Audrey & Maxime Jean-Baptiste: when images speak | Backstory

We open with ink, the screen pierced by scattered dots of flickering starlight, like fireflies shining in the night. The sounds we hear are tropical forests, night tapestries of animal cries and calls. Cut to capture the shot – hissing, warm, a little worn out with age – an elongated white object shooting into the dark night sky.

A male voice appears across the stage. Speaking in French, he testifies to the extraordinary events of more than fifty years ago in Kourou, French Guiana, in northeastern South America. It was then that France established a space center there, a significant undertaking in the life of the overseas department, the beginning of a new chapter in its history.

That’s how it starts Listen to the rhythm of our pictures, a short documentary by brothers Audrey and Maxime Jean-Baptiste about the Kourou Space Center. But this remarkable film – only fifteen minutes long – is not what you might think. There’s no exciting story of human progress here, no clichéd story of slippery violent relationships and going where no one has had before. Instead, the film reveals a hidden narrative, a dark history of forcibly eradicating and relocating people who have lived on earth in Kourou for generations, and building a new city for space center workers and their families to come. from mainland France.

Experimental work that consisted almost entirely of existing archival recordings, Listen to the rhythm of our pictures it is not a conventional presentation of facts, a documentary like an entry on Wikipedia. Rather, this poetic, political film is a meditation, an elegy on the loss and trauma that arose, and the importance of individual and collective memory when it comes to the past and the importance of the present. It is also a formally careful film, which does its job carefully, constantly setting the black screen of its opening instead of possible disturbing and exploitative images. The film becomes interactive, the viewer is invited to imagine what the filmmakers scrupulously refuse to show.

Listen to the rhythm of our pictures is a significant achievement, a silent powerful indictment of colonial misconduct that gives a voice to people who are traditionally on the margins of history, to its victims, and helps them recover. (It is also an amazing work of art.) Since its premiere just over a year ago, it has been selected for numerous film festivals, winning worldwide acclaim. (Full disclosure: I programmed the film at the festival and was on the jury of the second winner.) It might come as a surprise to learn that this was not a long-term passionate project for its creators, but began with a call from the French National Space Center. studies, CNES, for filmmakers to make an original film using the center’s archives.

“We both heard about the open call during the isolation,” said Audrey Jean-Baptiste, who lives in Paris. “I was in the post-production of a complicated film. I was very interested in this project, but I didn’t have enough energy to write something. Maxime told me, ‘We should write something together.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I really liked the idea of ​​making a film with him. ”

From the very beginning, it was clear to the brothers and sisters how they would continue with the realization of the film, with a character, a woman, who leads the story through the voice. “We’ve been thinking for a long time about what images will be on the screen as the voice tells the story,” Jean-Baptistes said in a joint response. “We wanted to avoid using images as illustratively as possible, to show directly what is happening.”

This has led to a reasonable, even ethical selection of recordings. “In the archive given to us by CNES, we found some pictures of destroyed villages. But we had a problem with them. We felt embarrassed by the way people were filmed. We had the feeling that they didn’t really give their consent “, they explain. “We decided that those pictures would not be part of the film.” This further led to the unforgettable use of the black screen. “We thought these black screens with animated stars were the best images we could listen to the story with,” they say. “Through these black screens, the audience could physically experience the loss being described.”

Audrey and Maxime Jean-Baptiste were born in Melun, a suburb southeast of Paris, to a Guyanese father and a French mother. As children of the diaspora, they grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s with special memories – as Maxime recalls, who lives between Paris and Brussels but answers my questions from Cayenne, French Guiana. “Friends of our father. . . you come on Sundays for a meal, where they quarrel in Creole, where the frustrations of the week and the experiences of racism come to light, with rum and red wine. ” There was also violence. “But not any violence. Violence of smiles, ‘good behavior’, being good immigrants, good Frenchmen. “

“I remember most of the time explaining where French Guiana is on the world map,” says Audrey, whose first film was Great, talks about the queer community in French Guiana. “Here in France, many people ignore the fact that French Guiana exists. Being part of the Guyana diaspora means a lot of pedagogy. ”

Jean-Baptistes are by no means pedagogical filmmakers, although the constant desire to explore a place that many French people call “Green Hell” clearly animates their work. U Listen to the rhythm of our pictures, it meant not only complicating the official version of history, but also undermining the CNES archives to do so. “It was not so easy for them to understand our point of view of the French conquest of space,” say the brothers and sisters. “The story of Kourou’s expropriation is still taboo.”

Filmmakers are now working on new projects, separately and together. Maxime’s latest is short, Moune Ôwhich takes as its starting point the historical drama of some thirty years ago, Jean Galmont, adventurer, about a Frenchman who became a hero of the Guyana people. Their father had a small role in that film, and that while Moune Ô it is partly autobiographical, and includes poems by Martin Carter and Derek Walcott, signaling a desire for the filmmaker’s view to extend beyond French Guiana to the rest of the Caribbean. “Our family is from St. Lucia,” says Maxim about his use of Walcott’s song “Air” (“there is not much here”). He adds: “Separation from the French language was a way to return to other roots in our family.”

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