Filmmaker César Vayssié's Interview with Olivier Pierre, Curator, FID Marseille

December 19, 2016 | By French Culture Arts
César Vayssié © Caroline Redy

César Vayssié’s interview with Olivier Pierre, Curator, FIDMarseille Selection Committee, was published in French in FIDMarseille News on July 15, 2016. On the occasion of the presentation of Vayssié’s film UFE(UNFILMEVENEMENT) at the Museum of Moving Image’s First Look Festival on January 7, 2017, a translation is available. 

Olivier: You have been working with artists such as Philippe Quesne and Boris Charmatz. What is the relation with them and the origin of UFE. 

César: At first, there was a need to speak about commitment. My collaboration with artists from the performing arts has influenced my way of working and exploring by highlighting the work of the body. For me, commitment means the physical investment of the body.

Olivier: UFE(UNFILMEVENEMENt) takes  from the cinema as well as from the visual and performing arts. How did you conceive the film?

César: As a work in progress; as a research workshop similar to a dance company in a studio developing movement. I wanted to work empirically and I also wanted to broaden the cinematographic experience to other fields. To contradict habits, to free oneself from working methods and conventions specific to the cinema.

Olivier: The film is being developed in different spaces and times, real and imaginary. Is there a single scenario?

César: The scenario tells a linear and fictional story about the abduction of a television VIP. The de-construction of the narration and the fictional opportunities are not specified. Consequently, during the shooting, the actors were new to each situation. The scenario was a solid base allowing us to explore multiple directions and to include the story as a dramaturgic component.  The film tells about the creation of a political project through an artistic project and vice versa. 

Olivier: The argument is around Television, a medium that seems to be obsolete today. Why?

César: Exactly. The television represents an older world. It is a symbol of the chaos we are experiencing. There is also the presence of a mailman, the pre-history of the “e-mail”. The film tells about the entrance in the virtual world, the awkward use of the digital and the virtualization of political and artistic involvements and human relations.  And what remains is the reality of the bodies, dead or alive. 

Olivier : How did you work on the casting? And how did you work with the actors. I ask because the film feels like a permanent work-in-progress, a very free film, in constant evolution. 

César: There was a very long period of auditions and interviews. The goal was to meet individuals more than to compose a “cast” as in cinema. Then we went through three years of creative residency during which the group explored the work in many directions, mainly in contemporary dance, and with encounters with artists:  A long workshop that allowed the group –fictional at first – to exist in reality at the beginning of the shooting. Everything was possible during the process of creation. The film was developed with total freedom. Freedom is a mental disposition that enables us to make the most unexpected decisions, beyond the habits and usages.

Olivier: During the editing, did you find a unity? 

César: I don’t know. I edited the film completely alone, in an instinctive yet deeply thoughtful way. The writing was also done during the editing. I was looking for a structure that would make viewers feel something, more as in a poem than in a political speech. I tried not to conform to any convention, though I did observe conventions nevertheless. The film includes disparate writings, choppy scenes filmed with a handheld camera, and very long, static shots. I did not want to establish any specific structure within the film but instead I wanted to present a film that felt alive, imbued with a constant sense of exploration; not a manufactured work, but an unfinished object. There is of course some attention devoted to aesthetics, but if there is a unifying force within the film, I’m not aware of it, and maybe it’s better like that.

Olivier: What is the role of the inserts with quotes, short images, sometimes subliminal images?

César: This is the documentary component of the film: The books we read; the maps of the location where we filmed; the fauna and the flora, the references. All the components that make a film including rehearsals and exploration. The historical references remind us what has already been told, as an example, but also with the idea to free ourselves, to progress. 

Olivier : What was your approach to the music, its quirky use as in Jean-Luc Godard’s films, who is often quoted in the film?

César: I asked Pierre Avia to compose several musical genres. One is very “cinegenique”, a kind of a musical cliché. For example, a theme similar to Georges Delerue’s music comes back many times. There is also a Western-like musical theme, and hits of the 80s but rearranged; and also improvised and experimental music. It is a bit like for the set: the purpose was to mix the genres and to play with the codes to confront impressions and develop original narratives. JL Godard is obviously behind all that. It is made at the same time, with irony and not much respect.

Olivier: Is the project “revolutionary”, a utopia? Do you see any correspondence with present civic movements such as the actions of “Nuit Debout” (a French social movement that started in March 2016 similar to Occupy Movement in the U.S.):

César: The resonance with what is happening these days is disturbing. Since 2012, we have been working with the actors and all along, we could see the development of correspondences between the film and events happening in our societies. The horrible moment was Charlie Hebdo’s attack while we had just finished shooting a scene of similar violence, and then, a few months later, the attack at The Bataclan happened, chaos we envisioned in the film but not in reality. The film has images whose effect feels weird today. We understand that the existence of a movement such as “Nuit Debout” completely depends on each person’s commitment and their ability to stay committed. This is the true subject of the film.  UFE is not a revolutionary project. Its ambition is to offer a different example of making a film: its structure, and also its production and creative process. Through this process, we show how a micro-society behaves when something new has to be created and ow it faces changes. A work has no political impact by itself.

Olivier: And in fact, you created a special structure just to produce UFE. Could you speak about it?

César: It is an association such as a dance or theater company. We produced the film without any money from the film industry; instead we developed co-productions with institutions from the performing arts field such as Nanterre-Amandiers (*), Le Musée de la danse (**), Le Centre national de la danse (***). It corresponds with a process of exploration that allows us to experiment and to position ourselves artistically. A production, it is a human organization, a micro-society that corresponds with a certain vision of the world. Nowadays the making of films is archaic and limited. It decides fixed forms that don’t evolve.

Interview by Olivier Pierre, Curator, Selection Committee FIDMarseille; published in FIDMarseille News, July 15, 2016.  (Translation by Nicole Birmann Bloom and Kimberly Corliss)


(*) Nanterre-Amandiers: A National Dramatic Center, located in Nanterre in western Paris, now directed by the artist Philippe Quesne; 

(**) Le Musée de la danse: A National Choreographic Center located in the city of Rennes (Brittany region)  and directed by the artist Boris Charmatz

(***) Le Centre national de la danse: A federal agency dedicated to all aspects of dance (creation, pedagogy) with a large archival fund, located in Pantin in northeastern Paris

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