By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
The remarkable Film Catastrophe, premiered last year, revisits certain images from the iconic ship Costa Concordia, main location for Film Socialisme (2010) the first venture in digital film by master Jean-Luc Godard. Here, Paul Grivas gives back to us certain images of the creation process by Godard, a kind of guerrilla filmmaking where we can witness the creativity of one of the greatest geniuses of this century. At moments comic and tragic in its premonition, Film Catastrophe sheds light on this great metaphor that was the cruise ship, whose sinking is almost an allegoric representation of the death of certain ideologies in Europe. In Desistfilm we talked with Paul Grivas, who told us a little bit about his history, the experience of working with JLG and his ideas on image reappropiation.
Paul Also made a new short film on the work process of Jean-Luc Godard, for Desistfilm. You can watch it here.
Desistfilm: We’ve been searching through your history before Film Catastrophe, and I see that you’ve been working with JLG since Notre Musique, in 2004. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with him? How did you end up becoming part of his team and what have you been doing in the last years?
Paul Grivas: Well, look. Godard is my uncle. He’s the brother of my mother. I have certain relationship with him, not really familiar, we’re a family of protestant origin, very dispersed through the whole planet, a family of two sisters and two brothers, and JLG is one of them. I’m the son of Veronique, his younger sister. But we really didn’t have a family relation; there was never the usual end-of-the-year get-together, which never happened. I have a relationship with him from his work, and never turned to him to be in cinema.
But he knew I was working in films, in festivals, knew that I was in Sarajevo in 1996 doing photography for a film which started little after the war was over. Then, when the Notre Musique project started, he remembered that he had this nephew there, who spoke several languages, had three different passports, living in three different countries (Mexico, Paris and Greece), who also was in Bosnia and knew some people… so he said “well, let’s ask him”. So from that I began working with him.
I worked almost two years in Notre Musique, as a production assistant. This was one of the last film in which Godard had a traditional “team”: it was filmed in 35mm, we still were in a normal filming scheme, so I, since had been in Bosnia several times, knew people in Sarajevo. So, one of the first things asked of me was to bring some Indians from Wyoming to Mostar. I immediately said yes (we never did it at the end) but despite of that I stayed around the main team. He now works with two or three people, very polyvalent, capable to do production, images, recording sounds, organizing castings and all kind of searches… It is a small team, and when he needs certain image, he asks you to do it without him being there. Then you provide it to him, he might use it, or not. That’s the dialogue and that happens a lot. After that, I stayed with him for almost three years for Film Socalisme and other shorts he made, Les Ponts de Sarajevo and 3x3D which took me to the pre-production of Adieu au Langage.
Desistfilm: What drove you, then, to make a documentary about Film Socialisme and the Costa Concordia? How did the idea of using all this footage for a documentary came around?
Paul Grivas: It wasn’t really a premeditated project. When we were filming Film Socialisme, as you can see in Film Catastrophe, we were just a team of three people, making images, organizing and everything else. Nowhere in the filming I thought that this material would be part of a new film. That came later.
I film a lot of my quotidian life, of my trips, and save it somewhere. Later I watch the images, I edit them, like a game, and often discover things I didn’t see when first filming, and I like that. Then, when Film Socialisme was released, and we moved to a different thing I started playing with the images we filmed in the Concordia. You must know that this was the first film Godard made in digital, so it was like a discovery, many things happened while the cameras were “rolling”, and through those accidents suddenly a truth emerged from the filming. The whole production was very particular: we were there in the ship, as tourists, nobody knew or minded about us, nobody knew Godard, nobody knew Patti Smith… it was a different planet. It allowed us to have a lot of material for all kinds of images, very powerful. Much of what was filmed wasn’t used by Godard in his film, so I used that for Film Catastrophe, mixing that material with all those accidents.
What interested me at the end was seeing, and sharing, how Film Socialisme was made, I mean, in which conditions. Three years later, when the same ship in which we filmed sank, all the images from the people on board in the accident suddenly emerged, people filmed with their cellphones, in the same way we filmed with our cellphones, so I started mixing all that.
