This year, 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of France’s first filmmakers’ cooperative. To celebrate the occasion, this past September, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris hosted several consecutive days of screenings programmed by Marcel Mazé, (1) the President and founder of the
Collectif Jeune Cinéma (CJC), as the co-op is known. (2) The opening night program on September 24 at the Pompidou Centre’s Cinema 2 was abuzz with anticipation as the evening reunited members of all ages from the past 40 years of the co-op’s existence. Mazé gave a heartfelt introduction at the opening program, which included, among others, screenings of Jonas Mekas’s “Notes on the Circus” (1966), Marcel Mazé’s own “Focalises” (1980), Jackie Raynal’s “Merce Cunningham” (1962), (3) and Raphaël Bassan’s “Le départ d’Euridice” (1969), himself one of the CJC’s co-founders when the bylaws of the co-op were drawn up in June, 1971.
It was the meeting between Marcel Mazé and Jonas Mekas at the screening of “Notes on the Circus” – which Marcel Mazé had programmed in the Rencontres Internationales du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères (4) in 1971 – that inspired Mazé to create the Collectif Jeune Cinéma based on the model of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York. (5) Up until then, the concept of archiving and distributing independent underground, experimental and avant-garde films was unfamiliar-to-nonexistent in France. The CJC therefore became the first filmmaker’s co-op in France destined to archive and distribute independent French and international filmmakers with their different and experimental films. Eventually, other co-ops, such as Cinédoc (6) and Light Cone, (7)were set up in and still exist today. Even though the CJC has seen its challenges, changes and adventures through its lifetime, it is very much alive and healthy today, with almost a thousand films in its catalogue by filmmakers in France and worldwide.
In France, the 1968 “events”, with its claim to freedom of expression and going beyond one’s limits, continued well into the 70s to have an immense influence on people’s way of life and on the creative and artistic world, including cinema.
An interest in avant-garde and underground cinema surfaced as part of the mix within film culture. Such films appeared in Paris in venues such as the American Center for Students on Boulevard Raspail in the 14th district and at Henri Langlois’ Cinématheque Française. Amongst others, filmmakers in France such as Jean-Luc Godard, Marguerite Duras, Philippe Garrel, and the underground experimental films of Pierre Clémenti, Jonas Mekas in the US and various filmmakers in Japan, Greece and Germany were making a strong statement about an independent and a different form of filmmaking. The Rencontres Internationales du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères was another cutting-edge venue at this time, whose mission was to showcase first and second films by emerging filmmakers. It was one of the main international film festivals in France, probably the second largest after Cannes, with the press very present and eager to discover and reveal independent and personal new filmmakers and directors. Among others, Jean Eustache, Andre Delveaux, Jean-Daniel Pollet, Philippe Garrel, Marcel Hanoun, Carmelo Bene, and Diourka Medvecz had been screened there.
In this atmosphere of creativity and social change, the young Marcel Mazé had come to Paris, from his peaceful hometown (Brest) in Brittany, to study law.
“I had had a totally traditional childhood without waves”, he says, in an intended pun, “nothing had ever shaken or traumatised me throughout it until my father’s death in 1959, so the next year when I turned 18, I decided to come to Paris for my studies…” Paris was going to expose him to a pallet of fascinating and exciting encounters. In 1967, Mazé got a job in the legal department of the Agence France Presse (AFP). A friend of his, Philippe Cambuzat, needing an administrator and accountant for his cinema magazine, Cinéma 9, created in 1969, asked Mazé if he would do some volunteer administration work for it. Mazé accepted. The first edition of Cinéma 9 was to cover the Hyères Film Festival and was publishing a “Special Hyères” in which the president and founder of the festival, Maurice Perisset and his colleague Michel Chatelin, described in great detail the 1969 edition of the Rencontres Internationales du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères.
