A Political Filmmaker


Jean-Gabriel Périot’s peculiar way of editing influenced us and led us to do an original report in which you will find several texts evoking the main themes dear to the filmmaker. One must know that it would be difficult to meet more generous filmmaker than Jean-Gabriel Périot. It is so, not only because of how he made us feel welcome when we met him, but also for his being generous towards his public in general. Indeed, nearly all of Jean-Gabriel’s films are available for free on his website.


Let’s start by giving you some biographical facts on this filmmaker…

Jean-Gabriel Périot was born in 1974 in Bellac, in the French region of Limousin. Since he was a child, he knew he wanted to work in the film industry. At university he first trained in Information & Communication and then enrolled in a scientific and technical master in Audiovisual. Today he denigrates this training and considers it “ridiculous”. It however helped him to get an internship at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris for a year and a half during his spare time. At the Pompidou Centre he learnt a lot and particularly in editing; one of his tasks was to edit short archives films for an important exhibition on architecture. He says that the Centre Pompidou had him learn a trade: editing. He then worked as an editor in several companies; he was simply earning a living. He began to make personal films later, notably as fruits of coincidences and encounters.

One of the main subjects of his work is undoubtedly the violent relation between the individual and the society he lives in. What Jean-Gabriel Périot produces is a meditative work on this theme, by making up films mostly from pre-existent archives. He plays a lot with the codes of traditional editing and creates his very own rapid style of editing, that he associates with the idea of image manipulation.


Food for thought on various themes such as homosexuality, the body and politics

Jean-Gabriel Périot started making films often as requests for television shows or companies he was working for. Right from the start, he made movies about homosexuality such as Gay? (2000) or Before I Was Sad (2002). Instead of being a street activist, he preferred a more ironic approach to deal with homosexuality, without hesitating to play with his own image in his movies. On that matter he said: “the right to be normal is not something that makes me want to go and march in the streets.”

Faking a public coming-out in front of a camera or typifying a homosexual couple’s life in animated collages, his films are first of all asked for TV shows for the popularization of homosexual culture, but they will then become fully-fledged independent movies. Doing so, he unintentionally helped young homosexuals in their search of sexual identity. Jean-Gabriel Périot assures that he does not denounce anything in his movies but simply that they are means of phrasing questions. Each viewer is entitled to his own reading of the film. It is as if he was presenting them with facts and let them think about it.

As he plays in his movies on homosexuality for convenience, he deliberately opens up to the camera in his movie Intimate Diary (2000). This movie shows Jean-Gabriel in his bathroom taking care of his wounded body. The audience is generally uncomfortable at the sight of this young body already marred. The context of the making of the film is peculiar, since Périot has just left the hospital, surely after an accident. The temporary aspect of his injured body inspired him the idea of making a “joke movie”; idea that he would have not thought about if it was a permanent situation. Embarrassed at the mention of this film, Périot said that “it is a movie about a joke, there isn’t much about it except that ‘I have dental and I remove it’, by doing so I knew that this little thing was interesting enough to be effective”.

2012 presidential elections, Périot receives an request from a website to make a short film about French politics. Unable to make up his mind, he is then told that he is free to express his opinions on the elections as he pleases. Thus he produces the provocative movie #67, about democracy and its limits. One can only then confirm the status of political filmmaker that he claims. Political filmmaker who is however very critical of the elections: “I think this is bullshit!”


