“A process of disclosure”
by Anna Percival
05/07/2010 - Cineuropa: What was the starting point for Cleveland Versus Wall Street [trailer, film focus]?
Jean-Stéphane Bron: Long before the subprime crisis, I’d been wanting to make a film about finance with the intuition that economic forces had overtaken everything else, including politics and ideology, and that something was going to happen, this situation couldn’t last.
So I looked for a place which could embody, through people, economic notions that are by definition abstract and not very cinematic. I found it in Cleveland, which decided to take legal action against 21 of the world’s most powerful banks following the subprime crisis – an economic and social disaster for the city and its residents. As the trial was constantly postponed, I decided to stage it myself with its real protagonists. Cleveland is a metaphor for the United States, but also for the whole world.
How did you manage to convince the protagonists?
It was a long process. Especially as some witnesses were in the hot seat, in the position of the accused… It was also very difficult to find families who agreed to testify. We had to clearly explain the central idea of the film, that this trial would be symbolic, a platform for speaking. Once they understood the approach, something happened, a kind of letting go.
How did you put this unusual idea into practice?
There are cameras in US trials, but they have very specific positions. As we were free in our directorial choices, we decided to put the cameras in places where they wouldn’t have been found in reality. Our two cameras faced each other, mounted on small tracking rails. A few millimetres either way and they were in each other’s shot and the idea gave itself away!
The film’s "outer structure" is therefore fictional, but nobody is playing a role. Everything that takes place on "the stage" of the court belongs to the realm of documentary. I never provoked any new developments, I would have found that extremely artificial. On the other hand, I chose the witnesses very carefully and the elements of surprise stem from the fact that we’re involved in a process of disclosure, like in an investigation, when we understand things little by little.
Finally, we also re-wrote the film in the editing stage. Thanks to the two cameras, we were able to stretch time, add a moment of silence or an expression that wasn’t there. We amplified what was in keeping with the scene. Without misrepresenting it.
You chose an unusual form, on the boundary between documentary and fiction…
I always try to make my films explore documentary, its methods and language, by trying to question its very form. For me, the virtue of documentary film is finding unusual forms, which can borrow from fiction, to show reality in a different way. Even if some people consider it to be the “place” of truth and non-representation.
There’s a sort of religious attitude towards the real and how to record it! When you see all the channels – television, Internet and so forth – through which the real reaches us every day, I think that, on the contrary, cinema should play another card: experimentation and forms that must ask us questions about the world and our way of representing it.
Has this film made you want to continue your exploration of capitalism?
I’m starting a film about the World Trade Organisation. I don’t yet know what form it will take but it will close, in a way, a trilogy that began with Le Génie Helvétique and Cleveland Versus Wall Street. The WTO focuses major international trade and a certain relationship between economics and politics around the pursuit of conquest: you have to constantly seize new markets, gain growth points, on a planet that is, however, finite!