The latest screening under the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club banner was a mix of travelogue and archive documentary film going back to 1962. Introduced by Rachel Findlay Journal du France (2012) follows photographer and film maker Raymond Depardon as he drives his camper van across France recording various building’s and scenery of interest using a very unwieldy large format camera to take stills for a 2013 photography exhibition. At the same time his wife and sound recordist Claudine Nougaret sorts out offcuts and outtakes from Depardon’s vast documentary archive and these snippets of film are juxtaposed with his tour of France to mark the 72 year olds fifty year career as a director of mainly observational documentaries along with his celebrated work as a stills photographer.
Rachel introduction gave a brief background into Depardon busy working life. From the age of 12 Depardon started taking pictures on his family farm. He became an apprentice photographer before moving to Paris from his home in Villefranche-sur-Saone and becoming a photojournalist in the early 1960’s travelling to various conflict zones including Algeria, Vietnam, Biafra and Chad. In 1966 he co-founded the French photojournalism agency Gamma and became its director in 1973. A year after receiving a Pulitzer Prize in 1977 he left Gamma to become a Magnum associate and then a full member in 1979. Depardon is also responsible for directing a whole host of award winning documentary’s, gaining a lifetime achievement award at the Krakow Film Festival in 2000.
As well as seeing some engrossing extracts from his work in the afore mentioned conflict zones we get to see some of Frances national institutions along with international reportage from such places as Venezuela, Haiti, the West Bank and the Prague ‘uprising’ in 1969 as well as a glimpse into Frances colonial past. Via his probing camera we also get to meet Giscard d’Estaing, the Central African Republic despot Jean-Bedel Bokassa and Nelson Mandela. Other than the rather savage sequence about the death of a mercenary the most interesting and harrowing segment was briefly witnessing the three-year ordeal of Francoise Claustre who had been held hostage by rebels in Chad. This side of his work, as I have said, is juxtaposed with Depardon’s journey around the French countryside taking photos of old shops, buildings and people that interest him.
Both parts of this documentary complement each other although we don’t get to see the results of his ‘still’ work very often. Journal de France is not just a celebration of photographer’s body of work but a political record of our time. If his documentary’s prove one thing, then its that things don’t change, men are still running around in all corners of the globe with guns either trying to restrict or gain freedom - Its doubtful if this will ever change! What surprised me about this rather genial man was that he, unlike Donald McCullin or Tim Herrington, did not seem affected by his time spent in war zones, or at least he did not show it. An intriguing and at times entertaining evening, followed by an interesting and in-depth discussion.