Improvisation, an Ethical Necessity
Three years after the worldwide success of his documentary Être et avoir (2002), Nicolas Philibert presented a retrospective at l’Alternativa 2005 in conjunction with the French Institute. Several years later, we screened his first film, La Ville Louvre (1990), as part of our 20th anniversary programme.
This year he is back to give a masterclass on his creative process the day before we screen his latest film, Sur l'Adamant.
‘I write books to find out what is inside,’ writer Julien Green once said. I follow very much the same approach myself. The deeper in I get, the stronger I feel the urge to forge ahead with my eyes closed, as if improvisation were an ethical necessity. I could never straitjacket my films into a fixed programme or rigid way of working or claim that they had a certain meaning before I had even got going! In any case, the appearance of a camera always spurs fate to give the cards a good shuffle. Making a documentary means constant brush-ins with chance and the utterly unpredictable. And the most beautiful scenes are almost always those that pop up by surprise, without thinking. The ones that somehow come out from between the cracks. If I knew beforehand how a film was going to turn out, I wouldn’t even bother starting. For me, the key is to have a promising starting point, an inkling that something might blossom. The element of uncertainty is a powerful force that keeps me constantly alert. A film is the result of all the questions we ask ourselves at any given moment without ever knowing how they might mesh with all the other questions posed by other people.Nicolas Philibert
Nicolas Philibert (Nancy, France, 1951) studied philosophy before making a foray into filmmaking by working as an assistant to directors such as René Allio and Alain Tanner.
In 1978 he codirected La Voix de son maître with Gérard Mordillat, and between 1985 and 1987 he shot several TV documentaries on mountaineering and adventure sports. His debut feature documentary, La Ville Louvre (1990), was followed in quick succession by Le Pays des sourds (1992), Un animal, des animaux (1995), La Moindre des choses (1996), filmed in La Borde psychiatric clinic, and the experimental essay film Qui sait ? (1998), made with students at the Théâtre national de Strasbourg. Être et avoir (2002) won him worldwide acclaim, including the Louis Delluc Prize and a César nomination for Best Film. He later directed Nénette (2010), La Maison de la radio (2013) and De chaque instant (2018). Sur l'Adamant won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2023.