practically infinite in number. It was simply impossible to watch all the films that could have been relevant… However, what made the act of montage complicated was finding the montage-logic between a predetermined text and the extracts of pre-existing works. It was not simply a matter of making a text comprehensible and illustrating it with visual extracts, but of using the text as an element in the montage, of postulating a certain narrative equality between the text and the film extracts. The first stage of this montage work was to shorten the text by replacing certain fragments by visual archives that recounted the same thing, that broached the same question, etc. In the same manner, certain visual extracts introduced narrative elements which were not in the book but could have been. This first phase permitted a certain fluidity between the text and the archives because the narrative film is no longer conveyed by the voice-over but by a multiple, choral voice.

For the spectator, a strange effect is created, since we hear the biographical history, above all of Eribon’s mother, and at the same time we see images which in a way illustrate this history, but which have their own history, their own reality, since they are archival images. This creates a multiple signification of the images.

One of the qualities of Eribon’s text for me is that we can project ourselves in the histories that he tells us, in those lives he describes, that we can share the questions which preoccupied him, and this in spite of the individual specificities of the lives of each member of his family and his own life. His father was a factory worker, his mother was a housewife and then a factory worker, but miners, farmers, construction workers and so on share the same life experience, the same exploitation of labour, the same financial precarity, the same social injustice… Using archive films allowed me to open up the individual experiences described in Return to Reims, notably that of the author’s mother, showing what other life experiences have in common with it, to give a collective quality to stories that were initially singular. It was something as simple as that. Sometimes you can fantasise about the world of the working class, particularly when you do not come from that world. You imagine that you can incarnate it in a single character, whether real or fictional. In any case, when I began this film, I found that it would have been reductive to stay with only one or two characters from the book. Paradoxically, I drastically reduced Eribon’s original text, retaining less than fifteen pages from the book for the voice-over, only to open it up again with other voices, other experiences included in the archives.

Return to Reims

In the film there is a kind of mourning for what was lost with the near-disappearance of the PCF as a political force that truly represented the working class. This also show what is lacking in politics today: a structure that could organise the masses.

It is obvious that a party that would rally behind the demands of the masses if cruelly lacking today. The history of the PCF can be criticised in many way, but it can not be denied that it played a role permitting the cohesion of the working class. Today, the workers are isolated. The structure of new forms of work contributes to this tendency. There are very few factories or places for collective labour remaining. Instead there is an Uberisation of labor. Before the de-industrialisation of the last third of the twentieth century, a large part of the workers were gathered in factories, mines, building sites, etc., but there was also the Communist Party which made people feel represented as workers, and made them feel like they belonged to a group. It is true that this is something that has since been lacking. There are still left-wing parties, or parties that claim to be left-wing, but their cynicism and their distaste for anything that comes from the masses is considerable… Electorally, this is translated in a massive abstention and a growth of the far right and populist politics. Workers have stopped voting, and no party represents them. In France as elsewhere, politics has become a battle of egos. Following Macron’s success, every politician who hopes to incarnate a providential figure founds their own party and stands for election, without realising that the voters have remained relatively traditionalist in their ways of envisaging politics. They don’t want stars, they don’t want to vote like you vote on television during singing contests, they want a party that they think represents them.

You also show a return of the media representation of the working class in the 1990s and 2000s, but only in the form of what you have aptly described as a “bourgeois gaze”, like Laura Mulvey’s “male gaze”. I agree with this critique, but how do you avoid recreating this bourgeois gaze in your own filmmaking? You are a filmmaker after all, and even if you have a proletarian class origin, you necessarily have a different daily reality to someone who works in a factory or a supermarket. How do you avoid this dominance of the bourgeois gaze?