This was going to be the beginning of Marcel Mazé’s new cinema culture and his new life. Because Mazé was and is a man who recognizes freedom of expression and independence, his discovery of a different kind of cinema, an underground, experimental and independent one, would lead him with great passion and commitment, to defend and promote this new genre for the rest of his life. To do this, Mazé had the intuition and spirit to create the CJC and to take on the challenging task (helped along the way by others) of programming these films for the international film festival in Hyères from 1971 to its final edition in 1983. (8)
With Paris as a backdrop, the following interview takes place in Marcel Mazé’s 5th floor loft apartment on the Boulevard St Denis (designed to screen films, and where his private office is stocked up with archives and magazines, posters and flyers, and his writings…which he says he is still filing and organizing.) We sit in his vast modern living room and Marcel speaks about the beginnings and the long life of the CJC and how in 1970, by some twist of fate, the Rencontres Internationales du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères and the CJC were about to be a major part of his life.
Your world in the 1960’s was not really influenced by the world of cinema, until you worked for the magazine Cinéma 9. How did this affect your life?
I had been mainly attracted by classical trends in cinema, painting and literature and knew nothing or nearly nothing about abstract painting or the new literary trends, let alone a new kind of cinema.
From the moment I agreed to help Cinéma 9, I became totally implicated in the magazine and a part of their team. I had no idea this would affect me to the point it did or that it would change my life. I began to go to the cinema very regularly and to attend screenings at avant-garde venues.
My cinematographic and also aesthetic shock, happened one night in early 1969 when I went to the Cinémathèque Française where Henri Langlois was screening films from the “New American Cinema” with Jonas Mekas presenting the program and showing his film “Notes on the Circus”, along with other films by Stan Brakhage, Gregory Markopulos and Kenneth Anger. For me these films were the most amazing and most moving things I had ever seen in my life. Having come from Brest, my small town in Brittany, where everything was so conventional, where nothing out-of-the-ordinary had ever come my way, that night a new kind of cinema was going to shake me both emotionally and practically.
I was totally in admiration and inspired by the open non-conformism and non- hypocrisy in these films, their freedom and directness in showing what had been taboo and censured subjects up until now. They treated sexual, historic, political, social, aesthetic, personal, non-narrative subjects and themes, and the author was the one to decide his editing, sound and image approach, his personal vision. This was the opposite of the financially rich films screened in the movie theatres.
Also, it so happened that at the time the Rencontres Internationales du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères were giving carte blanche to film magazines and I was so enthusiastic about the films I had seen and my discovery of this new cinema genre, that I suggested to Philippe Cambuzat and his Cinéma 9 magazine team to organise a carte blanche screening at Hyères festival. They were not at all interested by my idea but instead they decided to send me to the festival in Hyères as a gift in return for the work I was doing for them at the magazine. This is where my life took a complete turn! Maurice Perisset the president and founder of the Rencontres Internationales du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères, (in 1975 it became known as Festival International du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères) heard me speak with such great enthusiasm about these films that I had seen at the Cinémathèque Française, that he immediately challenged me to organise a program for the following year in his festival (later creating a parallel section “Cinéma de Demain”, which became “Cinéma Différent” in 1974). That’s how the adventure all started!
How did you go about getting and choosing films? And how did the CJC become a part of this?
The CJC and the Hyères Festival were very tightly intertwined. I was determined to show the films I had discovered and wanted to dig up “different” films from all over the world. Henri Langlois, who I admired greatly and was extremely lucky to meet on behalf of Maurice Perisset, gave me all the contacts I needed and thus helped me to meet and access many filmmakers and their work. For example, Noël Burch from Paris, Jonas Mekas from New York, the London Filmmakers Co-op, and later German and Italian filmmakers who all gave me the opportunity, every year, to view and choose films. I would travel to New York, to Italy, Austria, Germany and anywhere I needed to go and would watch hours and hours of these extraordinary films.
And the CJC?
