Hendrick Dusollier holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a degree from the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (National School of Decorative Arts), and since 2005 has questioned the transformation of cities through the lens of documentary cinema. After his first short film, Obras, which was widely feted and shown, he turned his interest to China, the subject of Babel, before filming the disappearance of Chongqing's last historic neighborhood in Derniers jours à Shibati (Last days in Shibati).
How did you come to direction, and what was the inspiration for your first short film? Obras?
You could almost say it happened by chance! I had two passions, history and art, and I originally thought I would go to film school before studying decorative arts, an area that appealed to me for its opportunities During my Erasmus exchange year in Barcelona I discovered the old Rivera neighbourhood, which fascinated me. I started documenting myself: I photographed and filmed the life of this place falling into ruins, and it became my final year project. I moved to Barcelona to observe the gradual disappearance of the neighbourhood. Using this raw material and 3D software, I created Obras. This very artistic form of cinema allows me to combine my passions for history and art. Even though, up until I had finished Obras, I was not aware of movies…
Exploring the world is one of the cornerstones of your work. Why did you want to film these changing places?
There is never a conscious will to do something. It is rather an emotion that emerges when discovering a past world. I am of Spanish origin and I had this dream of rediscovering Spain. When I arrived in Barcelona, the popular culture that I loved was being destroyed. My camera has become a tool for conserving the present. Strictly speaking, cinema is about connecting and confronting people with a context and its problems. Urbanization is a major phenomenon in our time and has consequences for all aspects of life on Earth. Filming allows you to keep a record, to preserve a memory: I never feel like I am starting a film but simply experiencing the urgency of preserving what will disappear.
Your cinema seems to have moved towards a documentary style that is closer to reality in Last days in Shibati. How have you managed to develop your work while keeping the viewer’s immersion in it intact?
When you make a film, you don’t really realise what you’re doing! In Obras, the camera is ultimately the main character. In Shibati, the viewer takes the director's place. But it was only once it was edited that I realised that its emotion was stronger than in my previous films, which I had meticulously put together. The theme of the city developed by itself. Discovering the world, observing reality, capturing it with a camera is what interests me – more than writing a script and shooting it with actors. Capturing life is an extraordinary adventure.
How is it possible to shoot a film when you don’t know the language – as was the case for you in China for Last days in Shibati?
It’s a bit frustrating and you feel a little alone! Especially as I started filming without an interpreter. The neighbourhood’s residents trusted me without knowing anything about the project. I was then helped by a Chinese director friend who acted as interpreter and allowed me to explain what I was doing. From a logistical point of view, however, filming was complicated: there were some questions that I couldn’t ask directly to get to the heart of the matter. And it was only when I returned to France, once the dialogue had been translated, that I had access to everything I had filmed. The translation was quite a magical moment.
I am in the process of preparing to shoot the sequel to Shibati, but this time I will not go back alone. Now that the relationship is established, I really want to exchange, understand and preserve the words of the people. When you make a film, you enter people's lives and take on a real responsibility: filming can permanently change certain aspects of their lives.
Do you want to continue to make China one of the major figures in your cinema?
I discovered China in 2005 through a festival, and at that time it was hardly ever portrayed. Until 2010, I went there at least one month every year: in Shanghai I found everything I had been able to see in Barcelona, but on a colossal scale. So I wanted to go further and travel all over China with my camera. The more I discover the country, the more time I spend there and the less I understand it... It’s a very special place – another planet.
I will no doubt continue with cinematographic projects like Last days in Shibati but I would also like to produce information documentaries. I am currently working on a series of geographical portraits of six individual locations all over the world for France 5. An opening that I hope will give me the opportunity for new adventures and new encounters?
Hendrick Dusollier received the Institut français Louis Marcorelles Prize for Reality Cinema in 2017 for Last days in Shibati.
Last days in Shibati is screened internationally by The Institut français,which has a catalogue of over 2,500 titles enabling its cultural network and partners to screen French films around the world.
In May 2019, the director was in Lebanon with the support of the Institut français to take part in the documentary festival Écrans du réel.
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