The meaning of time
Is time linear? What meaning is hidden behind the images? In Jean-Gabriel Périot’s short movies, temporality gives meaning, and meaning gives shape to time. Throughout the questioning he raises in his movies emanates a desire to break out in revolt, with irony, hindsight and still violent strength against the responsibility of human kind.
One can keep on the straight and the narrow, this red thread of accumulated photographs of roads, passages, corridors in Dies Irae (2005), being carried away in a redundant and disturbing contemplation, till one reaches a gas chamber in Auschwitz.
In Undo (2005) one can go back in time, starting from the end of the world till the Big Bang, or as in Nijuman No Borei (200 000 Phantoms) which starts with the Hiroshima disaster, cumulating a series of testimonial photographs of a place haunted by absence. Looking for a meaning of time leads to the indescribable, to the mysteries of the “origin” and end, because the extermination camps and the Hiroshima bombing are axes on which we revolve, there are buried images which have broken the finalist linearity of a progressive vision.
Jean-Gabriel Périot imprints the impacts and the melancholy of time by means of archive images from collections and the Internet. He works on the accumulation of temporal and spatial layers and he keeps questioning the image which is as the same time removed from it original context and able to preserve its own history and banality. The rapid projection of photographic images or filmic sequences makes the image subliminal: indiscernible and affecting the psyche. His short films make us wander from oblivion to terror, as much as they examine the filmic matter (negative and positive sound).
Images Of rebellion, images & rebellion: the discursive movie according to Périot

April, 21th, 2002 Jean-Gabriel Périot is celebrating his birthday when the result of the first round of the presidential elections is given: Jean-Marie Le Pen goes to the second round. The clash between a happy moment of his personal life and one of the dark moments of French political history, stirs the filmmaker up to ask himself: How come this is happening? How could I have been, even indirectly, responsible for that result? The answer was an installation, particularly made with a film entitled 21.04.02, in which the images are projected in high speed. As a director it was an autobiographical visual work, to do so, he puts on the same level of importance paintings from the Renaissance and advertising bill, family pictures and pornographic images. These images, as being products of the same society, one can wonder if this visual autobiography can also be one of our time: Can these images be considered as elements which have cultivated our look upon the world and contributed to fashion our thinking?

Leaving scarcely any room to words so that images can only speak for themselves, Périot seems to adhere to the idea of “pictorial turn” elaborated by theoretician Thomas Mitchell who notices a pictorial predominance over the text in our society. In that perspective, Périot works on the images as to elaborate an effective and understandable visual thinking. Thus he produces discursive movies which allude to several issues.

In We are winning Don’t Forget, we are confronted to images of people in their working environment. There, an unexpected black shot comes up followed by images of a demonstration. In The Barbarians the same process is used: the image of a group of people in a fixed position is set into motion when an individual is singled out by the editor. It introduces movement into the still image. All the more this passage from the photograph of a group to the photograph a single individual not only introduces motion literally but figuratively as well, as it is a rebellious movement. This work re-examines the medium: Indeed, can we talk about motion when we use pictures, that is to say still images?

The choice of the images in these two works is intentionally destabilizing: Images of daily life naturally raise questions into the viewer’s mind, since he could recognize himself in these group pictures; each one of us is concerned.


Orléans prison projects
Two of Périot’s movies are set in a prison in Orléans. The first project was an order from a contemporary art association based in Orléans and specialized in public space called “Mixar”, which invited him to an art work. At first, he was dubious; he did not know what to do because he was not in his usual field, regarding contemporary art in public spaces he quickly thought about the prison. There originates the idea of a concert, of organizing a concert with the inmates for the public located on the other side of the outer walls. He asked two cameramen to record the people listening to the concert while he was inside with the inmates broadcasting the concert.

Quickly Périot felt he was not very much contributing; not being a musician, he simply directed and gave orders to people, as opposed to his role in the second project he did there.

The second project was an order from the SPIP, the French penal service for professional rehabilitation of inmates, which takes care of matters of culture, professional integration and family relations in the penal environment. The movie shows static shots of inmates telling their dreams naturally, talking or using poetry slam or even singing. Producing this movie, Jean-Gabriel Périot could finally make use of what he was doing: Organizing this project and supervising the workshops, having a very good result in the end, though that’s of secondary importance, creating something that was as much useful for the inmates as for him.

As for Périot, these two projects were an opportunity for the cinema to bring about a meeting of people, they were social experiences.  


Margot Farenc, Jessica Macor, Josselin Carey, Laure Weiss,Tiana Valencourt, Maxime Lambert, Taegyun Yun
Self-made filmmakers – academic seminar under the supervision of Nicole Brenez, 2012-2013