Interview with Jean-Gabriel Périot


Tell us where you are from and what you do for a living.

I live in Paris since 1995. Before, I was living in between South of France (Nice) and the French West Indies. I am editor and I mostly edit documentaries.


What is the artistic and cultural scene currently like in Paris?

I don’t know exactly. I work all day long, so I time, so I don’t really go out often. There are some exciting things in Paris for sure, like all those theaters, and those experimental screenings. But there is not something as a “new scene” or an “underground scene”. Paris, it's mostly a place for « official » culture. In other French cities, it's more exciting for people who like creation.


When did you start making films?

I started making my own films four years ago. Before that, I used to work as editor or director for cultural institutions or for TV, making documentaries or things like that. I learned a lot doing this work, but one day, I felt I needed to really express myself in my own movies, so l decided to do it.


It seems that you spend quite a bit of time making films these days, no?

Yes, I work a lot on my own films now. There are two explanations. The first is that some of my last movies were very often screened, in a lot of international festivals. So, there is like a “confirmation” of what I am doing. You’re lucky when you do experimental films and that you have the same success than a narrative filmmaker. So, as there is a space for my movies, it’s time to work more. The second thing is the result of the first one. Now, I can work with producers. Sometimes, I earn some money with my movies. Not a lot, but enough to work less an editor. This little money gives me time. And time is very important to create.


The two film we’re showing, Dies Irae and We are winning don’t forget are amazing compilation of many stills. Let’s start with Dies Irae. How many pictures are in there?

I don’t know exactly, but I think between six and eight thousands.


I was trying to figure out how in the world you could have taken all those pictures. How did you get them? Tell us about the process…

I picked up all the pictures on the Internet. This way, I could get pictures from all over the world. I picked up more than 12 000 images. After that, I had to sort them. It’s not so easy with so many files! And I spent days and nights to retouch all of them with Photoshop. A lot of elements on those pictures needed to be erased because it was impossible to create a fluid animation with them, like: cars, people, houses, clouds, mountains, even line on the road…


When and how did you grasp the potential of the Internet as a source for your footage?

I did one movie called 21.04.02. This movie is like a visual diary. I scanned almost all the pictures I had in my house (personal pictures, books, postcards…) It took me several months to do this. Then I worked on We are winning don’t forget. For this movie, I wanted to continue this fast accumulation of images. But what I wanted for this film was to question the social representations of work. How to find so many pictures? I didn’t want to go to libraries everyday, borrow books, scan pictures, bring the books back, and borrow new ones… So, as I had just get a fast internet connection, I started to pick up picture directly from there. It’s an amazing tool for people who like to creation collections!


How long did you spend on Dies Irae?

I did other things during this movie (to pay the rent), so it’s difficult to say exactly how much time it took. Sometimes, I worked a completed week on my film, sometimes only nights and weekends. Perhaps it took me something like a year.


If you don’t mind, tell us what the movie is about. And explain the ending, because I think that imagery is unfamiliar to many Americans.

It’s a movie about war and death. At the beginning, I started to collect pictures about war, more particularly, pictures of victims. I spent a lot time looking at those pictures of dead people, trying to understand. I thought that I could not use such images, because of the violence they shown. But l needed to make something like a memorial for those people I saw on the pictures.

Dies lrae is a poetic movie about life, a story sometime clear, sometime dark, more and more complicated that goes to the end, death. There is an unexpected end, that lets no time to understand. For me, it’s a metaphor of the life and the death of those people dying during wars.

For European people, the pictures I used at the end of the movie are very clear and with a very strong meaning. Theyare images of concentration camps. And even if people don't know exactly the history of the concentration camps, theydo know that train to those concentrations camps brought up several millions of people, that those peoplewere “selected” and that most of them were directly gazed and burned. I know that it's not really clear for some American people. One can remember the Spielberg’s movie: Schindler's List. In Europe, there were a lot of discussions about this movie. For us, it’s something almost impossible to make a fiction about concentration camps. But Spielberg stated that it was important to done this movie for American people because they didn’t really know about this history. For us, it’s like a mystery than some people could don’t know about tit. Several millions of people died in those death factories for the only reason (for almost of them) that they were Jew. It’s the biggest genocide in history. But it’s obvious that America and Europe don’t experience the same history.