When Mekas told me about the film co-op he had created in New York, I thought it was necessary to do the same in France as there was nothing of the sort here, so in the beginning I created the CJC as a means to archive films which had to be registered and left to the CJC co-op once they had been screened or programmed. This is how the CJC became a part of that 1971 Hyères edition. Also, in 1970 I decided to screen some films, in my and the CJC’s name, in different venues in Paris throughout that year so that people could become acquainted with this new genre (this is where I met some of the other co-founders with whom I established the bylaws of the CJC co-op in June, 1971).
How was your first selection and programming at the 1971 Hyères festival received?
Well this is another moving episode that shows Perissat’s trust in me. The opening and closing films I had chosen for the 1971 edition were Vladimir et Rosa by Jean-Luc Godard (9) and Jaune le soleil by Marguerite Duras, for the closing gala (and they had been accepted by the Festival’s Administrative Council) were considered to be scandalous by the Hyères Municipal Council and because of this we had to be exiled in Toulon for the following year! Duras remained faithful to us and came to the festival very often to support us.
We only returned to the festival’s native town in Hyères in 1977 when a Socialist municipality was reelected in the town. Nevertheless the festival in Toulon was extremely exciting as it had attracted spectators, critics, filmmakers, distributors and people from all over. Every screening was very animated. The spectators vigorously shouted their opinions and the screenings were transformed into a den of violent arguments between the “Old” and the “Modern”. It was amazing, you could feel something was changing in society. To calm down the agitated atmosphere and to inform the spectators about what was going on, (even though his taste for cinema was more traditional) Maurice Périsset imposed the continuation of the “Un Autre Cinéma” section, but he also created another section, there would therefore be two distinct sections in the festival and one person would be elected to be in charge of a section. Jacques Robert was elected for the section “Cinéma d’Aujourd’hui” (cinema of today) and I, until its last edition in 1983, for the section “Cinéma de Demain” (cinema of tomorrow) to be baptized “Cinéma Different” in 1974.
[Personal note: As I listened to Marcel, I noticed how, every time, he mentioned “festival’s last edition in 1983” he had a nostalgic and almost painful ring in his voice, at this point I wanted to ask him a personal question.]
Do you think that when the last edition of the festival occurred in 1983, you got a shock similar to the shock you had experienced in your youth when your father died? That sudden end?
Well I never really thought about it in those terms before, but I think this rings true, and yes, I felt like an orphan. Everything up until now was a very formative and exciting cycle in my life, meeting filmmakers from all over the world who were creating rich and astonishing films. All this energy was extremely motivating.
The influence of independent creative activity in the 70’s and 80’s was so successful, it created a new generation of historians, teachers and critics exposing this genre of diverse and fascinating films that I also was fortunate to screen at Hyères. Also being in a way, able to inspire, being in the midst of enthusiastic thinkers, inciting creation… many began to theorize and write, to teach and transmit. Almost nothing had been said around this new genre in France and everything was yet to be explored and Hyères was one of the main venues for exposure of the experimental film genre. It ‘s true that suddenly the immense pleasure I had had for 12 years of selecting and programming astounding films with passion and as I said, all the fascinating filmmakers and thinkers I was constantly meeting and in contact with, was going to come to an abrupt end. I felt as though I was leaving a part of my family. And the mourning took a few years.
What happened to the CJC and its archived films?
The CJC and the Festival in Hyères were so intertwined that the task of managing the CJC and to find other distributors for the members and their films, apart from the Hyères festival, would now be immense. I knew that I would not be able to support the filmmakers as I had done up till now, so we registered the archived films in the name of the CJC with another film co-op, Light Cone (LC), for almost a decade, from 1989 to1998.
How did the CJC evolve into what it is today?
