Hiroshima before the BombHiroshima after the BombHiroshima, postwar

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When you went into the French national archives, did you already know the focus of your film would be these women in Eût-Elle Été Criminelle…?

I never went in the French national archives! I usually pick up archival footage from existing films, on the Internet, in books, etc.  For Even if she had been a criminal…I picked the footage from documentaries about WWII in France. I didn't do any special research, but every time I saw footages about it, I picked them up.

In selecting archival material for 200,000 no Borei, then, did you have an idea what you were looking for?

Yes, this project was really written before I went to Hiroshima to find the archive. But the fact is, I didn't know if so much archival material existed, or if it would be available, and if I would be able to do the movie as I wrote it, simply because I didn't know the city, the building [Genbaku Dome], or the area around it when I wrote the project. But even if I wouldn't have been able to do the movie I wrote, I would have done another movie.

Are the archives of the world opening their doors to you? Or do you still have to knock hard?

It is a complicated question to have access to archives. First, there is the question of money. Secondly, there is the question of the goals of the archives. In fact most of the archives are just there to make money. Private archives such as Getty, or TV archives, are obviously only a commercial industry. So you have to pay, whatever your project is. But even some public archives have this kind of approach. They don't care about memory, history and so on.

Fortunately, some archives were created to be a place of memory, as in Hiroshima, where I found archivists who really knew the importance of the remembering of history. They helped me a lot. But even there it was not so easy. For example, the Peace Museum (the most important institution for the remembering of the destruction of the city) didn't want to give me their pictures. They pretended that those pictures are "art pieces," and that they are not sure about what I will do with them. They want to keep their archives as their own properties. To question memory is always a political act. And political acts can always seem dangerous.

It's easier for me to work with rights-free archives, as in Even if she had been a criminal…, but for some projects I have to take care about the rights. And then it is complicated. Money is not enough. You need to convince the archives owner of the honesty of your project.

Which doors are you knocking on now?

German archives. But as the subject of my next project is quite controversial, it is complicated, even with money, to have access to some footage. I'm working on a piece about the RAF, the German red army, a revolutionary guerrilla group that did several bombings during the '70s. And some of them were, before the creation of the group, journalists, filmmakers, artists, writers…

Are you collaborating with choreographers?

Sometimes. I really like that. The time spent to work onstage is so particular; technically it's complicated for me, because I don't know much about projectors, synchronization, video wires, etc.

Your work now seems to be about the whole of humanity. Can you pinpoint anything that might have helped you think more "universally"?

In fact I never tried to make a humanity portrait or whatever. But as I've worked with a large body of images, that could give this idea of a portrait.

I usually don't use languages. That choice is important. The images I've used are factual by themselves, because they are documentary images; they represent a part of the real world at a certain moment. But usually those kinds of "realistic" pictures need explanations to be read, even if it is only "when, where, who," etc. We are not used to looking at pictures without a translation in words. (I don't speak about artistic pictures that are created to be read without language.) But to show those images without language allows me (as other creators that use this kind of process) to make them more open, as they no more stick to factuality. For example, an image of a shaved woman in France after the war is no longer just an image of a shaved woman in France, it is a symbol of suffering, a symbol of revenge.

Aby Warburg, an art historian during the '20s, made an atlas with pictures, paintings and press photographs. He tried to make a visual history of the images by using the images themselves without commentary. The name of this atlas was Mnemosyne Atlas, but in fact he defined it as a "ghost story for adults."

I like this idea of images as spectres that haunt our imaginations. For that, you only need to forget the language that hides the ghosts in the pictures.

Jean-Gabriel requests that you check out the better-quality versions of Eût-Elle Été Criminelle…and 200,000 no Borei on his own site, if you have time to wait: