Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Excerpt from Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints

I interviewed French filmmaker Agnes Varda seven years ago when she visited the U.S. to promote her wonderful documentary The Gleaners & I. Considered by many to be the godmother of the French New Wave, her films are filled with empathy, wit, unforced artistry and boundless intelligence. They’re mandatory viewing. A former art student, Varda was a photojournalist before she was a film director, having only seen five films by the time she started making her own. Her work freely crosses genre lines, drawing from both fiction and documentary in order to reveal their truths. Here is an excerpt from that interview, which is found in whole in my book Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints. Following the interview are clips from her 1968 documentary on the Black Panthers.

Ernest Hardy: You were making independent film before it was really called that. What is your assessment of contemporary independent film?

Agnes Varda: If you call yourself an independent filmmaker, you first have to have an independent mind. It starts up here. [She taps her temple.] Do you really want to do what you have been told to do by your family, friends, or school? I think independence is very difficult because we are raised not to be – by family, school, and religion. They teach us not to be. And sometimes it is good to be part of a collective, fighting together with other people. Now, where independence starts in terms of the industry, it means being able to do alternative cinema out of the mainstream, apart from the big studios who don’t care about us. Because even in France I don’t get the big companies to take me on, to care about me. Still, they sort of admire me. After 46 years of struggle, I get the recognition. I even got a Cesar award. It’s like a lifetime achievement thing. But in France we don’t dare to call it a lifetime achievement because it seems like killing the people. It’s like, “Are you not yet dead or something?” [She laughs.] They gave it to me and they gave it to Jean Luc Godard. I think it’s a good sign. It means that we will never get it through votes. We will never get an award through professional votes because they don’t care for us. It’s a beautiful award. Most of them [awards] are ugly fellows. It’s okay. When you get older they give you something.
      To be an independent filmmaker, you need community, inspiration and patience. This is true. Try to be independent in your mind, which is very difficult. I believe it is still difficult. Try to just open yourself to others. Be curious all the time. If something tickles you, disturbs you, enrages you, you have the beginning of inspiration. We artists need inspiration but we are not full of inspiration. I’m an artist and I sometimes feel I am empty. I really feel that very often – I have nothing to say, no message. I feel like this for months sometimes. I still do things. I work in my company. I take care of other people. But then something comes and off I go. Maybe this is my last film. Maybe something will bring me to do other things. And maybe it’s okay. I have never done a film just because people asked me to do so. You need something trembling in you like you are in love. If I don’t have that, I don’t work. That’s why I did so few films. I made very few films for 46 years. But that’s okay. That’s okay.

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