In The Box: Cinétracts '68

Dave Filipi, Director, Film/Video

Fri, Nov 02, 2018

In The Box November 1-30, 2018
Cinétracts ’68 (1968)

Prenez une camera et descendez dans la rue—grab a camera and take to the streets—was a revolutionary cry attributed to the Situationists, a radical organization of artists and intellectuals, during the student and worker demonstrations and widespread upheaval of May 1968 in Paris.

As a way of contributing more directly to the swelling protests, a group of filmmakers including Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Jackie Raynal, among others, collectively agreed to make a series of on-the-fly and highly prescribed short films that could be shot and edited in one day, and then distributed to the likeminded through private distribution channels. In a conversation I had with Raynal at a film festival this summer, she confirmed that a film could theoretically be made by one person start-to-finish, but that collaborations did occur, and she had edited so many of the Cinétracts that she couldn’t remember exactly on which ones she had worked.

Though they are comprised of still images, the films possess an acute sense of urgency. We see the protestors and the police. Barricades. Tear gas. Handwritten signs. Beaten bodies lying in the street. Street graffiti. Campus buildings occupied by students. Newspaper headlines. Photographs of French politicians. A sense of the day-to-day strife quickly accumulates as one watches more and more of these bursts of agitprop. Now, 50 years later, they read alternatively as fascinating time capsules and parts of the continuum of people fighting the power that began well before 1968 and which endures to this day.

It’s fascinating to compare these films and those times to what is now possible, with nearly everyone carrying a camera at all times and able to share to every corner of the world in seconds. It’s hard to imagine anyone at the time denying the veracity of the images captured in the Cinétracts. Relatively few people saw the films, but those who did most likely viewed them as a communal experience, where a shared sense of responsibility would have been quite evident. Today, we are made witness to so many instances of violence and injustice on a daily basis through amateur newsgathering and social media, but we have these experiences individually and privately. A shared video on Twitter is not the same as a shared experience in a theater or college classroom. Today, any sense of a call to action is likely too fleeting and too easily dispersed among the millions of others who we hope will do what needs to be done.

The Cinétracts were to follow a detailed manifesto. Each film was to present still images, be silent, and use text prominently and creatively. Here is an excerpt of the project’s guiding principles:

What is a Cinétract?
A 16mm, 100-foot, silent reel, lasting 2 minutes and 44 sec-onds at 24 frames/second, on a political, social or similar theme, intended to provoke discussion and action.

Cinétracts are designed to express our beliefs and our reactions.

But why?
To: protest – propose – shock – inform – question – affirm – convince – reflect –
yell – mock – denounce – educate.

By what means?
- A wall, a camera, a lamp to light wall.
- Archival documents, photographs, newspapers, drawings, posters, books, etc.
- Marker, Sellotape, glue, measuring-tape, stop-watch.
- Ideas.

…Break basic idea down into component images, according to material available. Remember not to be satisfied with first attempt. Forego ambitious effects. Distill text (beautiful, highly legible title-cards, as in silent movies) down to essentials. Make as clear and concise and striking as possible. (51:12 mins., 16mm transferred to video)