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        Prologue  
     
 

The ten films described here cover a period of forty years:  "Albertine and Dorcas" was filmed in 1966, in 1996 "A Hard Life...!" was presented to the public for the first time and it was in 2010 that "Return to the Brouck, the Fenland, forty years on", produced by Les Films d'Ici was presented through the regional TV channel WEO.

It was during this same period that the practice of filming with synchronous sound became widespread.  One could then directly record the dialogue of actors and their image at the same time, and communicate afterwards these words - original, authentic, translated - to the spectator by means of subtitles.  While it was necessary to resolve the problem of giving information for the first two of my films made without synchronous sound, for the Greek series, I decided to leave the dialogue to the actors alone, in their language and with their own references.


First films


West Africa, Ivory Coast...

 
   

   
Albertine & Dorcas

 






 

  Albertine et Dorcas”,  my first film, was made in Africa, in Ivory Coast, by me alone with a spring-loaded, manual Beaulieu camera (maximum length of shot 10 seconds, film length 10 feet).  I would put down the camera in order to record the sound while trying to remember the images filmed...This film does not form part of an extensive study.  In fact, I was working as an ethnologist on another field site, at Bregbo with the prophet Atcho, and participating in a collective, multi-disciplinary study under the direction of Jean Rouch (see publications). He, himself, had filmed "Albert The Prophet" and the elements of an annual celebration that I was studying.  I had just completed an introduction to ethnographic film at the Musée de l'Homme and wanted to experiment with my new knowledge.  Unable to film on the same site where I was doing fieldwork, I chose to make a film on a comparative study of two women in different quarters of Abidjan by following them through the course of a day. 

Although I was generally shocked by the aggressive intrusion of ethnographers' voices created in the commentary of their films and otherwise, I did not have direct use of the actors' voices since the film had not been made with synchronous sound.  Therefore, I chose to have a young African woman who knew the Ivory Coast comment freely on the images while watching them and we edited this commentary as voice-over.  In this way, the film retains a certain homogeneity.  I also recorded one of the women singing with her son.





France, in Pas-de-Calais...

 
   
  The film project Le Brouckgrew out of an applied sociology study in 1969 on "the youth of the 'audomaroise' region confronted with land development."  At this occasion I met a group of young truck farmers who grew vegetables in the Marais de Saint-Omer, and we decided together to make a film on their socio-economic problems.  It was they who guided me towards what seemed essential to show in the film.  I added some elements that seemed important to me for a better understanding of the situation of 'audomaroise' truck farming in these years of change.  I filmed alone, always with a manual camera.  The sound was made independently, then reintroduced during editing.  Yet it seemed to me in 1970, synchronous sound being born, that the film also needed some interviews.  Two filmmakers came one weekend to film them.  A commentary edited in collaboration with the farmers and read by one of them gave  background regarding history, geography, etc.  For the farmers' interpretations of their socio-economic situation, I recorded conversations among the youth as well as filming and inserted them as voice-over.  Thanks to this plan of action, I avoided introducing a strange voice into the middle of the images.  This film, supported by an earlier study, gives interesting testimony of a transitional time for agriculture in France, at the moment when farmers were tempted to replace cooperative structures with individual operations making little profit (and this with more or less success).



In Greece, Absence lived in the village:  Here and Now between Elsewhere and Bygone Days

 
   



















 

Ano Ravenia is a mountain village like so many others, a village among others progressively deserted by its most active population.  This is a common situation in the Mediterranean, not just in the mountains of Epirus.
It is as well the banality (or, in other words, the universality) of the situation that prompts one to become interested to the point of gaining a profound attachment to this village, which lives and speaks more through Elsewhere, where those absent are, and Bygone Days, when they were present, than  Here and Now.  In calm and serenity, but also with a certain nostalgia, the inhabitants continue to maintain the difficult continuity of village life. 

We can study the Greek Diaspora like a particular case of this general, fundamental phenomenon which draws the young, active villagers of less developed countries toward those more developed, or simply to the cities (most often their own country's capital).  Then, we follow the progress of the migrants in their new place of residence.  We conduct surveys, we count, we classify, we try to define, to establish typologies and each individual becomes no more than a unit moving from list to list.

We can also try to uncover the traces of a vanished life in the deserted villages.  So, we attempt to reconstruct the social and family organizations active in the past, pursuing the remnants of bygone days in the recesses of village memories still present.  We notice that nothing functions as before and our interest rests primarily on that which was, which reassures us of coherence.

