Journalist and reporter Caroline Gillet makes radio and audiovisual documentaries. She has been hosting Foule continentale (Continental Crowd) on France Inter since 2018, where she highlights the treasure of enthusiastic, subversive, and committed young people.
You’ve been showcasing young people and their view of the world since the start of your career as a reporter. Where does this desire to give them a voice in your reporting come from?
When I started out in radio, I felt that we were hearing very few people my age expressing themselves. I produced my first radio documentaries with Aurélie Charon, who I met during my journalism studies. We first looked at young veterans returning from Iraq talking to older veterans from Vietnam in the United States. The Arab Spring began after this series and we pitched the idea of interviewing young Algerian people to France Inter. We wanted to understand their historical heritage, their hopes, and put images to a reality that was in the news but that wasn’t being addressed directly. It was a huge luxury to have long radio segments to explore complex stories. These young people were full of demands and were driving an invigorating social project, so we decided to pursue this series on young people all over the world.
You had the opportunity to travel around the world with your parents during your own childhood. Are these travels abroad still a source of enrichment for your work today?
It was a great opportunity. I was seven when we went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then to Indonesia and Bangladesh. Then I spent six years at boarding schools in England. Finding myself thrown into unknown towns with my family, and often between the sheltered world of expatriates and the locals’ world, which I couldn’t access, made me ask a lot of questions. I often felt lucky to be having outstanding experiences while also feeling that they were escaping me. The desire to record them so as to remember them, to learn, and to change was born from this. I asked for tape-recorders for Christmas and I started recording sounds. I think that I still have a curiosity, a desire to meet people, to make new connections from these years. As well as a desire to learn how to be well everywhere, while staying sincere. At 25 years old, I returned to Bangladesh to produce reports and to try to better understand these places I’d come through.
You’ve been producing and presenting Foule continentale on France Inter since 2018, a show dedicated to the young people of Europe. What do you make of its development over the years?
The show began in 2018 during the European elections. When I was entrusted with this project, I wondered how to approach these topics in an interesting way while avoiding the pitfalls of being either too pro-Europe or too eurosceptic. Moreover, it’s still hard to talk about the European institutions, which can seem so distant. So there’s a democratic challenge in demystifying them and bringing them closer to us. I told myself that, on the one hand, we’d have to design a show of profiles for which Europe would be the frame, the context, but not the subject, and simultaneously explain its institutions once a month without being afraid of them. The show thus has the following principles: first of all, to tell powerful and unique stories about young people on the continent. Then to highlight the connection between their own private lives and politics on different levels, accompanying the listener by putting myself on stage in a personal and offbeat way. And lastly, once a month, to try to “break in” to the places of European power with colleagues to show how they work (and have a bit of fun too).
In the middle of the health crisis, what were the challenges you faced to transform the programme? How do you foresee the future and the next episodes?
We were all very rattled by what was happening to us during the first lockdown, we needed to talk to ourselves about it, and I was happy to hear from young people I’d met abroad these last few years. They told me about their daily life in lockdown. It’s important to me to maintain a connection with them: I like telling life stories — finding out how they unfold over the long-term — while remaining faithful to these people who trust us. Thanks to WhatsApp voice messages, I found myself able to reproduce their reality remotely. These recordings were invaluable; they can be intimate and create an incredible closeness. When the show got going again, we decided to integrate some of these sounds into the stories. Every person chooses what they want to share with us of their daily life. As a journalist, I think it’s preferable to be able to go to a place to grasp a situation and reproduce it, but with travel so complicated nowadays, these memos provide something very valuable.
In Radio Live, the continuation of your on-stage radio series, a community of committed young people expresses itself in a show based on dialogue and transmission. How do you conceptualise this mix of genres including radio, theatre, and video creation? What images do you still have of the African shoot two years ago?
We created Radio Live in 2013 with Aurélie Charon to establish a direct link with our listeners and to get off the screen, off the airwaves, and off social networks to meet people in the flesh. The young people we interviewed for the radio series came from different countries and of course had distinct realities, but they were driven by the same desire to reflect on our society and how it works. We wanted them to be able to meet and talk. We suggested bringing them from all over the world to Parisian theatres for meet and greet events in front of an audience. Beyond their accounts on stage, we also thought up a visual aspect with illustrator Amélie Bonnin, who drew live. Using drawings, videos, songs, and maps of their neighbourhoods, their profiles were sketched without eclipsing imagination, which is the strength of radio. The project then travelled to many countries, thanks in particular to the Institut français.
Your 2019 documentary, Les mères intérieures (Inner mothers), tackled the thorny issue of having children (or not) and of different ways of experiencing motherhood. Did the accounts you gathered change the way you see things?
For some women, the issue of motherhood is raised when they’re very young and the choice not to have children is questioned endlessly all the way to menopause. These topics are still taboo and it’s fascinating to see everything they involve in this vast continent of things left unsaid. By looking at a friend who’d had a child after saying for the longest time that she’d never be a mother, I got to know the stories of several women, each with their own experience of motherhood. In a unique place, in Touraine, I found it fascinating to explore these questions that have existed since the dawn of time, and that are being asked in new ways today. It inspires me to see that a wide variety of family types is possible and that we can rethink our way of creating connections by putting forward different templates for society.
There are a wide variety of societal questions, themes, and formats in your productions. What are your aspirations for your future projects?
These are questions that I’m asking myself right now. The restrictions over the last year make me really want to create new dialogues with people who have expertise that I don’t, to imagine new combinations of form and content, and to tell other stories in new formats. I find it fascinating to see some journalists and documentary makers trying to answer the same questions their whole life, looking for innovative ways to get in touch with the people who listen to them. We have a responsibility to constantly ask ourselves questions about journalism, about a journalist’s place in society and their interaction with the younger generation. These perspectives continue to transform me and I’m curious about the formats that will end up emerging.
In 2021, Caroline Gillet hosted a dialogue, during the 24 hours of Night and Ideas, between four young Greeks and four young Turkish around their experiences of the pandemic and their hopes for the future. The dialogue was proposed by the Institut français in Athens and in Ankara.
An annual meeting devoted to the free movement of ideas and knowledge, the Night of Ideas is coordinated by the Institut français.
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