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"My movies are an existential questioning that I try to subscribe to"

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Fernand Melgar • Director


- Cineuropa met up with Swiss filmmaker Fernand Melgar, who returns to Locarno to enlighten again, through his camera, the people in the shadow

Fernand Melgar  • Director

Fernand Melgar returns to the Locarno Film Festival after a three year absence. A long awaited comeback that hasn’t disappointed all those who hoped that his films would have lost none of their power and candour. The Shelter [+see also:
film review
interview: Fernand Melgar
film profile
, in competition for the Golden Leopard,  discusses once again (after The Fortress and Special Flight [+see also:
film review
film profile
) immigrants, outcasts, those people who, like ghosts, wander throughout our cities. Fernand Melgar gives a voice to all those who want to cry out but who cannot do so and he does so with an awareness and empathy that makes his films unique. 

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose film as a means of expressing yourself?
Fernand Melgar: I’ve never asked myself why I make movies. Someone once said to me: it’s bizarre, your films make me think of folk art. Indeed he was right. Folk art is art created by people who have no academic training, who never studied painting; people who create almost instictively and my films are precisely that, instictive. I never studied film and initially I felt really like an impostor. I never asked myself aesthetic questions because for me it’s always obvious in some way, obvious and urgent. What’s different about this fim compared to previous ones is that you can truly perceive my point of view in this one, my way of looking at people. My movies are an existential questioning that I try to subscribe to. My focus is never self-absorbed.

In The Shelter the characters are very natural. Did the presence of the camera ever cause any problems?
I don’t have a lot of money for making my movies but I do have somethings worth their weight in gold, time and patience. Generally before shooting a movie I try to get close to the people involved, slowly and gently. Six months of scouting, meetings and discussions were necessary for this movie. That was all in order to really understand in depth the situation and above all to share the human experience. From there, once you’ve established trust, the filmmaking can begin. With my films I try to slow down the flow of images that invades us on a daily basis, I try to create a space for reflection. These images that are supposed to create information essentially make us forget, they are in the process of erasing our memories. For me cinema is all about memory.

From the moment I manage to establish a relationship of trust I know if a person is in the process of acting or not, I know their reactions, their habits, I know when it’s necessary to take a step back or to move forward, I know how to find the right distance.

How did the editing stage turn out?
I was lucky to work with an incredible person: Karine Sudan, a fantastic documentary film editor (The Blocher Experiment [+see also:
film review
festival scope
film profile
). For this movie I had about 180 hours of footage, we worked on this for 8 months every day. The difficult thing was that in a lot of the footage I didn’t understand what the people were saying, so we then had to translate, that was a huge job. From there we discovered a lot of things, it was kind of like a second round of filming. While I was filming I tried not to listen with my head but with my heart, to let myself go. 

How would you place yourself in the panorama of Swiss cinema and of documentary film in particular? 
I really feel like I belong to the Swiss cinema family. This country has one incredible defining feature, unique in the world: no one film ressembles any other. It has an incredible richness of cinema (and documentary films in particular) for such a small country. There’s no one school, one single way of filmmaking. Swiss cinema essentially epitomizes this country: an abundance of wealth, of different views and cultures. The reason I feel so attached to this country is that it’s one-of-a-kind: there’s an article in the Swiss constitution (article 71), an article devoted to cinema and it says that Switzerland must promote, defend and preserve cinema. Cinema forms part of the very essence of this country.  

(Translated from French)

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