(Africas: What about the pain?)
Dir: Raymond Depardon
165 min., 35mm, 1:1.66, Color
Produktion: Palmeraie et Désert, Canal+. Kamera, Ton: Raymond Depardon. Schnitt: Roger Ikhlef. Mischung, Produktionsleitung: Claudine Nougaret.
Uraufführung: 8. März 1996, Cinéma du Réel, Paris. Weltvertrieb: Gemaci, 93, 28 Allée Vivaldi, F - 75012 Paris, Tel.: (33-1) 4002 0911, Fax: (33-1) 4002 0940
Kontakt in Berlin: Claudia Rae-Colombani, Stand No 202, Catalan Films and Television, Berlin. Tel.: (265 17 08). Mit Unterstützung der Fondation de France, dem CNC (Centre National du Cinéma), dem Procirep und der FAVI
Sun 16.02. 13:00 Delphi Sun 16.02. 21:00 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Mon 17.02. 20:00 Arsenal Tue 18.02. 11:30 Akademie der Künste
Raymond Depardon refuses to be silent about poverty, questioning his responsibility as ,image maker' to speak about pain.
Like many filmmakers and photographers I aim for accuracy. This has become an obsession with me. An image doesn't need to be honest, but it needs to be accurate. I didn't want to make a road movie. My idea was to look at Africa - as accurately as possible, not to assume a journalistic point of view nor a geographical-ethnographic one. I found that the image of Africa is too schematic. On the one hand the civil wars, the famines, Aids, violence and genocide. On the other hand the complete opposite: the beautiful Massai, landscapes full of contrasts, the eternal desert, the Sahara - too beautiful to be true. I was positioned between these two extremes. I left journalism behind, but remained loyal to certain journalistic approaches while not having to suffer from the usual disadvantages, such as travelling to areas just because of current events, documenting times of crises. I was interested in the less exciting times. Furthermore, I wanted to confront reality, without a team, sometimes with an international organization, sometimes all alone, just to listen, mainly to listen.
The length of film was predetermined, as well as certain principles which I value: keeping the deadline, to film as little as possible in order to use as much footage as possible for the film.
Using a video camera means filming all the time and making your choice at the end. I believed it would be better to film as little as possible. I had one hour for each country. There are fifteen countries in the film, I was able to include only about fifteen minutes per country. In this case, too, I didn't stick to the norm. I wanted to stick to my first impression as close as possible. I trust this first impression. Afterwards you don't see anything anymore.
What should one film? It is always the same problem, I will never solve it. It depends on the topics. The topic ,violence in South Africa' is illustrated by showing a funeral, documenting the tension in the city. As far as Aids is concerned, I refuse to show the brutality of an African hospital. I didn't want to create a cabinet of horrors, but to ask the right questions at the right places. I deal with one problem at a time. Not with every problem - time is too short for that. I would have liked to talk about female circumcision, an important religious and cultural problem, or childhood in the cities or the social position of women. But one cannot talk about these topics in one sentence. I would have had to make a sequel, another route from Djibouti to Dakar where I would have dealt with the French-speaking part of the country. In this case I might choose the format of a road movie, needing another three hours.
The commentary was recorded in South Africa. I found it awkward, but it demonstrated extraordinary honesty, therefore I did not want to change anything about it. Other commentaries were developed there, the images were produced in France. My problems were not a director's problems but a script writer's difficulties. If one doesn't know how to listen, then the commentary is written badly. The commentary for AFRIQUES... was spoken onto a dictaphone by me, without a sound man. I didn't want a glib, well-recorded text. The sound was meant to be imprecise, somewhat too loud.
I wanted to find out how things had changed. I was disappointed. In Tibesti people have to rely on themselves entirely. Even at the place where I made La Captive du désert. One calms one's conscience by having given them time and money, but then you realize that this has long become irrelevant, forgotten, disappeared. In other places, unknown to me, there is a hustle and bustle. Then I come to Mogadishu and approach somewhat more personal topics. Each journey contains a development. But I am not the first one. The beginning of Afrique fantôme by Michel Leiris is a bit awkward. And then he begins to talk about himself. It makes sense to talk about oneself. Different Africans told me: you really only talk about your pain. Doubtlessly, my pain is my worry about Africa. But I do discuss certain issues like ethnology, economic independence, Aids. I present my opinions but I can't offer any solutions. That is the task of African directors, they have to go forward. They cannot remain in a permanent state of naivité and romanticism. We have to let them take their fate into their own hands, they have received too much instruction already. But the Western world, too, should be more careful. Television has less of a tendency than the cinema to present the differences in an exaggerated fashion. Africa has the same problems as we do: family, everyday life, politics, religion...
I think we have to rethink our understanding of Africa fundamentally. I have never lived there, I am not an emigrant. I take my memories of Africa back to Paris, just like a traveller takes home his souvenirs. It is something which challenges and enriches me. The continent has taken possession of me, it has taken us all into possession. I have gotten to know many other countries: Vietnam, Chile, China. The fundamental, lyrical power of Africa is doubtlessly due to the fact that the continent is the cradle of humanity.
