What are we about ?
In the beginning
In 1978, when Mozambique became independent, the government asked the French Embassy to make films about the changes that were taking place in the country. Instead of sending over filmmakers, Jean Rouch suggested the Mozambicans themselves should film the events in order to show their own realities. Together with Jacques d’Arthuys, cultural attaché at the French Embassy, they formed a workshop to train people in documentary filmmaking, using a teaching methodology that is still used today: learning by doing. After this first experience, a workshop is set up in Paris in 1980 with people from different countries. This is the beginning of the Ateliers Varan. This initial experience in Paris was improved and developed ; it was then exported to other countries around the world.
The Varan project is part of a series of experiments across the world to diversify forms of expression and communication through images. Varan is not a school in the classic and academic sense: the working methods strongly encourage the principle of teaching through practice. For each student, everything revolves around the making of « full scale » films. But it doesn’t deal with production as such, in so far as the apprentice filmmakers in training have a right to make mistakes.
The Ateliers Varan is a non profit-making association and a Non-Governmental Organisation. It is a member of CILECT (the association of the world’s film and television schools).
Varan’s calling was originally to enable young directors in developing countries to learn how to read and write with images and sounds. It meant giving them the opportunity to make films with a restricted budget, movies that would escape the invasion of mainstream cultural standards. They could then collect archives on popular or ethnic memories.
Certain choices and general principles are submitted to the trainees
Every film must invent its own system of expression, at times forgetting about the usual rules and conventions. Documentary cinema cannot graft a predefined mechanism onto the world around us. This mechanism has to be thought up, tested and adjusted. At Varan, no recipes can be given for directing or editing a film: there are none. We seek to harmonise the vision and judgement around some strong ideals: the interest, the sincerity and respect for the people who are being filmed and the integrity of the filmmaker’s approach which will be honed and reinforced by the editing.
All documentary film shoots meet with the unexpected: real life exceeds our preconceptions, the characters don’t allow themselves to be reduced to archetypes. The film has to be continuously adjusted to this complexity and the filmmaking experience must modify and enrich our way of looking at things.
It isn’t enough to just describe reality, it must be questioned. There is no such thing as a neutral way of looking at things in the documentary, the films open a window on the world and are also irrevocably marked by it. But the documentary film doesn’t propose a system of knowledge, it opens up a space for thought: rather than offering answers, the films bring up a series of questions.
However serious the observation, the need for a dramatic dimension cannot be excluded: the film may measure out the mysteries, pace the moments of suspense, the surprises and turnabouts. It can let emotion take over.
Reality does not simply get recorded onto magnetic tapes, it has to be « dramatised ». Dramatise is not a synonym for manipulation, but it has to be accepted that all documentary films establish a point of view, build a representation, interpret reality, construct a troop of characters.
The Ateliers Varan are an association with about 40 members. All of them are film professionals : some are directors, chief editors, others are producers, sound engineers, etc... They organize the workshops in France and all over the world in order to pass on their experiences and their film practices to the trainees filmmakers :
Emmanuelle BaudeChief editor, Anne BaudryChief editor, Khadicha BarihaChief editor, Emanuelle BidouDirector, Jacques BidouProducer, Simone BittonDirector, Catherine BizernProgrammer, Jean-Louis Comolli, Richard CopansProductor, Jean-Noël Cristiani, Sylvaine DampierreDirector, Yves De Peretti, Daniel DeshaysSound creator, Léonardo Di Constanzo, Alice Diop, Jean-Pierre Duret, Dominique Faysse, Sylvie GadmerDirector, Patrick Genet, David Gheron Tretiakoff, Raphaël Girardot, Frédéric Goldbronn, Claude Guisard, Tiago HespanhaDirector, Daniele Incalcaterra, Elisabeth Kapnist, Adriana Komives, Mariana Otero, Dominique Pâris, Renaud Personnaz, Catherine Rascon, Aurélie Ricard, Emmanuel Roy, Ina Seghezzi, Claire Simon, Anne Toussaint, Marie-Claude Treilhou, André Van In, Catalina Villar, Marie Bonnel , Chantal Roussel (Treasurer).
They contributed to the creation and to the life of the Ateliers Varan : Jean Rouch, Jacques d'Arthuys, Hubert Astier, Pierre Baudry, Jean-Pierre Beauviala, Séverin Blanchet, Vincent Blanchet, Jean Lefaux, Claudio Martinez, Philippe Costantini, Anca Hirte, Perle Mohl, Jean-Loïc Portron
In Paris, the permanent team is formed with 4 people :
Manon Blanfumet, administration manager, Frédéric Cueff, technical manager, Fanny Chapuis, trainings supervisor and Chloé Huitric, development and communication supervisor.