In France we have a structural problem in the film milieu. Sociologically, the film world is formed by people from a bourgeois background. The difficulty for the rare filmmakers who manage to work – I’m thinking of fiction cinema primarily where you need access to larger budgets – is that to find the money to make your films, you need scripts where the intention responds to the expectations of the financers. That is to say that any film project can only be made when it realises a bourgeois point of view, even if the filmmakers themselves come from a different class. If a filmmaker wants to interrogate the world from a more popular point of view, they will never get the approval of funding bodies. For example, if you want to make a film on labour, the characters have to respond to the manner in which bourgeois Parisians imagine them – in essence, they have to be caricatures. Likewise, any conflict that arises has to be resolved. You’ll see that even a boss who fires his workers has his reasons, he has a little heat, he is not a cynical monster but someone who in spite of everything can share the suffering of his workers. In the end, you can summarise all this by the fact that social and political questions are conflated, with the latter being replaced by the former. There are real concerns around representation in cinema and I struggle to see them being overcome. Before the 1980s, the situation was different. A part of the profession (producers, directors, actors, technicians, even financers) were communists or genuinely left-wing. Today films in France are almost all made with public money, but in the past there were interesting producers who made commercial films but then gave some of their money to artistically engaged films, some of which were also politically engaged. Today there is very little space between an excessively poor cinema and a lavishly budgeted cinema. From the moment when you begin to speak in terms of millions of euros, you already have a problem when you speak of a cinema that speaks about the working class. Something sounds wrong about it, it will never work. At any rate, I fail to see how you can change the French production system so that there is a little more social diversity within this system. As far as I’m personally concerned, I have never totally ceded my work to these demands. I kept my liberty simply because my films are so cheap to make. Even too cheap most of the time. But if I can deplore that my personal financial situation is truly unstable and precarious, that each film takes too much energy out of me, I am at least partly on equal terms with the members of the class I come from. Evidently, being a filmmaker is a privilege, you can speak for yourself, or even in the name of others, but on a crudely material level I have not drawn any security or luxury from this status.

Return to Reims (Fragments)

Is working with archival films a strategy for working around the financial realities of French cinema? It obviously costs a lot less to make than a fiction film.

For me it is not just a strategy but also a personal position. At bottom, there is a very concrete rejection of the way the production system relates to a person in my political and artistic position, which translates into the nearly systematic impossibility of financing my films at the level they need to be. My films are produced like contraband, but it’s better to make films like that than not to make them at all, or to accept producing what the financers expect in order to have a little comfort. I am not a filmmaker in this sense. I rely on my own energies. For me, using the archive is both a deliberate artistic choice, since I love to make this type of film, but it is also an imposed choice because I am not allowed to accede to other types of film.

The economist Thomas Piketty has developed the idea that the modern left (particularly the centre-left) has become a kind of “Brahmin left”, whose support now derives more from the middle classes than the traditional working class. There is a political divorce between the left and the working-class, resulting in a class contempt among the modern left for the working class, which is labelled as racist, misogynistic, etc. You include an extract from La Crise (1992) by Coline Serreau that shows this idea very well, with the visit of a worker to the mansion of a socialist parliamentarian from the well-off suburb of Neuilly. Is this also a concern for you, that supposedly left-wing politics has become elitist?

This problem is unfortunately not so new, as shown by La Crise which dates from the early 1990s, thirty years ago! The problem of the left has long been that it has become a middle-class left, if not an upper-class liberal left. Even if you come from a family where life is socially easier – the middle class, the upper class – you can obviously have sentiments of social justice. But those who are not directly born into the lower classes, the working classes, often have a fantasy image, or even mythologised image, of the working class, of what it means to be poor, what their difficulties are, etc. But reality is much more complex than that! There is not one single people. There is no single way of being poor, or being a worker or a peasant. Each of us is caught within contradictions, and we have to permanently interrogate these contradictions (both our own and those of other people) in order to grasp what is happening in our lives and in our societies. In my opinion, there is nothing better than dialogue for this purpose, to try to understand why some people can be racist or misogynistic, and even to defeat this racism and misogyny. But you can’t have a dialogue if you have caricatured, fantasy projections of your interlocutor. While such cliches prevail, there will always be a separation between the elites, both politicians and intellectuals, and the people or peoples. This separation was flagrant during the Gilets Jaunes protests. They were often reproached for not being a “pure” movement, especially by left intellectuals and politicians. But they should know that you can never have a revolution with purity. The Russian revolution or the French revolution weren’t made with purity! You can’t have a majority of people, a people, that is totally progressive, correct, ideologically sound, etc… No, a people is always an impure aggregate, and this is the same in every popular movement. But insofar as we have disregarded every popular mass action in the name of this impurity, there will be a separation between those who claim to represent this people and the people itself. It is all the more striking that those who give lessons to the left will always be the last to do anything to change the world.

You have said that you did not include those parts of the book that treated Eribon’s homosexuality because it was too close, too personal for you. But it was also his homosexuality, and the fact of having been excluded from his family, his life, his class, his roots, which gave him the opportunity to leave his class, go to Paris, become an intellectual, ascend through society, etc. There is a historic irony here, a certain inversion of social hierarchies. It was the discrimination against Eribon as a homosexual man that gave him the possibility to rise socially. Was this aspect important for you, even though it did not appear in the film so much?

There are two possible answers. The first is that what differentiates us from others, like homosexuality, can also give us a certain individual strength. When you have been rejected, even partially or symbolically, from the community that surrounds us due to this difference, either that can make us depressive, you can try to hide it, or it can be an anchor point for a personal strength to determine the social place you seek to occupy. This strength gives you a certain freedom, notably to rid yourself of other social differentiations. But what is interesting Eribon’s book is that in the end he realises that the shame of being homosexual that he thought was a motor of his own individual construction was parallel to a social shame that he had long neglected or ignored. If he leaves the countryside it is to live out his homosexuality, but it is also his status as a class outcast that extracts him from his original milieu. There is a magnificent moment in the text (and which is not in the film) where he recounts his encounter with culture thanks to a school friend from a bourgeois family. With this boy, he listens to music, shares books, and this burgeoning cultural pleasure cuts him off from his family. He can’t share it with his parents. You can feel different because you are projected into a love of culture that you can’t share with your family. This is something I also experienced. I am from a later generation than Didier, so I had the fortune that homophobia was less aggressive and that homosexuality was less difficult and therefore less determinant. On the other hand, like him I was alone with my love of reading, then cinema and music, etc. I was in my corner, in my bubble, isolated from my family, but also from my school friends. And if I moved up to Paris, it was initially with the will to find people who would share that with me. I was touched by this moment in the book, along with many others linked to culture. What I find bizarre is that many readers did not remember it from their reading of the book, just like they didn’t remember what Eribon said about his social shame. Many of them remember the fragments on homosexuality even though Eribon himself has a very inquisitorial look at his prior manner of having envisaged his own homosexuality and the reasons for his break with his family.

Return to Reims (Fragments)

The relationship with his mother showed so much disappointment, with her decision to vote for the Front national (FN), but on the other hand his refusal not to have any sympathy for her. This is the great challenge of the book and the film: how to have a relationship with people who vote FN, but who themselves are oppressed by their global situation. There is a certain temptation to reject them as racist or xenophobic, as political enemies, but this is not Eribon’s position, nor your own.

One of the sentences that struck me in the book, and which I included in the film, is when Eribon wrote: “It would be easy not to shake the hand of something who votes for the FN, but what do you do when it’s your own family?” You can pose the same question with respect to any reactionary sentiment, like racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. None of the us is ideologically pure, we all have ideas or way of being and doing that could be considered by others as reactionary – even if only because we are not all from the same political universe, from the same culture, we don’t even have the same life. Afterwards, there is only politics when there is disagreement. And the differences of thinking are the wealth of a community. What is important is the ability to discuss them. It is only through discussion, even very forthright discussion, that we can apprehend other people, and sometimes even begin to understand them. And the more you understand other people, the more you can discuss things in depth with them. You can realise that when you discuss, you move forward, and it is more important to advance together than to reject the other as an enemy. This does not mean that we must excuse everything or that all speech is receivable. But for all that, it is important to grasp the construction mechanism of reactionary sentiments to succeed in defeating them, if not to change the world so that it can’t emerge. In the end, the result in France and other Western countries is that due to not listening to our adversaries, due to confining them to the enemy camp without seeking to understand the social and political dysfunctionality of which they are the symptom, the far right will become the majority… For me, one of the luxuries of being a filmmaker is being able to regularly present my films to high school students. Incidentally, this is one of the only aspects of my craft that I could qualify, however modestly, as being militant. Some of my films can arouse some pretty reactionary responses from young spectators. As much as we might idealise youth, it is no more nor less reactionary or progressive than the rest of society… The chance that I have when I am confronted with them, it being able to permit them to express themselves fully, which they can’t do with their teachers. Then, when some people dare to express right-wing views, this opens up discussion within the class. The students all begin to realise that they don’t all think the same and that their positions can be very aggressive for others. It is only then that each one can begin to think about it.

