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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2019 Zabaltegi-Tabakalera

Callisto Mc Nulty • Director of Delphine and Carole

"Images have the power to change the order of things by building a richer view of the world"


- We sat down with Callisto Mc Nulty to break down her documentary Delphine and Carole, which has just screened at San Sebastián and is selected for the EFAs

Callisto Mc Nulty  • Director of Delphine and Carole
(© Joffrey Speno)

We spoke to French filmmaker Callisto Mc Nulty, whose documentary Delphine and Carole [+see also:
film review
interview: Callisto Mc Nulty
film profile
has just screened at San Sebastián and is selected for the European Film Awards.

Cineuropa: How did this film come about? What was your initial inspiration? 
Callisto Mc Nulty:
This film is both historical and personal, since Carole Roussopoulos was my grandmother. A year before her death in 2009, she began working on a documentary film project about Delphine Seyrig. This project was the starting point for my film, which I developed with Alexandra and Géronimo Roussopoulos, Carole’s children. We felt driven to include Carole’s voice in order to tell the story of both women – their joyful radicalism, and the political and human intensity of their relationship.

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Through this film, I wanted to show their subversive and creative use of video, which was a new medium at the time. Unlike cinema, video had no history. As Carole used to say, "It hadn’t yet been colonised by men," and so women felt free to experiment with it. Video became an emancipatory tool for women, enabling females whose voices were usually silenced to speak up individually and collectively. There is a particular creative energy involved in their use of video that stems from the collective. I believe that the radical potential of their films lies in their ability to combine social critique and humour. They demonstrate how humour can become a weapon for the mass destruction of patriarchy!

Through this film, I also wanted to share their vision of feminism, which I find very inspiring: it is rooted in the pleasures of life and communication with other women. They completely dismantle the image of the “feminist killjoy” that is so often used to dismiss feminists.

Why did you decide to use only archive material, and how did that process go?
There is a kind of investigative dimension to researching and selecting archives that I particularly like. Fortunately, I had access to the archives held at the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, which has digitalised most of Delphine and Carole’s videotapes. I was lucky enough to work with the wonderful editor Josiane Zardoya. I really enjoyed the process of editing archives: the weaving together of various extracts sheds light on and gives new meaning to images and voices, and it creates new associations and resonances. I was also interested in the confrontation of glamorous cinema images with video images that are of poor quality. Their vulnerability is telling of the status of women’s images and history (or, rather, “herstory”!).

There are many points in the film that resonate today. How do you see the relation between the two eras?
The 1970s feminist struggles present, unfortunately, many contemporary resonances. One of the most restrictive laws against abortion was recently voted in in certain states in the USA, demonstrating how social rights are in fact very fragile. In one of her works, Carole showed a scene of illegal abortion in 1971, practised my women activists in Delphine’s apartment. In this sense, feminism is a tool of vigilance and awareness.

The context in 2019 has changed a lot – and in some ways for the better. But Carole and Delphine already possessed what contemporary feminists define as an “intersectional” awareness – taking into account the power relations of race, class, religion, age and so on. I’m quite optimistic about the current situation. The #MeToo movement is pushing men to question themselves and patriarchal masculinity. I believe that more equal gender relations will emerge when men also begin to feel concerned and start re-educating themselves.

As a European woman filmmaker, do you feel that the actions the European film industry is currently undertaking, like parity quotas in certain funding and festival selection processes, are helpful or useful?
Actions on an institutional level are necessary to address the issue of the visibility of women directors. I believe that quotas and positive-action policies will be needed as long as cinema remains a male-dominated industry. It’s about giving women the means and conditions to develop their visions.

The issue of the "male gaze" which dominates the film industry and is omnipresent in our patriarchal culture has been brought up a lot lately. For a long time, this white, heterosexual, male gaze was associated with a neutral gaze. Similarly, when talking about improving the situation of women directors, this should include every woman and their plural experiences (as opposed to that of the "neutral" white, middle-class woman).

Representation is not simply representative, but also constitutive of reality: images have the power to change the order of things by building a richer view of the world. We need to create spaces of confidence for women that all of us can relate to.

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