Short history of Herqueville

I felt that the work I did on Herqueville last night was a turning point in the development of the film. First, a little background information about this project which has been going on and off for more than two years. It started when I met with my friends Serge Meurant and Michelle Corbisier, respectively poet and visual artist, in Brussels three years ago. A long time ago, I had a close collaboration with Serge for the film Etienne et Sara which basically was the result of our first encounter in 1983. We remained in contact for all those years but without any significant common work. That evening, they showed me poems by Serge and prints by Michelle that were inspired by their visit at Herqueville, at La Hague peninsula in Normandy in France. Serge had also taken photographs of this fierce and dramatic shoreline.

I was impressed by the works and, as it turns out, this location of Herqueville is just downhill from a huge nuclear wastes treatment plant. This situation is not explicitly mentioned in the poems or in the prints, but a sense of threat that runs through them, seemed to me related to the unmentioned proximity of the nuclear facility. It seemed to me that there was the possibility of a film there. Another aspect was my interest in working on poetic commentary about specific places or locations. For example, my previous film, The Statue of Giordano Bruno, was actually a meditation on the Campo dei Fiori in Rome where the statue stands.

So I decided to go ahead with that film. To get started, in January 2005, I made two exploratory performances at la Cinémathèque Québécoise and at the Casa Obscura, in Montreal. Then I filed a request for funds at the Quebec art Council (CALQ) which was rejected, but, in the following year, I got some money from the Canada Council for the Arts. At any rate, during the summer of 2005, I took advantage of a trip to Europe for a conference about Walter Benjamin at the Chateau de Cerizy in Normandy, to make a detour through Herqueville and do some shooting with my miniDV camera. The contact with the place more than measured to my expectations in many ways, the fierce and austere nature of the landscape, the incredibly disturbing character of the nuclear plant, .and the challenging character of the relationship between those two.

Last summer, I started to edit those images along with Serge’s poems and photographs and with Michelle’s prints. I did that to a music track by Fred Frith that had been recorded live at the Intersection for the Arts theater in San Francisco in September 2004 for a performance we did together. That phase of the project went much further than what I expected. I thought I would only do a very schematic and temporary version of the film in order to define what the animation would be and that the animation would be the driving force. But I dturned out going into quite complex compositing with the material I had and it led to a very structured result and what seemed to be a definitive length. I sent it to Serge, Michelle and Fred in order to get their feed back and approval about the way I was using the poems and the prints (especially to get Michelles approval about the way I had been intervening with other visual elements on top of her images) and about the way I had edited the 50 minutes musical impro to 20 minutes. Their reaction was very positive but they all more or less reacted as if it was a finished film. Serge wanted to show it at the documentary films festival (Filmer à tout prix) that he his curating, which I refused. So was the reaction of a number of other friends to whom I had shown the film in progress. There was a general question around me about what the animation could add to the current state of the film.

This was very troubling. As an animator, I felt it was almost too easy to reach the end of the project with so little work. An animator has to work hard a long time, frame by frame, before considering that the work is done. Although I resist defining myself as an animator or an animation filmmaker (I prefer to call myself plainly «a filmmaker» period), here I was with the masochistic gut reaction of an animator as to what makes the work valuable: time patience and a certain level of pain. Anyway, I did not want to decide without giving it a try. But all this paralyzed me and there was so much work to be done on the new Living Cinema project (Special Forces) that I forgot about Herqueville from August 06 until about a month and a half ago. When I watched it with a somewhat fresh mind, I was not far from agreeing with my friends and I found it really difficult to find a feasible angle to start working on the animation. Yet, I still thought that I should not decide without trying. So since then, I have been animating almost every day, being generally quite happy about my work but remaining totally uncertain about what it will lead to, not knowing if, at the end, all that patient animation work will not be thrown away. The more I was advancing the more I realized that I would have to go animating right to the end of the film before I can have a ground for a sound decision. Fortunately the work proved interesting and full of lessons whatever the final decision was going to be, precisely because of the uncertainty of the process. It was not just a matter of ‘doing itÉ� but of finding an approach to animation that was far from obvious.

So this week, on the evening of June 27 (this post was long to write and I am now several days after the fact) about half way in the film, for the first time I felt that it might all work! More on this in a little while.

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