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Fernand Melgar • Director

"I’ve never done a shoot before that’s given me so much back"


- Cineuropa met up with Fernand Melgar at the Solothurn Film Festival, where his film At the Philosophers' School is in competition for the Prix de Soleure

Fernand Melgar  • Director

Cineuropa met up with Fernand Melgar at Solothurn Film Festival, where his film, At the Philosophers' School [+see also:
film review
interview: Fernand Melgar
film profile
(opening film) is in competition for the Prix de Soleure. The director spoke with enthusiasm and sincerity about his feelings when filming his cinematic vision.

Cineuropa: How did the idea for ​​the film come about? Why did you decide to delve into the daily lives of your five protagonists?
Fernand Melgar:
I don't think I choose my films, but rather, they choose me. I've just finished At the Philosophers’ School and I have no idea what my next film will be. It's a bit like a sculptor who has a piece of stone in front of him, he knows that the sculpture is inside somewhere but he doesn't yet know how to define it. Luck would have it that the Verdeil Foundation, which is located in the French-speaking region of Switzerland and which includes a lot of specialised schools, phoned me up and asked me to make a film for them, a commissioned film, an institutional film. I explained to them that I don't take on commissions. Then I thought about it and I thought, why not? After making three films about foreigners, immigration and asylum seekers, I thought it might be a good idea. I don't make films about migration per se, but rather, films about otherness. "Togetherness," looking at each other, and the accepting those that are different from us are very important topics in my eyes. They are essential to all of my films.

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Could you tell us more about the central themes in your films?
When I shot my first few films I was naïve enough to think that they were going to change the world, and then I realised that's not how it works. I wondered if these same films, which couldn't change the world, could change people's perspectives. Personally, I’m very happy when someone approaches me and tells me, often after a screening, that they won’t be able see these people in the same light again. I essentially try to widen my audiences’ horizons, their field of vision. If I can do that, I've won!

How did you gain the trust of your protagonists? How did you manage to get them to accept the presence of the camera?
Although I don't have a lot of money when making films, I have something that nobody can buy: time. I need time to approach people. It's a bit like the fox in The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry, who tells the protagonist that in order to be his friend he will have to tame him first. There's also talk of mutual taming, trust and acceptance in my film. It’s very important to me that there is informed consent in my films. The children I captured on film are particular in their own way. Some people would call them disabled, I would say they have more qualities than us, or at least different qualities. They are very sensitive, and they can very quickly tell when something’s wrong. From there on, the whole point of the film was to make sure that they let me into their world.

What's particularly special is that I normally spend about three months filming, but I spent a year and a half there, and I don't think I've ever done a film shoot before that’s given me so much back. I didn’t want it to end. I felt something very powerful. These children light up the world! Maybe that's why the film is called At the Philosophers’ School. Obviously because it's a school located on the Rue des Philosophes in Yverdon, but also because the film was a lesson in philosophy for me. Plato once said that philosophy is the pleasure of teaching others but also the pleasure of learning from others. At this school the children certainly learn, but the adults who take care of them and myself in particular also learnt a lot, too. At the Philosophers’ School is a film about love, about the fact that life always finds a way. For me it was very important to keep that in mind.

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(Translated from French)

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