I have the impression that all the peoples of Africa, whether in the South or the North, have one thing in common: the embarrassment with which they speak about their difficulties. One example, which they impart to us every day again.
I know that French-speaking Africans use the word ,pain' like a greeting to assure themselves that we are feeling well in Africa: ,How is the pain?' They use it like a simple ,hello'.
To talk about the great pains in a very restrained manner. There are different kinds of pain. Is there a difference between small and great pain?
There is, most prominently, the pain of poverty. Perhaps it is possible to claim that pain is more than an emotion, more than a sensation. Pain as a defence reaction, a signal, as explained by physicians, is not something that worries Africans. If pain is no longer a memory, if pain doesn't occupy the mind, then it will always remain between silence and the scream.
... Since Africa I have the impression that everything is clear to me. Africa, its problems, its beauty, the conclusiveness of my journey, my work, this film. Everything seemed so close, I was searching, writing. The closer I get, the greater my fear to loose this lightness, this perspective.
I am trying to remember the person that I was at the beginning of the journey. I wanted to forget the reasons and wishes for my journey. I was less experienced, I asked stupid questions. I remember talking to a friend about it. Africa revealed two faces to me: one full of pain, the other too peaceful to be honest.
Today I feel that I have a calm conscience, finally, even if for just one moment.
Depardon travels through Africa for three years, alone, with some interruptions. Wherever he goes, he sets down the camera, lets it ,look around'. Once, twice, sometimes more often. Landscapes unfold, colour compositions, breathtaking beauty. ,These are Africa's values, too', says Depardon when accused of a pessimistic vision. His camera moves slowly, slowly like his eyes. He has an unusual approach. For example, after waiting for weeks to meet Nelson Mandela who has just completed his twenty year incarceration period, who has not yet become president, he doesn't ask him a single question. He lets him remain silent. One minute long. ,Good...', says Mandela, when the time is up.
At any rate, it seems that Depardon avoids scandalous images or clichés. He doesn't show enlarged bellies of starving children, instead he accompanies two women in Ethiopia who carry a few meagre branches for many kilometres, just to make a short-lived fire. His breath is heard, puffing and wheezing he walks with the women, camera in hand. What he finally shows is their feet. Another example: he observes children trying to catch corn spilling from a truck (...). In this scenes he doesn't use cuts. He films in real time: ,Every filmmaker has a moral responsibility for his camera angles. Real time worked like a guarantee. It is more sensitive because we are tempted to reduce it, to choose only the spectacular aspects, the esthetically interesting perspectives, the images which provoke empathy.' Of course, there are images which provoke empathy. But they are not dominant. For this reason they are so powerful, and make the observer's eye seem indecent: they are integrated into normality. Depardon films in a hospice in Sudan, place of death for the terminally ill, but also the boxroom for psychologically disturbed patients. When his camera slowly pans over a body wrecked by disease, one could accuse him of voyeurism. Depardon says he is naturally a voyeur. That's his profession. But the voyeur only senses pleasure, Depardon feels pain, his own fears. Martina Meister, in: Frankfurter Rundschau, November 22nd, 1996
Raymond Depardon, born 6th June 1942 in Villefranche-sur-Saône. After apprenticing as a photographer he works worldwide for the agency Dalmas, Paris. In 1963 he makes his first documentary. Together with Gilles Caron he founds the agency Gamma in 1966. As a special correspondent for television he makes documentaries. From 1978 he works for the agency Magnum. In 1981 he establishes the production firm Double D Copyright Films. Since 1969 Depardon has exhibited photographs in various exhibitions. In 1991 he received the Grand Prix National de la Photographie. Furthermore, he has published several photography books, such as ,Chili'(1974), ,Tchad'(1977), ,Le désert américain'(1983), ,Les fiancées de Saigon'(1986), ,Depardon/Cinéma'(1993), ,La colline des anges' (1994),'Return to Vietnam'(1994), ,La Ferme du Garet'(1995), ,La Porte des larmes'(1996), ,En Afrique'(1996).
1963: Venezuela. 1967: Israël. 1968: Biafra. 1969: Ian Pallach. 1970: Tchad (1): L'Embuscade. 1973: Yemen. 1974: 50,82% (von Giscard d'Estaing nicht zur Aufführung freigegeben). 1975-76: Tchad (2) und (3). 1976: Tibesti too. 1977: Numéros zéro. 1980: Reporters. 1980: Dix minutes de silence pour John Lennon, San Clémente. 1982: Piparsod. 1983: Faits divers (Forum 1984). 1984-85: Les années déclic, Empty Quarter/Une femme en Afrique. 1986: New-York, N.Y. 1987: Le petit navire, Urgences. 1989: Une histoire très simple, La captive du désert. 1990: Contacts. 1991: Carthagena (in Contre l'oubli). 1993: Face à la mer. 1994: Montage, Délits Flagrants (Forum 1996). 1996: AFRIQUES, COMMENT ÇA VA AVEC LA DOULEUR? in Vorbereitung: Paroles d'appelés, Usine, Muriel Leferle
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.