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Meet the artists after the film on 25/05
As graduates from the School of Arts – KASK in Ghent, Olivia Rochette and Gerard-Jan Claes, distinguished themselves with their first documentary films Because We Are Visual (2010) and Rain (2012), the latter commissioned by dance company Rosas. They are also the co-founders of Zéro de conduite, a film production and distribution platform, and Sabzian, a collection of online reflections on cinema. Their latest film Grands travaux is situated at the Institute Anneessens-Funck, a Dutch-speaking vocational school in the centre of Brussels where young students – sometimes with haste – have come to learn an occupation. Grands travaux documents and stages that which gives shape to their lives: the practical assignments and classes at school, football, the ups and downs of their love lives, as well as the ongoing search for housing and employment. Depicting the daily life within the school walls, Grands travaux also aims at sketching an image of Brussels today, placing its youngsters at the very centre.
A film by
Olivia Rochette & Gerard-Jan Claes
Mustafa Abbas, Mohamud Mohamed Abdi, Yunus Emre Ak, Ahmadou Oury Barry, Mamadou Diallo, Daniel Mampaxi Kiaku, Reza Gharibzadeh, Hamza Iqbal, Ilhan Izci, Achmed Xussein
Ingrid Simon, Sabrina Calmels
Additional sound recording
Lennert De Taeye, Nina de Vroome
Savage Film/Bart Van Langendonck
Zéro de conduite, Beursschouwburg (Brussels)
Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds (VAF), Le Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie, Creative Europe Programme of The European Union, de Belgische Tax Shelter voor filmfinanciering
In association with
Eyeworks (Belgium), Scio Productions, VRT / Canvas
About Grands travaux
Do we truly live in a wireless world today? Constantly connected but never joined? Whoever has an eye for it, detects wires everywhere. Or can at least suspect their presence. Expertly concealed in floors and ceilings or laid onto the ocean floor while endless strings of zeros and ones rage through them, they carry our most ardent desires and coldest data. According to David Simon, co-scriptwriter of the American series The Wire, their existence is hidden from view by professionals whose work “becomes a little more dehumanised every day”.
Season after season, this television series shows how street crooks, policemen, drug dealers, journalists, port workers, teachers, students ... each on their own terrain in downtown Baltimore, are crushed by institutional machinations. Again and again, expertise and individual qualities do not receive the appreciation they deserve, partly because the transfer of knowledge and skills is constantly stuck in a wantonly maintained chaos through corruption, indifference, and underfunding. This undervaluation is systemic: “One of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is the diminishment of labour”, Simon points out at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2013. “It would want labour to be diminished because labour’s a cost. And if labour is diminished, in human terms it means human beings are worth less.”
Against that chronic destructiveness, The Wire places individuals who seek their way in an unravelled life. In grafting fiction onto reality, The Wire is benefitting from a partly documentary strategy. The characters are not symbols, but in the specificity of their use of language and gestures, macrostructures shine through. To watch and listen to them is to see the world in full development.
Baltimore is not Brussels, and the youth from the fictional series The Wire do not follow lessons at the Anneessens-Funck vocational school in the documentary film Grands travaux. Yet both are resolutely committed to the question of how people are in the world today, in relation to employment, education, and future prospects. Whereas The Wire connects its characters’ way of life within a widespread socio-economic analysis (It’s All Connected is the title of a documentary on the series), Grands travaux meticulously observes the microcosm of Anneessens-Funck. The filmed moments, movements, and words belong to students Ahmadou Barry, Mamadou Diallo, Achmed Xussein, and Mohamed Abdi. They’re learning a trade and talking about everyday worries. Documentary filmmakers Gerard-Jan Claes and Olivia Rochette let them stage these proceedings in front of the camera, which allows the boys to briefly inhabit the cinematic space, in a game with colours, sounds, and shapes.
In their wooden cubicles at school, the boys learn to connect electrical wires. Nimble-fingered, they strip cables while discussing the compositions of the FC Barcelona and Real Madrid football teams. Work and pleasure overlap one another, with the boys’ glances accentuated by the sequence of shot and reverse shot – being the axis around which the conversation revolves. Their eyes dart back and forth between their hands and their discussion partner. This gaze shifts the attention, of the viewer as well. To watch is to invest and to assess the value of the constructed forms.
Documentary cinema singles out these forms from actuality and discovers motifs in its encounter with reality. Grands travaux will never definitively tie together the loose wires from the opening scene, but they do help build a documentary image. When the students install a security camera, a purple wall becomes the background for a game with dangling wires, shadows, and hands that enter the picture and leave again. Via a white earpiece, Barry chats on the phone with a girl while his classmates banter and set about working with wires and tape. Just like the viewer, they hear only what resounds within the school walls. Grands travaux constantly embraces the tension between what is in the picture and what is happening elsewhere. By way of YouTube videos screened during classroom presentations and images of a videophone and the security camera – recalling the audiovisual essay Because We Are Visual, Claes and Rochette’s graduation film – other sorts of spaces sneak into the film. These images, with their specific aesthetic, create a world-in-the-world that deviates from the other, rather classic medium-shots. However, the virtual outside world and the world inside the school are not opposing realities. Both belong to the boys. It is their reality, structured through a film.
Grands travaux questions the relationship between the world and the world-in-the-world that is cinema. In the early 1990s, French cinephile and critic Serge Daney described the connection between cinema and the immediate world through the metaphor of a thread that ran from his apartment in Paris to the cinema where he went to see films. He regretted that the young people who at that time lived in the Paris’ suburbs had to miss this thread because there was a lack of imagination, resulting in their world not landing on cinema screens. And this while many of the cinemas in Paris had already disappeared. Shortly before his death in 1992, Daney said, “I would really like to see that film [about contemporary youth from the Paris’ suburbs] and I would like people to regard it as an almost indispensable work. (...) We have to make that film, because we have never seen it.” Daney realised that this would be no easy task, because “who would play the leading role and with what would the dialogues be fed?”
With Grands travaux, Gerard-Jan Claes and Olivia Rochette propose their answer to these questions. Not by making a film about people like Barry, Mamadou, Ahmed, or Abdi, but by working with these guys on a game of forms, on a film. Their dialogues are about school, work, girls, and football. And the broken thread and lack of imagination that Daney so regretted? Finding images and sounds that relate to the current time demands labour. Labour that gently unhinges human debasement from its existing fabric.Back to top
Documentary filmmakers Olivia Rochette (b. 1987) and Gerard-Jan Claes (b. 1987) graduated in 2010 from the KASK – School of Arts in Ghent with Because We Are Visual. This documentary allows the viewer to discover the world of public video journals. It was shown at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, and Videoex, and was exhibited in museums such as S.M.A.K. and MAC’s. Since 2009, the duo has worked for Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her dance company Rosas. In 2012, Rochette and Claes made Rain, a full-length documentary about the transmission of De Keersmaeker’s contemporary choreography to the classically-trained ballet dancers of the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris. The film premiered at Film Fest Ghent and was also shown at Cinéma du Réel at Centre Pompidou, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Los Angeles Film Festival, etc. In 2013, the pair founded the production and distribution platform Zéro de conduite together with documentary filmmaker Elias Grootaers. The same year, they also established Sabzian, a collection of online reflections on cinema and an agenda listing cinephile events in Belgium and surroundings. Their newest film, Grands travaux, premieres this year at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in the Beursschouwburg, where Claes and Rochette have been associated artists since 2013.Back to top