The rest of the story goes that in 1995, Jean-Marc Manach and a group of students essentially from the University of Sorbonne Paris Vlll, a university where innovative film studies is taught, asked me to speak to them about the CJC and the Festival International du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères. We met regularly with an exchange of exciting conversations and ideas. Very quickly we envisaged to create a festival based on the style of Hyères in which, for the first edition anyway, we would screen films which had been screened in Hyères. To obtain support and grants we created a nonprofit organization called “D’un Cinéma L’Autre” (DCA). It would take us a couple of years to find an adequate venue but we screened films regularly in a space called “Confluence” in the 20th district in Paris. In the meantime, some filmmakers belonging to the LC/ CJC co-op wanted to retrieve their films as they felt that they had not been distributed as often, if not at all, as they had been promised.
Having left the Agence France Press in December 1997, I had more time to concentrate on the CJC and the festival. I called for General Assembly in which it was decided to take up the 1980 CJC Board again and to prepare with DCA the new festival “De Hyères à Aujourd’hui, Festival des Cinéma Different” in Paris.
DCA got a grant from the French Film Board (CNC) to set up the festival and the CJC distributed its films again. It was a success. And I felt encouraged to screen films weekly, which I did with the help of members of the CJC at the “Cinéma La Clef ” in the 5th district in Paris, where even today we have our CJC ‘s “regular screenings” introducing older members as well as new members.
After an “implosion” within the association DCA, I was encouraged by the other members of the CJC to continue and to organize the second edition of the festival, (13-17 December 2000). I did this in the name of the CJC and a film student who was later attributed a grant by the State. It was the first grant we had obtained of this kind and this grant has been attributed to every administrator we have had till this day. Without this, it would not have been easy to function as we have. The members and films have multiplied, we have around a thousand films in our catalogue.
Can a film co-op such as the CJC still go on today?
Yes definitely! There is and there will always be a place for experimental and “different” cinema as it is the expression of life! It is a historical and committed cinema art form. Even if the general public is less acquainted with this film genre, it is written upon, taught in universities in France and Europe and abroad, shown in modern art museums and art venues and our co-ops are present at festivals and cinema and video encounters to make sure it is present and that we are invited to screen our members.
Our conversation continued on a more personal note, Paris seemed far away now as we spoke about Brittany and Marcel’s time there. He returns many times in the year and walks along the beach near his home meditating as he watches the waves. As he said, his childhood had been very peaceful and there he always finds tranquility.
Le Festival des Cinemas Differents De Paris, which was created by the CJC in 1999, (since last year it is called “Le Festival des Cinemas Differents et Experimentaux de Paris”) is going to celebrate its twelfth birthday this year (6th to 11th December 2011) and it will be a moving celebration as it will also be in honour of the 40th anniversary of the CJC. This 40th anniversary shows the passion and will that it takes to continue one’s mission and vision for the experimental film genre and its evolution. The commitment it took to face the changes, mourning, rebirths and evolution in order to reveal to others a cinema genre which goes in cycles of recognition and neglect.
This is the spirit which inspired and moved Marcel Mazé in the 60’s, gave him the incentive to be one of the main ambassadors of a “different” cinema genre in France and so the 40th anniversary is a celebration not only to the CJC, to experimental and “different” cinema, but a homage to the energy that has kept it, with other passionate men and women, going until today.
The CJC is Marcel’s art expression, his film, his dance, his book, his painting
… his child.
All images courtesy of Marcel Mazé and Viviane Vagh
- Marcel Mazé’s blog site http://www.tictalik.com/
- See except from “Merce Cunningham” at: http://www.youtube.co m/watch?v=-rRrVlaK_TQ
- Located in the southern coastal town of Hyères, Rencontres Internationales du Jeune Cinéma de Hyères was between the years of its existence, 1965 to 1983, arguably the second largest festival in France.
- A political change took place in the city of Hyères, the Left Wing Municipality Council lost the elections and when the Right Wing came into power they wanted Maze’s “Cinéma Différent” section to be supervised by one of their team. The Festival’s Administrative Council in refusing to accede to pressure was effectively being forced to leave the city. Not wishing to relocate to any other city, the festival came to an end.
- Officially credited to the Groupe Dziga Vertov, which, by 1971, was effectively Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin.