Review: The Grocer’s Son, the Mayor, the Village and the World...
- Claire Simon creates an endearing film about the surprising human adventure that was the creation of the Tënk platform in the village of Lussas, where documentary and agriculture go hand in hand
“Showing things that we’re not used to seeing, it changes the gaze. All our work here is to change the gaze, and to change the gaze is to change the world.” For 32 years, the heart of the village called Lussas, pop. 1,100, in the South-East of France in Ardèche, among the vines and the fruit trees, beats to the beat of auteur documentary cinema. Every year, in mid-August, more than 5,500 people gather for a week of screenings of challenging films, in a festive atmosphere where, in the evening, everyone dances the sirtaki to the sounds of Zorba the Greek. The rest of the time, the passionate team of Ardèche Images keeps busy, housing under its roof master students in directing and production. In short, this is a surprising village open to cultural diversity, still holding out against the invasion of televisual formatting, and even creating its own SVOD platform (Tënk). Yet this remains profoundly rural land, faced with the problems of agricultural production (the whims of the weather, the pressure of having good returns, the question of using biological produce or not, or harvesting by hand or with machines, the problem of fruit flies, etc.). A unique place whose essence Claire Simon has captured by filming there across three years what first became a documentary series (Le Village - 18 episodes) before turning into a feature film, The Grocer’s Son, the Mayor, the Village and the World..., which had its world premiere in competition at IDFA.
"We’re all part of the same adventure. I’ve been living in this house for 60 years". The charismatic Jean-Marie Barbe, the grocer’s son of the title, strongly believes in the power of the imagination. The historical icon of Ardèche Images, he now finds himself engaged with his team (with Pierre Mathéus in particular) in a risky venture: to create a platform that would stream 500 auteur documentaries a year, with the goal of ultimately co-producing 150. "We can do things when we have a really strong will to": we’re in February 2016, at the general constituent assembly for Tënk, and Jean-Paul Roux, the mayor of Lussas, himself a winemaker, welcomes the initiative and gives the latest update on the imminent beginning of the construction of a 1,500 m2 building, which will house all Documentary activities (including nine editing rooms).
Two projects, one of them online and worldwide, the other physical and local, whose genesis and first steps Claire Simon closely follows. Indeed, things are not as simple as they seem: on the one hand, one needs money, partners, technology, promotion and subscribers for Tënk; on the other hand, the total budget nearing €3M for the building creates a certain pressure (public financing – from the region, the department, the state – is part of a complex web of political squabbles, while having to pay back the community through future rents is its own Damocles’ sword). Crowdfunding Tënk, meetings with private investors at the CNC in Paris, team reunions where severe disagreements sometimes emerge, the laying of the first brick by the Culture minister (Audrey Azoulay, wearing a summery white dress) during the general assembly, the initial euphoria followed by the struggles of reaching a sustainable amount of subscribers, the difficult topic of passing on the torch in a place young people tend to move away from and which struggles to maintain its rural identity as well as the quality of its products in a globalised food economy: The Grocer’s Son, the Mayor, the Village and the World… is a fascinating and very endearing documentary where “everything is connected”, from the cinephile to the farmer, from the crane to the Internet, from the hailstones to the sun, from dreams to reality, from cherries to Scorsese, from loneliness to the crowd, from the Lussas microcosm to the macrocosm of the world.
(Translated from French)
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