Return to Reims (Fragments)

In Our Defeats, which is a film, precisely, that you made with high school students, and in Return to Reims there is a quality in common: they begin with the hypothesis of a defeat, along with a kind of left-wing melancholy, and then they finish with a refutation of this hypothesis, a resistance against the idea of being defeated. In Nos défaites the students enter into political struggle themselves, which was surely not foreseen. History make an entrance and it changes the coordinates of the film. And in Retour à Reims there is this epilogue that shows the new struggles of the 2000s and 2010s. Perhaps we have moved beyond the melancholic moment, but what comes after? There are street protests, but don’t these also have their limitations?

What is certain is that there was a failure. There was an exhaustion of the concepts of the left and the manner of mobilising them. But it is above all the failure of the representation of the left more than the left itself. If we have long experienced a moment of strong political apathy, this has not prevented a living politics to continue, even on a minoritarian level, it has not prevented social movements and struggles from developing. What is interesting, over the last few years, is that there has begun to be a junction of different types of political struggle, whereas for a long time each struggle was isolated and a little gaseous. For a long time, there were social, trade union and political struggles on the one hand and LGBTQ, feminist, environmental, anti-racist struggles on the other hand. Recently these struggles have begun to mix and intertwine. This is still fragile but at the same time it is totally exalting. I have absolutely no idea of the number of people that participate in one way or another in contemporary struggles, but things are moving a lot, even if it is in conditions that are extremely difficult. Power does everything to prevent a mass movement from appearing. Since the struggle against the labour code in 2016, then with the Gilets Jaunes, at even the smallest protest you get the feeling there are more special forces police than there are protesters! From the beginning of the demo, the cops begin to spray them or shoot at them to frighten off demonstrators. There is a criminalisation of each type of resistance and the judicial penalties have become excessive. But in spite of this repression and the lack of attention of the media, this movement is existing and moving. This could develop even further in the future. There is a general despair on plenty of subjects. In Return to Reims I wanted to transcribe this energy a little. We don’t know where we’re headed but as long as there are people struggling, nothing is totally lost. What is interesting is that recently, we are no longer in movements that are purely movements against – against wars, against capitalism, or whatever. It’s true there is no longer a utopian model since the end of the great ideologies of the left, and we still haven’t defined what world we could collectively construct, but there are beginning to be some attempts. There are things that happen that are positive. Although, for my part, I still have this kind of melancholy for a political class that would be attentive to these struggles. But in spite of the urgency of the situation, it has gone AWOL.

So how do you construct a cinema that can contribute to or accompany this struggle? You have spoken of the structural problems of French film industry, but how do you construct an alternative? Will this happen in the online sphere, or does the cinema in a more traditional sense still have a role to play?

I can only speak of my own experience. For a cinema like mine, the multiple screening possibilities – whether in the classical cinema, television, the Internet, VOD, festivals, film societies, etc., is a real chance. In many countries, there are no more cinemas, or just multiplexes. But films still get shown. The problem for me is not so much distribution as the production of films, which condemns filmmakers to make films desired by the market (not by spectators as much as by the industry itself), or to work in conditions of precarity. We are totally fixed in a mode of production which has stopped moving. I have no idea how to open it back up to a diversity of representations and cinematic spaces. It is beginning to happen with the representation of women and non-whites. And still, when these groups end up accepting to make films in the conditions offered by the industry… I think that we are going to be forced into a systematic change of the cinema because what is happening with Covid, and the rise of streaming platforms, is going to lead to a tipping point, if not a clear break. In any case, it is problem for those who like me only know how to make films in the “classical” manners, cinema films. It is very difficult for me to think in new filmic forms, adapted to the internet. I sometimes see hyper-intelligent cine-tracts, conceived for rapid diffusion over the internet, with high quality images. Each generation invents its own tools, and I think it is worth exploring them all. There is no single use of the cinema. There is no single public that we need to reach, there is no single model spectator. We have to seek them out one by one, with forms tailored to them. And it is for this reason that we must, even in the field of classical, normative, entrenched cinema, have different types of directors who could make different types of films, each one of which can reach a part of the public to which we want to address ourselves. I do not believe in one cinema against another, one type of visual proposition against an other. The cinema remains alive when it is diverse. And today, it is dying more from its non-diversity that from the internet or new spectatorial practices. We have everything to lose.

About The Author

Daniel Fairfax is assistant professor in Film Studies at the Goethe Universität-Frankfurt, and an editor of Senses of Cinema.

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