So the project became more concrete, since until then I just had small parts of 10 seconds… had no idea of the duration. Like every film I make, I don’t know if they would last a minute or half an hour, and since I had complete autonomy, no production company or anything, I spent years making the film. I’d left some years and then came back to make it longer. It wasn’t an economically viable project, but that didn’t matter, the films that have to be made are always made in the end.
Desistfilm: Something that interested us in your work is that there are two different energies that succeed each other through the documentary. In one side, you have the vision of tragedy (because of all the happened later with the ship) but at the same time there’s a lot of comedy in the film, especially in some moments with very funny accidents. There’s a synergy between the tragic and the comical that works very well. Was this intentional, something that came to your mind in some moment?
Paul Grivas: That emerged through the random moments of editing, of what I found, accidents like the actor who constantly forgets his lines… Also, it’s worth mentioning that Godard is a very funny person, he had this tenebrous aura and all that, but he laughs all the time, making jokes and such. Many people, who watched this documentary, suddenly changed his vision on the character as well. He can be very funny.
Desistfilm: That’s something we feel you’ve done very well also, to show the humanity of Godard. A lot of times one shows himself as he really is in his work, especially in the arts, and that’s something that appears in the film, something very valuable.
Paul Grivas: I was always interested in the films-about-films, the making of and in general, how work is filmed. In the case of Film Catastrophe, what interested me was the making of cinema.
Desistfilm: Film Socialisme, the Costa Concordia, it’s shown like an allegory of the situation Europe will go through after: the sinking of the ship and everything the film talked about the political ideas in Europe. It sort of works like a premonition of the end of the big social ideas: running aground, sinking. How do you relate that with Film Catastrophe? In which sense are they sister films?
Paul Grivas: The hard drives Godard used for his films have the same material I used to make my movie. In certain way, everything that Film Socialisme tells irradiates my material, everything we know about the sinking of the ship, and all that. The audio was important as well, I use many of the phrases that one can hear in Film Socialisme in a different way, with other images, altering them a little bit. There’s an obvious relation between the films.
Now, I think Film Catastrophe can be seen without knowing Film Socialisme, though it is very interesting to watch the two films, one after the other. That was an exercise we made with Nicole (Brenez) in La Femis, and it was really interesting how sometimes certain images were used in the same way, and sometimes they weren’t, and what contexts did each use of the image brought.
Desistfilm: Through that experience, and with all your work with Jean-Luc Godard, which do you think are the main things you’ve learned watching his method and work ethics?
Paul Grivas: I’ve learned a lot. It has been a unique experience in many levels, but maybe what I learned the most is about the freedom of the images, or rather the freedom which one has to deal with images, setting aside the auto-imposed limits. Everything is possible..
Desistfilm: Do you feel that freedom has influenced you as a filmmaker as well?
Paul Grivas: I would say that I already had it, since I think the same in certain way: the images are there for the taking, you just got to pick them up.
Desistfilm: Did you have certain expectations regarding how did you want your film to be received?
Paul Grivas: Well, I want to show it as much as I can. We had certain rights problems which are difficult to solve. For now, we can’t commercialize the film in a traditional way, which works well for me. What I want is to tour the film in as many film festivals I can during the following months, and after that place it as free access on the internet, and then I can make it even more visible, more than it had been showed in theaters or as a DVD extra (laughs).
I like that this is an a-commercial product, it corresponds a little bit to the philosophy of Film Socialisme and how that film was made. When I worked in Film Socialisme, I got paid well, we did the job and now I don’t have to juice this thing up anymore, I don’t want to sell it, I want it to be a free access movie on the internet. For free, and if you go look and search for it, good! If you laugh, even better. If you want to discover Film Socialisme and other lesser known recent works of JLG, even better. It’s a bit the “anti-Le Redoutable” (Hazanavicius, 2017), something that makes you want to discover the work of Godard, which is an amazing work.
Desistfilm: Which projects are you working in right now?
Paul Grivas: I always have “semi-asleep” projects in my hard drives that I rescue from time to time. This Film Catastrophe took me a lot of time, but I know I will do stuff again. I have a project which is pretty much done about Bosnia, a country I knew before working in Notre Musique, and visited after in many occasions, a country which really impacted me. I’m still experimenting with pieces of images I made in my computer and that I will put on the internet and in festivals, freely, without a traditional production system. I couldn’t have made Film Catastrophe in any other way.