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The Image of Insurgence

Anonymous and Collective Cinema from May ‘68

3 – 28 May 2018 - 7pm / Sabatini Building, Auditorium

Free, until full capacity is reached

The Besançon Medvedkin Group. Classe de lutte (The Class of Struggle), Film. 1968
The Besançon Medvedkin Group. Classe de lutte (The Class of Struggle), Film. 1968

In May 1968, the defiance of power, mobilised through demonstrations, by reclaiming the streets, new forms of DIY organisation, the occupation of factories and universities and a prolonged  general strike was driven primarily by the subversive power from the horizontal gathering of identities and spheres kept apart by society; from collectively speaking out and questioning any form of representation, whether it be political, cultural, or through the media or trade unions. 

This collective and anonymous dimension, a pivotal part of the events that transpired, was reflected in cinétracts, cinema “tracts”, or film pamphlets, and the films of the Medvedkin Groups, made by workers and film-makers (producers and technicians) alike. These practices, the fulcrum of this series, built the sturdiest expressions of film-making which contested at once the traditional notion of authorship and the standard devices of film production. These practices appear to reveal that which the philosopher Jacques Rancière has articulated on the very principle of radical democracy and politics: “The recognition of anybody’s power”.

The aforementioned cinétracts are short films with a running time of between two to five minutes, filmed under a policy of anonymity by a number of professional directors, among them Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and Chris Marker – responsible for the initiative — and amateur film-makers.  Moreover, these works can be seen as the film equivalent to the illustrious May ‘68 posters and graffiti: simple resources and craftsmanship with a fitting visual impact for the purposes of counter-information.

The collective experience of the Medvedkin Groups — named in homage to Soviet film-maker Aleksandr Medvedkin (1900—1989), the creator of the “film-train” in the 1930s — prompted the workers to make militant films. Certain professionals, including Chris Marker, Mario Marret and Bruno Muel, organised workshops in Besançon and Sochaux, and loaned cameras and film-making materials out with the intention of sharing their specialist technical knowledge with the workers, who in turn appropriated the image to create their own representation of the living and working conditions they experienced. This alliance thus gave rise, between 1967 and 1974, to a string of films which exceeded, in content and formal invention, the conventional parameters defining cinéma militant.

In addition to putting forward an approach to the anonymous and collective practices which surfaced around May ‘68, the series sets out to constitute a way of examining the event on the eve of its 50th anniversary. Consequently, along with the cinétracts of ’68, more recent tracts by Straub and Sylvain George will be screened, thus reflecting the ruptures and continuities between that legacy and the present in an insurgent audiovisual genre. 

Free, until full capacity is reached

  • Curatorship: David Cortés Santamarta
  • Organized by: Museo Reina Sofía
  • In collaboration with:

    Institut français d'Espagne

  • Language:

    Screenings in original version with Spanish subtitles

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Program

Cinétracts (Film-Tracts), Film, 1968

Thursday, 3 May – 7pm

Session 1

Second session: Friday, 18 May – 7pm

First session presented by David Cortés Santamarta, curator
Second session presented by Gérard Fromanger

Gérard Fromanger and Jean-Luc Godard 
Film-tract nº 1968 (1968)
France, DA, colour, silent, 3’

Anonymous
Cinétracts (Film-Tracts), 1968
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 76’

The political pamphlet Cinétractez, handed out in May 1968, describes the cinétract in the following terms: “What is a cinétract?: 2’44” (that is, a 30-metre-long reel of 16mm film at 24 frames per second) of silent film on a political and social theme, or any other, aimed to trigger discussion and action. Through these cinétracts we attempt to explain our thoughts and reactions. Why? To: Oppose-Propose-Surprise-Inform-Question-Affirm-Convince-Shout-Laugh-Denounce-Teach. But with what? A wall, a camera, lamplight on a wall. Documents, photographs, newspapers, drawings, posters, books, etc. A marker pen, tape, glue, a tape measure, a timer”. This new format places the stress on both the will for political intervention, driven by the urgency of revolution, and an invitation, in the wordplay in the title, in a creative appropriation of this approach to film.

The Besançon Medvedkin Group. Classe de lutte (The Class of Struggle), Film, 1968

Friday, 4 May – 7pm

Session 2

Second session: Monday, 21 May – 7pm

Chris Marker and Mario Marret
À bientôt, j'espère (Be Seing You), 1967
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 43’

The Besançon Medvedkin Group
La Charnière (The Hinge), 1968
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 12’
Classe de lutte (The Class of Struggle), 1968
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 40’

“Comrades, silence is your worst enemy!” was how film-maker Mario Marret addressed workers on the day he arrived at the Rhodiaceta textile factory in Besançon, the location of a strike that would act as a forerunner to those which came shortly afterwards, in May ’68. The documentary by Marker and Marret portrays the workers’ reflections on their work and day-to-day existence. Without images, La Charnière is an unalloyed soundtrack recording the discussion between the film-makers and workers after the premiere of À bientôt, j’espère, a debate which would give rise to the collective experience of the Medvedkin Groups, who took their name as an homage to Soviet film-maker Aleksandr Medvedkin. Classe de lutte is the first film by the said groups and symbolises a definitive step from a “militant film about workers’ conditions to a militant workers’ film” (Benoliel).