Concerning the two films we’re showing, you are a “camera-less-filmmakers”. Do you have any thoughts about that? Do you generally like “found footage” films?

Not particularly. I like some of them very much. But as audience, I don’t like a movie only because it’s a found footage one. It’s different as filmmaker. It’s difficult for me to shoot with a camera. Not because I don’t know, but because I don’t know how and why shooting the world.


We are winning don’t forget is an extremely powerful film, giving us a grand portrait of humanity but goes into an exploration of conflicts within humanity. Please talk a little about what this films means to you and why you made it?

I made this movie because liberalism destroys everything. Here, we have a real social history. So we just don’t want that the rights we won by social struggles the last 250 years disappear because of this liberalism. Since several years, people fight, there are a lot of demonstrations, strikes, … And as director, I needed to do something. What this movie means for me, is that the only way to resist is to fight all together.

The first part of the movie shows workers, but they all appear beautiful and clean. Those pictures are false, they are mises en scène. Working is not clean, and almost of the workers is not happy to work. The second part shows those workers together in demonstrations. A tension appears between them and the Power. And the movie end with blood. But even if death wins, it’s just this time, it’s not definitive. If liberalism wins today, it’s only for a moment. We are human beings, so we will win at the end.


The film and the conflict seems relevant to us as Americans, though we’re probably way more complacent, lazy and not caring, than you and yours. What is you feeling of this struggle in France/Europe?

It’s quite normal that the movie looks familiar to you. Because if there are a lot of pictures on Internet almost of them are American. You use the Internet much more than other countries. In the first part of the movie, except few pictures, they are all American. In Europe, is not common to represent workers in this way, as properties of the factories, of the companies. In France, only the American companies give diplomas like we saw in the movie.

Now, to be honest here, what is the perception of America and Americans by you, the young artist of France?

I will be honest, but I could only speak from myself, even if I am not alone to think what I am about to say. Actually, America scares me. I feel that America could transform itself into a dictatorship without any problem. Hopefully, there are a lot of American people fighting against neo-conservatism. But a majority of people agree with your government and with the way Christians take more and more power. Remember the American people’s reaction when France did not agree to participate in the Gulf War. France was not the only country to disagree with the war, but America needs to find a culprit. At this particular moment, I felt that if Bush had decided to attack France, most of the American people would have agree. So strange… Another example of what we cant’ understand: a few weeks ago, there was a survey of American students. Most of them agreed with the statements that press has too much freedom. It’s impossible for me to understand that, people who want less freedom!  To be more positive, I don’t like Bush, and even if I feel bad actually with America, I will never associate Bush and his followers with the whole American people.


Would you classify We are wining don’t forget as a documentary?

On one hand, it is a documentary because it is non-fictional. But on another hand, it is so clearly non-objective that it is not. It’s a political propaganda film. This is what I wanted it to be.


In most of your other films, homosexuality is a dominant theme. Is that true for most of you art/films?

No. I did some gay movies simply because I’m gay and I like to work about that topic. Perhaps because it is an easy way to do political works. Homosexuality is less a problem that it was but it’s still one. And for me, to make “gay films” it’s a way to have some fun, more than when I’m working on my “serious” movies.

Educate us! Tell us a couple of few modern French artist (filmmakers or other) that you like.

It’s difficult to say as I never care of the nationality of the filmmakers I like. But I can tell you about some people I really like as Claire Denis or Philippe Grandrieux. They are the most radical French filmmakers these days… Even if the have different styles, they both try to make a sensitive cinema. You have t screen their movies in Hi Mom!


Interview by Matt Hedt
For Hi Mom! Festival 2005