Some people leave a pronounced mark on you in life, and Bérénice is that person for me. During my 20 years at Senses of Cinema, I worked with her regularly and came to think of her as a friend. After hearing of her passing I went back and counted the texts she gifted this journal as a writer, and with festivals alone it amounts to some 451,804 words, over 59 reports. And she wrote other pieces as well. Though I was technically her editor, she was a mentor and guiding light to this developing cinephile. 

I appreciated so much her commitment to the worth of the festival report, never using it merely as an excuse to get a free festival badge. Piece after piece, she transcended the format to probe deep into cinematic currents and tendencies coursing through a given event. For Senses of Cinema, she regularly wrote impassioned reports from Sundance, the PanAfrican Film Festival, Vancouver and AFI Fest/AFM. Within each piece, which would read more as an essay than a festival report, her analyses of individual films served as cogent, contained film reviews in themselves and her detailed footnotes were a feat of research in themselves. Her writing was always probing and illuminating, always meeting the film on its own terms.

She recommended often her beloved students and other filmmakers she encountered in her programming and teaching work. Never fossilised in one era, she was constantly interested in new voices, especially those from the margins. Early on she was particularly passionate about Chinese cinema and curated a program of contemporary independent Chinese cinema for the Cinémathèque française in 2017. But she was equally excited about African American cinema, feminist and queer cinema, documentary, experimental and independent films, always looking out for that which was not obvious in her festival coverage, and programming this way for the Film at REDCAT series. For a touching tribute and overview of Bérénice’s career, please read Abigail Severance and Film at REDCAT co-founder Steve Anker’s piece here at the website of Cal Arts’ School of Film/Video, where she taught for over 30 years.

Bérénice Reynaud

I met her in person in Vienna, Hong Kong, Los Angeles. Not one for tedious chit-chat, something burned in every conversation with Bérénice. She was as steely and warm in person as she was in text. And she valued friendship above all. Through years of lengthy emails and long phone calls, she was generous through and through, often asking about my family, my son, my mother who was also going through cancer treatment. Fragments of her biography would shine through her criticism, particularly her formation as a young girl in France, evolving intellectually in the very male-dominated cinema-philosophy world. It would come to inform her writing in personal ways that stood out from the purely scholarly and impersonal writing of many of her peers. 

For me, her crowning achievement in this journal was the dossier she created and edited on Chantal Akerman, just a few months after the filmmaker’s passing. Through her friendships with so many of Akerman’s collaborators, Bérénice was able to assemble an incredibly rich and rigorous array of pieces and voices. It was a magnificent tribute, with a multitude of resonances, also as for some reason when I had visualised Bérénice’s face, it often merged with Chantal’s, both uncommonly beautiful with piercing blue eyes. The circumstances of Bérénice’s passing are different, but I quote here her words about the Belgian filmmaker as they can apply to her own presence in cinema for many of us: 

Chantal Akerman’s suicide on 5 October, 2015, did not only leave a void. It burnt a hole in the texture of time, and those of us who were nearby (in body or in spirit) were charred. She consumed her life to the point of exhaustion, and we were the ones scorched, as she returned to ashes. Her suicide burnt a hole in the texture of cinema, so profoundly, so irretrievably redefined by her oeuvre, and so cinema will never be the same again. There will not be another film by Chantal Akerman, and our loss is immense1.

Bérénice Reynaud, July 2019


About The Author

Michelle Carey is a festival programmer and was an editor and contributor to Senses of Cinema 2002-2021, mainly overseeing Festival Reports.

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