A cinema of resistance: René Vautier

Not so long ago, the earth numbered two thousand million inhabitants: five hundred million men, and one thousand five hundred million natives.  The former had the Word; the others had the use of it. … It came to an end; the mouths opened by themselves; the yellow and black voices still spoke of our humanism but only to reproach us with our inhumanity.  We listened without displeasure to these polite statements of resentment, at first with proud amazement.  What?  They are able to talk by themselves?

Jean-Paul Sartre

All of the activities that I could have, all of them went in the same direction: to reflect people who had things to say and which power did not permit them to say.

René Vautier

Member of the resistance during the nazi occupation of france, imprisoned for his first film, joined the algerian independence movement, the FLN, during the struggle for independence, member of the film group Medvekine after May 68, defender of breton autonomy, the film maker René Vautier died last January 4th, at the age of 86.

Whatever differences exist between Vautier’s political engagements and Autonomies, they are of little significance before Vautier’s creative struggle through film against colonialism and capitalism. Like many of his generation, he contributed to the development of a politically engaged cinema that sought, with other forms of contestation, to bring into being a new world of freedom.

Born on the 15th of January 1928 in Camaret, in the Finistère, this son of workers would join the resistance in 1943.  After the war, he pursues film studies at the IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographic) and joins the communist party.  In 1950, the Ligue de l’enseignement commissions him with the production of a film on french education in sub-saharan africa.  Vautier diverts the project and presents a largely unknown reality: forced labour, the violence of the colonial authorities  in a region from Ivory Coast to Mali.  The film, Afrique 50, is not only censured (it will be for forty years), but Vautier is condemned to a one year incarceration, to be served in military prisons.

With the outbreak of the algerian war of independence, Vautier leaves for north africa, first to tunisia (where he films Les Anneaux d’or, Claudia Cardinale’s film debut), before going on to join the FLN maquis in algeria.  He makes two documentaries at this time, Une Nation, Algérie (today lost) and l’Algérie en flammes.  Caught in the internecine factions struggles of the independence movement, Vautier is imprisoned for two years in tunisia by the FLN.  Rehabilitated by alger after his liberation, he remains in algeria animating “pop-ciné”, mobile cinemas which traveled the country.   For this collaboration, Vautier would be pursued by french authorities, forcing him to remain in exile until 1966.

Shortly after his return to France, he joins in 1967 the Medvedkine group formed around Chris Marker.  Dedicated to providing a cinematographic image of working class struggles, Vautier would be inspired to establish himself in Brittany, where he founds the UPCB (Unité de production cinématographique de Bretagne)  Within this framework, Vautier will make two feature length fiction films, Avoir 20 ans dans les Aurès and La Folle de Toujane, as well as numerous numerous documentaries about workers struggles.

In 1972, Vautier begins a hunger strike after the authorities refused to authorise the distribution of the film Octobre à Paris, made by Jacques Panijel, after the massacre of algerian demonstrators in Paris on the 17th of October, 1961.  Vautier’s protest would finally secure the film’s distribution.

In 1981, the UPCB closes for lack of financing, but Vautier continues to make films on subjects such as nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific, immigration and the Resistance.

The body Vautier’s work and his life are testimony to the idea that to create is to resist and that to resist is to create.  And in our times of fear and separation, Vautier’s courage is exemplary.

Examples of Vautier’s cinematographic work: Afrique 50 …

L’Algérie en flammes …

Peuple en marche …

Avoir 20 ans dans les Aurès …

To watch Jacques Panijel’s Octobre à Paris, click here.

An interview with René Vautier …

(The text above is a free translation of the obituaray for René Vautier that appeared in Le Monde  (06/01/2015). An interview with Vautier can be found (in french) at Alternative Libertaire )

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