Every year, groups of children and young people from all over the world gather to present the films they’ve made as part of Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse. It’s June 2013, and representatives from Brazil, Cuba, Martinique, Portugal, Spain, Italy, several regions of France, and from London, Lincolnshire, and Edinburgh, come to fly the flag for film, and film culture.
This year, we were all watching, making, and talking about ‘mettre en scene’: how film-makers create and stage dramatic situations in different sites and spaces: attraction on a staircase; rivalry in a classroom; loneliness on a metro train.
Day 1, Wednesday. Long Bennington, a primary school in the depths of Lincolnshire, brought Henry, Ethan, Phoebe and Caitlin and their teachers Martin, Brigitte, and Wendy to present their film on the big screen of the Salle Henri Langlois. A year ago these children lost a friend in a car accident, an event that devastated this tightly knit school community. Their film was a working through of the impact of their friend’s death, offering the solace that sometimes only artistic creation can. Two of the children had prepared – in French – statements that explained their film, and its context. There was wild applause for the film, their presentation, and then stunned appreciation as they heard how the film came about. It was moving, sobering, and about film, but also more than film. Martyn has written about the day at length below.
Day 2, Thursday. Broughton Hill School in Edinburgh were chosen as the Scottish representative on the programme. Their group chose to travel to Paris all the way by train: quelle aventure! At the intermediate presentation day, in March, the teachers and film-maker had been given a rough ride over some of their choices – unfairly, most people thought – so this time we were all hoping for a positive response. And we got it. The Box is a piece of slapstick with a shock ending, and some very clever cinematic sleight of hand, and it went down really well. Alasdair Satchel, the ‘intervenant’ for Scotland’s programme, says the big screen shows slapstick so much better than the small. ‘it’s all in the gravity’, he says.
Thursday evening. Alasdair, Nicola, Martine and Martin and their seven students from Edinburgh very generously offered to meet up with London Nautical group, who had spent the day schlepping around Paris. Berthillon’s very famous ice cream parlour, on the Ile St Louis, was the venue for a late-night meet, greet, and eat by the Seine.
Day 3, Friday. London Nautical School’s turn to shine. Their film, ‘Unspoken’, played just before lunch (and you can watch it here). The 14 boys who made it had spent many weeks devising and developing a story idea about a friendship between two boys from different social groups in school. They were conscious of the need to stick to the film brief – everyone has to do this – but also this year to show more of London in their film. After all, they go to school 5 minutes walk from the river Thames, and colleagues at the Cinematheque said they’d like to see more of the city.
‘Unspoken’ went down very well indeed; there was a question about the similarity of the last shot to Truffaut’s 400 Blows, and all round about the simplicity of the story and its execution. At the final ‘bilan’ on Friday – a bilan is a resumé conversation – Alain Bergala, who is the thinker behind the programme, was very impressed. Margaux Guillemard, our Birkbeck MA placement student, made a few notes of his impressions:
“C’est un film où l’on voit, on sent…Pas besoin de dire, tout est là…C’est un film de cinéaste…C’est costaud…Mieux que certains films de la Fémis…Quelle preuve de maturité, c’est extraordinaire pour des gens de cet âge-là…et puis ce n’était pas un film bien-pensant…j’ai été très ému…certes il n’y a pas de compétition mais s’il y a un film qui sort du lot c’est bien celui des p’tits anglais”
And her translation:
“It is a film where we see, and feel(…) where there is no need to put word on things, everything is there in front of you”
“C’est un film de cinéaste.” -> ‘cinéaste’ means ‘professional film director’, but a director who is an artist before anything else. It is an old French expression which emphasizes the opposition between commercial cinema and pure, creative and artistic cinema
“It is a solid film… better than some films made by the student of La Fémis” -> ‘La Fémis’ is a French film school, one of the most prestigious in the world
“It demonstrates so much maturity, it is extraordinary for people of this age…and it wasn’t a conformist film!”
And finally, “Cinéma: Cent ans de Jeunesse isn’t about competition, but if one film had to stand out, it would be the one by the small Brits!“
An extraordinary finale.. and here are the pictures, below