Agnes Varda with Stefano Knuchel at the Locarno Film Summer Academy Master Class
Stefano Knuchel, Head of the Locarno Film Summer Academy, invited me to sit in on his master class with the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival’s Pardo d’onore Swisscom winner French film director Agnès Varda.
Known as the Grandmother of the French New Wave (a term with which she takes issue, as I cite in my Conversation with Varda).Varda’s film credits include “La Pointe Courte” (1955), “Cleo from 5 to 7” (Cléo de 5 à 7, 1962), “The Creatures” (Les Créatures 1966), “Lions Love (…and Lies)” (1969), “Documenteur” (1981),”Vagabond“(Sans toit ni loi, 1985), “The Gleaners and I” (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, 2000) and ” The Beaches of Agnès” (Les Plages d’Agnès, 2008).
Speaking to the group of international students, Varda shared her passion for cinema, photography, and installation work, with humor and honesty. Here are some highlights from Varda’s talk.
I asked Varda about finding inspiration and her writing process
I don’t search for ideas; I find them. They come to me or I have none. I would not sit at a table and think now I have to find ideas. I wait until something disturbs me enough, like a relationship I heard about, and then it becomes so important I have to write the screenplay.
I never wrote with someone else or directed together. I wouldn’t like that. I never worked with (her late husband, director Jacques) Demy. We would show screenplays to each other when we were finished.
When you are a filmmaker, you are a filmmaker all the time. Your mind is recording impressions, moods. You are fed with that. Inspiration is getting connections with the surprises that you see in life. Suddenly it enters in your world and it remains; you have to let it go and work on it. It’s contradictory.
Question from Student: How did you manage to navigate a male-dominated film world?
First, stop saying it’s a male world. It’s true, but it helps not to repeat it. When I started in film, I did a new language of cinema, not as a woman, but as a filmmaker. It is still a male world, as long women are not making the same salary as men.
We have to capture in film what we don’t know about.
If you don’t have a point-of-view it’s not worth starting to make a film.
Whatever we do in film is searching. If you meet somebody, you establish yourself, who you want to meet, what kind of relationship it is. Our whole life is made up of back and forth, decisions, options — and then they don’t fit.
When one is filming we should be fragile; listen to that something in ourselves. The act of filming for me is so vivid, it includes what you had in mind, and includes what is happening around you at that moment — how you felt, if you have headache, and so on. A film builds itself with what you don’t know.
Life interferes. You have friends. Kids. No kids. Then there is a leak on the wall. Everything interferes. It’s how you build the life with others.
Sometimes I go by myself to do location scouting. When I go by myself, something speaks to me in a place I’ve chosen and I know maybe we should take advantage of that. We have to be working with chance. ‘Chance’ is my assistant director.
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