Shoot on site, any site

Michel Gondry is de­ter­mined to pro­mote com­mu­nity film­mak­ing, writes Andy Sec­combe

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

FRENCH di­rec­tor Michel Gondry has shown what he can do by stretch­ing the imag­i­na­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of film; now he’s ask­ing am­a­teur film­mak­ers to try it them­selves. The Os­car­win­ning au­teur be­hind Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind , The Sci­ence of Sleep and last year’s Be Kind Rewind has writ­ten a mem­oir, You’ll Like This Film Be­cause You’re In It: The Be Kind Rewind Pro­to­col .

It’s all about en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to cre­ate their own en­ter­tain­ment as an al­ter­na­tive to com­mer­cial of­fer­ings.

‘‘ Most peo­ple are be­ing told they can’t ex­press cre­ativ­ity or it’s some­thing ei­ther for a priv­i­leged group or for kids,’’ says Gondry, 45. ‘‘ Reach­ing out to those peo­ple, giv­ing them a chance to ex­press them­selves, we re­veal trea­sures, un­known trea­sures.’’

Gondry is all about DIY film­mak­ing and the Neigh­bour­hood Movie Club. The con­cept rose to promi­nence last Fe­bru­ary with the launch of Be Kind Rewind , in which Jack Black and rap­per Mos Def play two bum­bling friends forced to swede, or recre­ate, Hol­ly­wood block­busters ( in­clud­ing Ghost Busters , The Lion King and Rush Hour 2 ) without a bud­get. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the film’s release was an ex­hi­bi­tion at New York’s Deitch Projects art gallery, where school groups and vis­i­tors made movies in an in­stal­la­tion space decked out with mul­ti­ple film sets.

In the book ( de­scribed as a ‘‘ func­tional mem­oir’’), Gondry out­lines the Be Kind Rewind Pro­to­col, a set of film­mak­ing guide­lines that em­pha­sise fun, democ­racy, detailed plan­ning, a sin­gle cam­era­man and the avoid­ance of so-called pro­fes­sion­al­ism in com­mu­nity cre­ativ­ity.

‘‘ I re­sent pro­fes­sion­al­ism in those in­stances be­cause [ it tends to] limit cre­ativ­ity,’’ he says. ‘‘ My ex­pe­ri­ence at the Deitch gallery was that some of the teach­ers acted as if they knew how a pro­fes­sional would, and it lim­ited the cre­ativ­ity of their pupils.

‘‘ We had to cor­rect that, to make sure the com­mu­nity was the leader, not the teacher.’’

Gondry also makes clear in the book that the ex­hi­bi­tion ( which trav­elled to Brazil in De­cem­ber) and com­mu­nity film­mak­ing are not about train­ing peo­ple for the film in­dus­try; it’s any­thing but. In­stead, Gondry wants peo­ple to ex­plore their own cre­ativ­ity, em­brace their com­mu­nity and not rely on Hol­ly­wood for thrills.

‘‘ I don’t mean to re­place the sys­tem,’’ he says. ‘‘ I’m propos­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. It’s an ac­tiv­ity that can lead to cre­ativ­ity but I don’t think it can lead to a real job. I don’t even know if it’s a form of art. [ With this idea] I’m ac­tu­ally step­ping out of the film in­dus­try.’’

In an amus­ing, light-hearted style ( one shoot in­volved naked women and a live chicken), Gondry writes about the mis­fires and suc­cesses of the Deitch ex­hi­bi­tion as well as his ex­pe­ri­ences in com­mu­nity film­mak­ing.

‘‘ That’s the whole arc of the book: that this can ex­ist without the film in­dus­try or art in­dus­try, be­cause in some way it was sort of re­jected in both,’’ he ex­plains.

‘‘ I can’t go ev­ery­where and do it my­self, but I think I pro­pose a recipe that al­lows peo­ple to do it them­selves.’’

Gondry says one of his goals is to get peo­ple to as­sert the value of com­mu­ni­ties. True to this ethos, he re­counts how he as­sisted his Brook­lyn neigh­bours in cre­at­ing a lo­cal movie-club film, There’s a Hand in My Soup . ‘‘ We just shot in my street, ba­si­cally, in three or four houses. It was very con­tained,’’ he re­calls. ‘‘ That was in­ter­est­ing be­cause I wanted to demon­strate the pro­to­col could work in a real world.’’

Pre­vi­ously based in New York’s East Vil­lage, Gondry moved to Brook­lyn’s East Wil­liams­burg last Fe­bru­ary. He also spends two months of the year in his na­tive Paris, where he sched­uled an­other com­mu­nity film project last De­cem­ber. He ex­plains that the two creative en­vi­ron­ments could not be more dif­fer­ent.

‘‘ In Brook­lyn, or in New York in gen­eral, I can wake up with an idea in the morn­ing and achieve it in the af­ter­noon,’’ he says. ‘‘ In Paris, you would have to count one week, if not one month, if you’re not dis­cour­aged.’’

Gondry is cer­tainly liv­ing and breath­ing his phi­los­o­phy of in­clu­sive­ness, re­veal­ing in his book the street ( Ori­ent Av­enue) on which he lives: a some­what un­usual dis­clo­sure by a film­maker with an in­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing. The ac­claimed di­rec­tor isn’t afraid of at­tract­ing at­ten­tion and says that when peo­ple recog­nise him, it’s al­ways with a re­spect­ful in­ter­est: they usu­ally just have a ques­tion about DVD ex­tras.

‘‘ Peo­ple some­times talk to me but it’s not like if I was an ac­tor or pub­lic fig­ure, it’s not [ the] type of stalk­ing that you could en­counter,’’ he says. ‘‘ Most of the time peo­ple talk to me when they recog­nise me or tell me they’re happy be­cause I give them the en­ergy and in­spi­ra­tion to start be­ing more creative, which is ex­actly what my pur­pose is.’’

Gondry has a few projects on the boil: an­other draft of his film The Re­turn of the Ice Kings is in the works and he’s writ­ing a script, set on a school bus, that ex­plores how group dy­nam­ics af­fect chil­dren’s be­hav­iour, a theme he’s been ob­sessed with since child­hood.

It’s a project he may pitch to Hol­ly­wood stu­dios one day ( as op­posed to his neigh­bours) and Gondry ad­mits he’s aware of the con­tra­dic­tions of work­ing in the in­sa­tiably com­mer­cialised world of Hol­ly­wood while con­cur­rently pro­mot­ing an al­ter­na­tive.

But in keep­ing with his aim to pro­mote com­mu­nity-based, non-com­mer­cial cre­ativ­ity and en­ter­tain­ment, Gondry is also will­ing to con­trib­ute more than just a pro­to­col. In the clos­ing para­graph of his book, he of­fers read­ers a free dig­i­tal cam­era if they send him a pro­posal for a neigh­bour­hood movie.

‘‘ If 200,000 peo­ple ask me for a cam­era, I will be in trou­ble,’’ he ad­mits. ‘‘ But then it would mean that this book has a big im­pact. That’s the risk I’m tak­ing.’’

More in­for­ma­tion: www. michel­go­ndry. com

Through your own lens: Di­rec­tor Michel Gondry, who holds do-it-your­self film­mak­ing cour­ses, en­cour­ages am­a­teurs to ex­press them­selves through film

A func­tional mem­oir: The di­rec­tor’s book

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