The Besançon Medvedkin Group. Serie Nouvelle société Nº 5 (New Society Series No. 5), Film, 1968–1970

Monday, 7 May – 7pm

Session 3

Second session: Thursday, 17 May – 7pm

The Besançon Medvedkin Group
Serie Nouvelle société No. 5 - 7 (New Society Series No. 5–7), 1969–1970
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 30’
Rhodia 4 x 8, 1969
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 4’

The Sochaux Medvedkin Group
Sochaux, 11 juin 68 (Sochaux, 11 June ’68), 1970
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 19’

Jean-Pierre Thiébaud / The Besançon Medvedkin Group  
Le Traîneau-échelle (The Sled-Ladder), 1971
France, DA, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 8’

Michel Desrois / The Besançon Medvedkin Group
Lettre à mon ami Pol Cèbe (A Letter to My Friend Pol Cèbe), 1970
France, DA, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 17’

The alliance between workers and film-makers that cemented in the Medvedkin Groups resulted in an ensemble of films which broke out beyond the conventional parameters of the concept of militant cinema. In generically and ironically alluding to the “new society”, promised at the time by the French Prime Minister, the series Nouvelle Société comprises different conflicts in French factories. In Rhodia 4 x 8, a song by the French militant singer-songwriter Colette Magny accompanies sequences showing the repetitive and gruelling shifts worked on the assembly line.  Sochaux, 11 juin 68, meanwhile, recalls one of the most brutal episodes of government repression from May ’68, whereas Le Traîneau-échelle composes a unique visual poem, juxtaposing images of hope with others documenting the horrors of history. One continuous shot-sequence, filmed from the inside of a car, structures Lettre à mon ami Pol Cèbe, whereby the fixed view of the road runs in parallel with the dialogue of three passengers, members of the Medvedkin Groups, who reflect on the potential of militant cinema.

Sochaux Medvedkin Group. Week-end à Sochaux (Weekend in Sochaux), Film, 1971

Thursday, 10 May – 7pm

Session 4

Second session: Friday, 25 May – 7pm

The Sochaux Medvedkin Group
Les trois-quarts de la vie (Three-Quarters of a Lifetime), 1971
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 18’

The Sochaux Medvedkin Group
Week-end à Sochaux (Weekend in Shochaux), 1971
France, DA, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 53’

After 1969, the Sochaux Medvedkin Group would continue with the militant workers’ film project that had germinated in Besançon. In the words of Bruno Muel, the collective worked to “show the cultural prohibitions that must be defeated, that which we could call the usurpation of knowledge, to obtain the means to fight equally against those who think everyone should remain in their place”. Workers from the Peugeot factory in Sochaux, along with advocates of the previous group like Pol Cèbe and Muel, made the films Les trois-quarts de la vie and Week-end à Sochaux to expose the assembly-line working conditions and the engulfing existence of daily work. They refer to “three-quarters of a lifetime”, the title of the first medium-length film, with registers and resources that include an unprecedented, irreverent and satirical theatrical take as close to the popular commedia dell´arte as performance, and explored in greater depth in Week-end à Sochaux.

Bruno Muel. Avec le sang des autres (With the Blood of Others), Film, 1974

Friday, 11 May – 7pm

Session 5

Second session: Monday, 28 May – 7pm

Bruno Muel / Grupo Medvedkin de Sochaux
Avec le sang des autres (With the Blood of Others), 1974
France, DA, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 52’

Avec le sang des autres corroborates the break-up of the Medvedkin Groups’ collective experience. Conceived as a common initiative, it was ultimately Bruno Muel who filmed this damning documentary about workplace exploitation at the Peugeot factory in Sochaux, the largest factory in France. The humour and provocative side of the Medvedkin Group’s preceding work is notably lacking here; the assembly line and life’s reduction to a workforce, admin time and time-clock dehumanisation are recorded in an insufferable whole: “In the filming, the workers insisted on both the correct length of the shots — enough to see the progress of the assembly line and to get a feel for the unrelenting noise — and on the importance of filming the workers’ hands,” writes Muel.

Sylvain George. Un peu de feu que vole (sa geste en mille éclats) (A Little Fire that Flies [A Gesture in a Thousand Pieces]), Film, 2017

Monday, 14 May – 7pm

Session 6

Second session: Thursday, 24 May – 7pm

Second session presented by Sylvain George

Jean-Marie Straub
Europa 2005 / 27 octobre (cinétract) (Europe 2005/27 October [Film Tract]), 2006
France, DA, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 11’
Joachim Gatti, 2009
France, DA, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 1’30’’

Sylvain George
N'entre pas sans violence dans la nuit (Do Not Go Gentle in the Night), 2005
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 20’.
Ils nous tueront tous (They Will Kill Us All), 2009
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 10’.
Les Nuées (My Black Mama's Face), 2012
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 8’.
Joli mai (celui qui a tué moins de cent fois, qu'il me jette la première pierre) (Beautiful May [let he who has killed fewer than a hundred times cast the first stone]), 2017
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 10’.
Un peu de feu que vole (sa geste en mille éclats) (A Little Fire that Flies [A Gesture in a Thousand Pieces]), 2017
France, DA, b/w, original version with Spanish subtitles, 11 min.

The short films by Jean-Marie Straub and Sylvain George demonstrate the continuities and ruptures between the May ’68 cinétracts and the present. The Film-makers’ blatant use of the term is not only a way to designate a set format; it also denotes the affirmation of the historical and political links established with that legacy. Their counter-informative approach stems from the cinétracts made in 1968, in regard to their immediate adherence to contemporary events — the banlieues riots in Paris, political repression, the sans-papiers’ fight for their rights, the refugee camp in Calais and the Nuit debout movement — and their opposition to the dominant language in the media.