Whoever has lived for some time in one of these villages cannot miss feeling the insidious, and in the long run lethal, presence of the Diaspora.  A deserted village is not only a village in which the population and activity hs diminished.  It is an 'other' village.
If it enjoys a certain economic independence, this is relative.  We will still speak about self-sufficiency but it will only be apparent self-sufficiency, and when the emptiness reaches a certain level, the village will only be able to remember Bygone Days and live Elsewhere.  

We can - and we must - measure the scope of this emptiness and its most obvious effects when analyzing the available data, but only a sensitive, indeed affective, approach seems able to take into account what is really happening.  To watch, feel, and listen to the village as it becomes 'other' throughout the years is the only way to capture Elsewhere and Bygone Days in the Here and Now because Elsewhere appears everywhere:  in the emptiness of the buildings, in the structural modifications of the population, in the transformations of the fields, in the evolution of production, but also in the municipal and social structures, and finally in the family relationships and the conception of individual happiness.  This has become the dominant pattern, and nothing escapes it.  All that is essential is subordinate to it.  It is lived every day, unless one slowly dies of it...

What has caused the first departures has been more a lack of confidence in the country, fortified by the arrogant and sprawling expansion of the capital, than the certainty of success elsewhere.  So - as has often been observed - once the exodus is under way, even if an economic crisis makes the prospects of jobs more uncertain in the city or overseas, and even if because of this village life appears more secure, the choice to stay becomes a difficult, indeed, a courageous one.
Compared to the city, the seat of power and fascination, where the patterns of consumption and modern life are created, the village appears shadowy, visible only during the day, in good weather, its form changing according to the hour and the position of the sun...

In following the life of the village and its inhabitants during annual visits over nearly 20 years beginning in 1974, this is the process I chose to study.



And film ?

A profound interest in its possibilities for observation and for understanding the limits of observation, prompted me to develop and prefer a cinematographic approach.
Thus, my research focused as much on the daily life of the village as on the cinematographic methods that could be used to study it.

In France during the 1970's ethnographic film was still little concerned with everyday life.  Ethnographic filmmakers, even then few in number, concentrated their attention on disappearing cultures and rituals.  They filmed fragile communities which were considered primarily as depositories of vanishing traditions that had to be recorded without delay. 
"In order to film daily life one needs a great filmmaker.  It is terribly difficult and as for me, I have never managed to do it in a satisfying way..." (Jean Rouch, in CinemAction No. 17, 1982). 
I wanted to try to film everyday life perhaps because the task was difficult.  Moreover, filming in a European village removed all possibility of hiding deficiencies or weaknesses beneath some exotic attraction.

This is why I consider my filmmaking in Greece, six completed films and one interrupted during editing, as experimental.

Five films focused on my research subject, village depopulatin.  In other words, what becomes of a village once it is denied its inhabitants?

 

 
   
  The sixth , Charcoal-Makers”, examines the manufacturing  of charcoal from wood and describes a technical process which places this film more directly in the tradition of ethnographic film.  However, I tried to take the same intimate approach with the charcoal-makers, whom I hardly knew, as I did with the villagers, while describing as precisely as possible the technical process constituting their work.





The five other films form a kind of puzzle.  Each corresponds to a distinct project possessing part of the truth, but it is the five films together which tell the whole story...

 
   

 

Every Day is not a Feast Day covers the whole of village life in its natural environment while showing the painful transformation that takes place between the holidays, which bring a temporary return of those who have left to live elsewhere, and the monotony and calm of daily life, too calm according to the villagers.  I wanted the entire village to be the heroes of this first film in order that all could participate and express themselves in it.  This is not the easiest choice:  viewers are much more attentive when presented with only one or two protagonists who are carefully named and followed throughout a film.  But, as anthropologist first, filmmaker second, it was important for me that the film reflect the relationships that I had established with the village.  A film that focused on certain individuals, a single family for example, would have created jealousies and cut me off from most of the villagers.

Thus, I can say that "Every Day is not a Feast Day" has been helpful, indeed a determining factor in the whole of my work, as much for research and as for filming.

 
   
  Thread of the Needle

Next, I wanted to make a film about women, giving them a voice and the opportunity to express themselves.  But in a rural Greek community, it is not the role of women to express their point of view in public.  They are situated in the private sphere of home and family.  Unable to give voice to married women, I then proposed to the girls that we make a film of their conversations.  They gladly accepted even if they were a bit intimidated at the start.  It was to hide this discomfort — which did not take away from their pleasure! — that they asked to bring their needlework.


If "Every Day is not a Feast Day" consisted of very little dialogue and could be characterized as an observational film, on the contrary, "Thread of the Needle" could be called an "attitude film".  The action is, in fact, little developed and the film itself is static in order to leave everything to the dialogue:  What matters is what is said, by whom and in what manner.




 
   
  The third film My Family and Me is without doubt the most experimental. As a project, I worked on this film for four years, so that it could be made with the greatest spontaneity.  My working hypothesis was that a child living with his grandparents in the village, separated from his parents who had emigrated abroad, would have to have closer relationships with his grandparents and experience certain difficulties (embarrassment, guilt...) in relation to his parents.  One family declared itself the film's subject:  it was the only one in the village that presented such a configuration at that particular time.  I wanted to make a film about the problems of everyday family life, about feelings and relationships without thereby obligating the actors to explain themselves through interviews.  I wanted the scenes to be filmed in real-life situations, as close as possible to moments captured from real-life, to order to allow the viewer to understand the situation and for me to explore my original hypothesis.  The film's specific dialogue revolves exclusively around the actual turn of events regarding each family member.  I never asked any questions involving what one or another thought or felt:  the film itself was charged with this task.  It was only during the last shot that I openly asked the question that concerned me:  Who is most important for the young boy?  His father or his grandfather?  And the father responded with unexpected precision.

Perhaps because of the closeness which developed between the crew and the family along with the quality of certain scenes, this film sometimes has the appearance of fiction, which has often created misunderstanding.  Nevertheless, nothing was acted.  Everything was spontaneous and took place at the pace of real life.  Regarding the editing, it is practically chronological.  But if the viewer believes that it is a staged production, then he or she will find no dramatization, timing, or density normally found in television and fiction films.   

In comparison to the perfectly controlled masterpieces of fiction film, such as those by Ozu, I wanted to see how far a documentary film could explore and express family relationships through real moments captured from everyday life, with the passing days and an intimate approach.  It is without doubt the most original film, the most unusual and also the most ambitious of this Greek series.

 
   



 

The fourth Let’s get married…!is, in a way, a home movie made by professionals who make a caricature of television reportage where superficial questions are asked.  This film does not fit into my overall research plan.  In fact, I wanted to make a film on one family's return to the village from Germany and I had been setting up locations and contacts for this film.  This project was not possible, and consequently, we decided to film the day of a Greek-American couple's marriage instead.  Delimited, natural and spontaneous, this film reveals the influences of the host country, the United States, in this case through behaviors, attitudes, and language.  It explores this phenomenon and makes interesting contribution to our film study of Greek migration.


The fifth film A Hard Life ...!was born from the interest incited in me by the woman who, at the end of the film "Every Day is not a Feast Day", mentioned all of her absent relatives while showing me her photo-album.  She sums up the Diaspora without ever having left the village.  Here, she tells the story of her life through numerous concrete anecdotes which capture the viewer's attention.  I had appreciated Jean Eustache's film which was dedicated to the life of his grandmother "Odette Robert" and which was recounted by her.  The shots lasted an entire magazine, about ten minutes each.  I adopted this same style for "A Hard Life..." and the editing respects almost exactly this same rigor.

The result is a rich yet austere film where nothing distracts the viewer from the essentials, the dialogue and the face of the "storyteller".  It also constitutes an ordinary yet important testimony on this long and painful page of Greek history (1900-1983).




Two films now in the pre-editing stage, interrupted for financial reasons, would have completed this series.

1 - The first one portrays my introduction to the village and, integrating images made from 1974, '75, and '76, takes into account the changes taking place during my 15 years of observation.

2 - The other, a short footage, presents a family who had emigrated to the United States during their summer vacation in the village.

The interest of this work probably lies in our approach to the phenomena of village desertion and migration from different angles, through several films alternating from "action films" to "attitude films".  The subject of our study made a diachronic approach necessary and we have tried to carry this out continuously over the course of several years.

It is fitting to conclude by emphasizing the fact that the pertinence of this subject for the villagers themselves enabled us successfully to manage both the filmmaking as well as the ethnological research.

 

 
 

 

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