Nicolas Philibert

"For me, making a film is not about ‘dealing with a subject’, but about venturing by candlelight into the unknown.”

A discreet and curious cinematographer, Nicolas Philibert has made the documentary genre accessible to the international public. Stimulated more by encounters than by particular themes, his work ventures, at random, towards common places to better illustrate the human condition.

Published on 22/11/2019

2 min

Born in 1951 in Nancy, Nicolas Philibert began by studying philosophy, like his father, before turning to cinema. Preferring to learn on the ground rather than at college, he began his career as an assistant director before making sports adventure films for television. In 1990, his documentary La Ville Louvre (Louvre City) was released in cinemas and was soon followed by his greatest success, Être et avoir (To Be and To Have, 2002), a documentary about a unique class.

As an observer of the real world, he listens to the people he films while watching them – from psychiatric clinic patients in La Borde (La Moindre des choses or Every Little Thing, 1995), to employees at Radio France (La Maison de la Radio or The House of Radio, 2012), to student nurses (De chaque moment or Each And Every Moment, 2018) – and gives us a different view of France.

With 20 documentaries produced in 40 years, Nicolas Philibert has pushed the boundaries of the genre, which he has made accessible and attractive, by staging original encounters. Passionate and curious, he draws his inspiration from contemporary France and poetry, and says he always finds his subjects at random, without knowing anything about them. With his gentle, empathetic gaze, he disappears behind his camera to film the human condition.

Nicolas Philibert is a director who chooses his frame, wields his camera on his own to keep control of his subject and edits his own films. Sometimes judged for his no frills direction, the solitary film maker only works with simplicity and favours set shots, letting his subjects flourish freely. 

Through his work, Nicolas Philibert offers a vision of the world haunted by learning, speech or difference.

Debuting at the Locarno festival in Switzerland with Le Pays des sourds (In The Land of the Deaf) in 1992, Nicolas Philibert gained international recognition with Être et Avoir, nominated three times for a César award and selected at the Cannes Film Festival.

More than 120 retrospectives of the work of Nicolas Philibert have been held on every continent, from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2003 to the Institut français in Japan in 2019.

A regular guest at numerous international festivals, he was on the jury for the L’Œil d’or prize in 2015, for the first edition of this documentary prize to be awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • 1978


    Nicolas Philibert directs his first film "La Voix de son maître" ("His Master’s Voice"), with Gérard Mordillat as co-director.

  • 1990


    The film maker goes it alone with "La Ville Louvre".

  • 2002


    "Être et avoir", the director’s leading film.

  • 2012


    Nicolas Philibert explores the house of radio in his documentary "La Maison de la Radio".

  • 2019


    Release of the box set of 12 DVDs (Éditions Blaq out) containing all his films.

The Institut français and the project

Nicolas Philibert's work, De chaque instant, is part of the programme for the Mois du film documentaire supported by the Institut français, which takes place from 1st to 30th november 2019 in France.

L'institut français, LAB