Shoah Film Collection -  Interview Project

Bisson, Christophe

Christophe Bisson
French filmmaker


His film included in Shoah Film Collection
Sarah (K), 2014, 14:00

Interview: 10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background
I studied Philosophy at Sorbonne University in the early 90s. I wrote my master on Kafka. Then I dedicated myself to painting for about 10 years. I had exhibitions in France and Europe. I made my first film in 2007 with the American filmmaker Maryann de leo : White horse. It was shown first at the 2008 Berlinale. Then it was screened on HBO USA in April 2009. Then I made myself about 10 films between Arts and documentary. My works are shown in festivals such Cnéma du reel, Paris, and FID, Marseille.

2. When, how and why started you filming?
Sarah(k.) is about the French philosopher Sarah Kofman who was one of my Professors at Sorbonne University. I met her one year before she committed suicide. 20 years after, I met Philippe Boutibonnes, biologist, writer and artist, who knew her very well and who had a series of drawing she made. Then I had the idea to make a film to pay tribute to her and, at the same time, to give a testimony of the way she dealt with the Shoah during her life. Her obsessive drawings are a true expression of her personal anguish linked to what happened to her and her family during WWII.

3. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
My films are based on people I meet in my life. I am interested in the way some people reconstruct themselves after a personal destruction. The question is how question life in consideration of death. I am very close to the ancient tragic ideal : how to think life and death together.
I explore people intimacy in a very slow process based on listening. I spend a lot of time with my characters before filming. I film when they are ready to speak. Usually, I am alone with them.

4. What was the reason to start your film included in Shoah Film Collection. Tell me the story behind your film? Why did you choose the given form of representation? Is your film included in Shoah Film Collection the first one dealing with the Holocaust?
As a painter I tried to approach in a very indirect way the question of representation concerning Shoah. I was obsessed by this central question to be frank. I had to answer it to keep going. For me it was impossible to avoid the impossibility to represent Shoah. As a painter born in the second half of XXth century I had to answer. For me all the images have the mark, positive or negative, of Auschwitz: they are all contaminated by the absence of representation of the victims. The lake of images is inside all the images. We recognize it or not but we can’t avoid it. I was very influenced by Adorno at that time. “Writing a poem after Auschwitz is obscene.” All the thinkers, all the artists, everybody are confronted to this absolute limit. Moreover, I think we can’t give a right representation of Shoah. What happened exceeds all images. It is impossible to say or show at the same time we have to say and show. In my work I insist on the negative presence (in a photographic meaning) of Shoah. In other words I put a focus on the impossibility to give images of it.
Sarah(k.) is my first attempt in films to approach this very difficult and delicate question of representation. I did it through the story and the drawing of a “hidden Jewish child” told by a friend of her. It is a very indirect and modest way but the only one that suits me.

5. What kind of meaning has the Holocaust to you personally? Are your family or friends affected or did the topic come by chance?
Since my grand-parents are from Drancy, one of the key deportation centres in France, the Holocaust was always present as a ghost name. Even if we did not speak about it, it was there, floating indistinctively in the background. As a kid, I did not have a clear representation but I knew vaguely that something out of scale happened and my grand-parents saw it. But I remember the shock I had when I saw for the first time a book on Shoah at a friend’s place. I was literally petrified by the photos. It was a very deep and intense shock in my soul and my body. These terrible images of body piles and uncountable survivors on the edge of death haunted me for years after. When I was a young adult I started to read all the Shoah literature.
For me there is clearly a time before the Holocaust and a time after. It is a deep and absolute cut in the History line.

6. Besides the historical relevance related to the persecuted Jews and other people, the Holocaust has a universal relevance. Why is the Holocaust affecting all humans anywhere?
It is a radical metaphysical question. Holocaust has a universal meaning of course. It has changed, in an almost Absolut way, humanity. It has left a permanent mark. I think, it is not because the worst has already happened that it will not happen again.

7. Now, nearly 70 years after World War II, unfortunately the last Holocaust survivors will be dying soon, and no authentic witness is left to transfer the memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is about to be marginalized and dehumanized to any other historical incident, whereby it is measured by its final result and less as an escalating process, countless human individuals were undergoing. What do you think might be ways to re-humanize, touch people again emotionally and keep vivid the memory this way?
It is important to bet on Education and Reason against Barbary and Obscurantism even if History showed us that educated people, educated country, did the worst. I believe in the power of Enlightenments. In my point of view, there is no better collective ideal. As an individual, I feel closer to Dostoyevsky and Freud who thought that evil is part of our nature and, consequently, it will be always a part of our history. We have to deal with evil; we cannot never get rid of it. That is why we need a sense of Tragedy taking in account our dark side.
My answer is maybe to general and the risk is to dissolve the Holocaust in a too global moral point of view. It is first an historical event. To keep the memory of it is an essential stake. The best way is may be to find a way to feel concerned about it even if it happened 70 years ago. That is why I feel legitimate to make films and paintings. Feeling it is still alive maybe some other people will feel the same.

8. As a phenomenon, the Holocaust is blasting human imagination, which makes it nearly impossible for people to identify themselves with. What needs to be done, that people may find ways for self-identifying? What can do art for it?
Even if Holocaust blasting imagination and thought frames, Art can at least give the direction, can at least inscribe its position in collective imagination. Obviously the metabolism process has not finished yet. We still have to think and imagine how to represent Holocaust knowing it is not possible. As Samuel Beckett wrote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

9. After the Holocaust and World War II, the traditional (static) visual art media were failing in transferring the memory of the Holocaust, while literature, theatre, music and film were much more successful. On the other hand, due to the new technologies, the boundaries between the “arts” dissolve nowadays and the doors are open to a new interdisciplinary approach. What are the chances for this new (interdisciplinary) perception based on socializing concepts for keeping vivid the memory of the Holocaust? In which way have they to influence the manifestations of Shoah Film Collection via the interventions like a symposium, artists meetings, workshops, exhibitions, performances, screenings, artists talks, discussions etc.
With the expansion of all kind of social networks on internet gathering people who think the same things without any kind of contradictions, obscurantism, soft relativism and especially revisionism are growing up dramatically. As if anyone could give his own opinion on the existence or non-existence of gas chambers. I think the common feeling we belong to the same History is collapsing little by little. Personals or small group myths construction replace more and more common History. That is why interdisciplinary thoughts are essential to counterstrike that move ant to reinforce the idea of historical truth.

10. What are your future artistic plans? Do you plan to work on new projects dealing with the Holocaust or related topics like “collective trauma caused by totalitarianism”?
I have a film project with Philippe Boutibonnes, character of Sarah(k.). 10 years ago when he was told that he had a cancer, he decided to go to Auschwitz. Why? Because he wanted to be confronted to a bigger evil than his, he said. I want to make a long intimate filmed interview on that strange but very interesting idea.

Can works of yours viewed online besides on the Shoah Film Collection?
List some links & resources
White horse, 2007, 17′ (Festival de Berlin 2008, Viennale 2008, Cinéma du Réel 2008).

Road movie, 2011, 31′ (FID Marseille 2011 )
password: bisson

Liquidation, 2013, 20′ (Cinéma du Réel Paris 2013, Traverse vidéo Toulouse 2014),
password: louvre

AU MONDE, 2013, 40′ ( FID Marseille 2013)
password: bisson

Sarah(k.), 2014, 14′, (FID Marseille 2014),

password: inabsentia