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Sylvain George • Director

"Folding things up and rewriting them in the long term"


- Interview with Sylvain George, director of Paris is a Moveable Feast – A Film in 18 Waves, a hypnotic and radical stroll around the centre and nooks and crannies of the French capital

Sylvain George • Director
(© Dao Bacon / Cinéma du Réel)

To mark the occasion of the screening of Paris is a Moveable Feast – A Film in 18 Waves [+see also:
film review
interview: Sylvain George
film profile
at the Cinéma du Réel Festival and its release next week, before he picks up his project on Calais that he interrupted to film three of the demonstrations that shook Place de la République in 2015 and 2016 – and, alongside this raging gush of collective resistance, human life reduced to its barest essence, to the most exposed of personal freedom which can be seen in the chinks in society’s armour, on the pavements where refugees sleep rough –, filmmaker, writer and poet Sylvain George talks to us about this piece, which makes close and electrifying contact with an intense truth, which is completely present although muffled in the night of time.

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Cineuropa: You chose a title that evokes a number of things for this film.
Sylvain George: The idea was to move away from words associated with certain uses of them. Paris is a Moveable Feast is first and foremost a book by Hemingway, which became famous when someone mentioned it on a rolling news channel covering the attacks, and picked up on immediately afterwards by the Mayor of Paris to promote culture and tourism. The same thing goes for "wave", a very polysemous word that is often appropriated in a stigmatising way (you hear talk of an immigration "wave", putting it on an equal footing with a "wave of attacks"), which I wanted to play with by expanding on it, because it also refers back to the account of my protagonist, Mohamed, when he talks about his boat crossing, and then his situation as an  "unseen castaway", in Lucrèce’s words as he describes the reaction when a person is shipwrecked and abandoned, left to wash ashore – referring to an ethical and political stance. Using the word wave also evokes the idea of repetition, but one which can also create difference, allowing new things to surface, new actions that are capable, perhaps, of overthrowing a certain state of affairs.

Beyond the reality it portrays, the film’s form (most notably the very meticulous work on the images and sound and the way they interact) defines our experience, perhaps you pick up on things you couldn’t have foreseen. How did you shape this journey?
I’ve always tried to explore the plastic nature of the medium of film with sound, images, colour, black and white, and rhymes, to create a language that takes shape gradually and breaks with the grammar generally associated with documentary film. By working on the resources of the medium, we see certain truths in a different way, conveying not only ideas, but sensations too. And it’s all of these elements that, in a bit of a prolific game at times, allow me to translate and define my stance on the situations I come across. As I like to really get involved in the subject matter I deal with. By getting to know Mohamed, walking around with him, from central places (Michel Lussault’s "hyper-places") to the nooks and crannies of the city (off the beaten track), I saw how political decisions affect bodies, narratives and places. And then, slowly but surely, through elements that folded together, other elements clashed with one another more indirectly. So it’s a film which is, to some extent, a telescope of scenes or events that might seem very separate but actually aren’t at all, which also makes it possible to rewrite them in the long term, to rewrite a certain number of events making up current affairs in a more lasting narrative, in a plastic way, within the framework of a cinematographic exploration that is also part of the wider picture, as it interacts with forms that date back to the dawn of film – to "city films", to Vertov.

Indeed, although the film is carried by a forward-looking movement, each fragment (action, item) that constitutes it invites us to explore its depth and duration, like this writing book that this Afghan refugee puts together.
We could define that as an action. Viewers asked me after seeing the film where the "feast" was, and quite rightly, I find something very joyful in this action – because there’s also joy in this feeling, this action which is also one of resistance, this work that an individual does in defining their inner selves, searching for their own freedom. There’s something joyful there. This joy is conveyed through various types of action: the book, the actions of certain demonstrators, the very expressive movements of Mohammed’s hands in the night. All that links back to what Frantz Fanon called "feasts of the imaginary", or rather that appealing to the imagination allows us to break down barriers, to undo the bolts on completely foreclosed situations and thus open up new spaces and temporalities. It allows you to open yourself up to something impossible.

(Translated from French)

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