Guest Blogger: Peter Mauss
Full of energy, humor, and insights, Agnes Varda nearing 90 years young, spoke animatedly with Olivier Renaud-Clement at the Alliance Francaise on Tuesday, February 28th about her films, still photography, influences and working methods. When asked by a reverent attendee “What is the most important quality for an artist to cultivate?” Ms. Varda declared emphatically CURIOSITY. “We must be curious about life, people, art, all of it… We all learn from each other; we are influenced, affected by what we see and hear – it is not copying, it is evolving and growing.”
Varda has always been drawn to exploring neglected subjects, shunned categories, situations or people that are put away, those relegated to the shadows of our awareness.
In the revealing documentary, “The Widows of Noirmoutier,” Varda interviewed a variety of women who had lost their husbands – some decades ago, others very recently. She loves to hear real people tell their stories and share their feelings.
In this film, for shots that had a larger scope or group she used a camera crew for filming. When interviewing the women individually, Varda worked with a small camera. She prefers this method for the closeness it encourages: she strives for a real connection with her subjects. The “gift” of intimate moments is when her subjects confide in her on camera, because of her love and trust.
Another project, “Patatutopia” explores the gleaners in the French countryside who comb the potato fields after the harvest for reject potatoes. The farmers describe how the markets will only purchase 2inch – 4 inch potatoes, all others go to waste, being plowed under. The gleaners, who harvest many kilos of the cast off crop, explain how people who are hungry don’t know that this food is there for the taking.
Varda explains how she looked at the potatoes so much that she began to see their real beauty. She started shooting the potatoes as they aged – the skin drying, shriveling, new roots sprouting, even the rotting became photogenic to her. Varda has this great capacity to “re-invent” reality through seeing: to look hard at something familiar and appreciate it from a different angle, with a better attitude.
Varda shot a film about squatters – interviewing many people who were homeless or in precarious situations. For an installation, she put together objects that signified their dire needs: a bed, a heating stove, a microwave, and custom-built in each object was a video screen with footage of different interviews she had with her subjects.
Varda described the exhaustive preparation needed for any of her projects. She insists that a filmmaker must be ready to use all the surprises that occur when shooting… the input from the camera man, the actors, the weather, the location… “be modest, receptive and chance will add value to the project”.
Agnes Varda: Life as Art
fi:af french institute alliance francaise