[interview] Renaud Barret – Benda Bilili !

With his partner Florent de La Tullaye, Renaud Barret is the director of Benda Bilili !, the documentary musical that has thrilled the last Cannes film festival. On 6 September, he met the Blog of the Cinema in a café, place de la Bastille, to discuss Cannes, Kinshasa, of a past rich in memories and a future that is already filled with projects.

It is 2 days of the release film… it fucks the pressure ?

No, I have no pressure, and the other [editor’s note : Florent de La Tullaye, co-director] no more. Anyway it’s just a bonus there, all that is happening. It was thought not to be in Cannes, it was expected really not what it’s way to the cinema… it has far surpassed our expectations. So after we could stick the pressure on the numbers, but I think it is not very necessary.

The film opened the directors ‘ Fortnight, was it important for you to Cannes ?

Yeah, this is super important, it was a reward too, a huge relief, because at the end of 5 years to take the gates in the mouth, you know really the value of what you have done, you see. You doubt a lot, you’re pretty bad, you really value scale compared to what has been done. You have been able to dig and hold your pictures, on your plans, you as a certainty, you have a beautiful story, and then in the face of a kind of apathy, people who are a little ” yeah, okay “… you believe too much what. And then, of Cannes, of a sudden, it is the appreciation of it all, the relief, you reconsidères, it will give you straight, yeah it’s nice. You redresses the shoulders, the chin, you say to yourself, ” tien bah this is what we did “. It really is a jury of people are pretty sharp so if they think that, is that we have our place.

So much that apparently you were not hurt struggled to find a distributor…

Yeah, we struggled from the beginning to the end. It has struggled overall from the beginning until… June 2009.

Five-six years of struggling what.

Really intense. As things are made in conditions that are not at all classic, we put all our money on the table. It has put everything, even the mortgage on the apartment, you see… But it’s cool. I think that we were well shaken up when we started this story. It was really crazy eh. Very punk, very still the middle finger, very, ” oh, yeah we can’t do that ? Bah we are going to do it ! “Now I have a son and I don’t know if I would do the same things… No, I would do it again not. At the time it was really barjos. I see myself doing certain things, I we see him do some things, put us into certain situations on purpose…

Kind ?

Kind you’re going where it should not go, in the crackhouses for example… There is a manifestation of guys super beefy, you sense that it’s going to be the brawls with the police, you have no permission to shoot, but you go there and you stand with your camera in the middle and finally the police put you in jail, and you expect it. You do it, but with the consciousness of the people and desperate to do something useful, it is not narcissistic, you see, it is…

A mission ?

Yeah, that’s it, you see, you have a mission. What you want as all of these musicians are known… The Dance of Jupiter, it is a first approach of the thing, you see, very a bastard, in every sense, it is very dégueulant of music and different artists, and at the same time all these guys that we see in the film, he continues to work with them. And then the passages of the have made known to you in some way, and we’re glad of it.

You are practically becoming the ambassadors western of Kinshasa, in fact ?

Yeah, it’s a bit like that yeah.

And at the start, how you discovered this town ?

It is by me in fact. I followed a journalist friend who took me to the east of the country, in the camps of child soldiers, and it turns out that it was glandé 10 days in Kinshasa, in a hotel a little luxury. I was doing le as a dead rat, I was looking at this street and I thought to myself, ” damn but it looks insane in this city !” Me I was just making pictures, I was a bit dependent on the production of a documentary, and I met an artist, he told me, ” Come on, we are going to walk, you have the look you piss off “, and we immediately went to the ghetto. I am not returned to the hotel for 8 days, and all that I saw there, it was the slap. So I called my friend Florent, who was in Siberia to do a story on shamans, I told him ” listen, I’m here in the crazy, we buy the cameras we are going to make a movie. “I’m back in Europe and then I waited for it to return from Siberia, we bought cameras, and we barred as of 2004 for 2 months. Immediately we found ourselves in a hotel with its shady where you need it, and it started to spin around, to meet people, to film everything that was happening in the city.

Moreover, it seems that you have something like 500 hours of footage, is this true ?

600 yeah.

And you are going to do something with all that you have left ?

In the heap of waste, but it is still 200 hours magic. We are going to make a big exit DVD Benda Bilili, after over Kinshasa it was 2000, 2500 hours of rushes. The archive, one is in the process of working on it… It is in questions in relation to what one is becoming, what it wants to be, that the Beautiful Kin [editor’s note : the production company of Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye] will become.

The blow on all this time spent in Kinshasa, you had to cross a packet of groups, why you focus on the Staff rather than on another ?

We focused on one of the first group, Jupiter, for our first film, it was before the Staff, even if Staff are part of this film, we see them briefly in our tour of the city, they make a small appearance, they are to be seen in the musical landscape, but one was interested in many artists before them, without doing anything. It is really them who have given us the emergency because we saw how they lived, we could see that they had a directory, which is not the case necessarily for everyone. We said, ” good to go, we’re going to do that, we will give the money, you save it, it is finished “. It was those who were most likely to disappear. Finally really the two leaders, the two most beautiful voice, we said ” they can die, here, you really need to do things quickly. “We saw how they lived… at the same time they are still alive, they are super solid. But at the time, we had just lost a musician with which you want to work on, it is dead, washed away in a week. Young, you see, quite young. Then they said, ” really it is necessary to do it immediately, because this is urgent. “Urgent, it did not want to say 5 years, that meant immediately, but it took 5 years. It was done, lo and behold, as soon as there was money, we went on to do other stuff, it is really an adventure. I could not say, there is no logic in what we did. I think it is this also that gives charm of feeling. And then you’re completely barge also at this time of your life, and then you do the things you do before and you think after.

It is really in the journalism field…

Gonzo, gonzo, gonzo, you’re sleeping 1 hour a night, for months, and you marres and it’s like that. You’re going with the Staff Benda Bili, you stay with them from midnight to 7am in the morning on the sidewalks, you the film, you smoke of firecrackers with them, and at 7am, you bars to go to see your boxers [on which the documentary Victoire Terminus, Kinshasa, ed.] that are in the room thing, and then in the afternoon you’ll caster of the artists, and then in the evening you will return with Benda Bilili, and then you say to yourself, ” yeah, like I have not slept, maybe I’ll get an hour of sleep “, and that’s it for 5 years, so the arrival it done albums, movies, any matter which is not yet really exploited by this city but that is in the process of streamlining now.

Exactly, what is interesting in Benda Bilili, is that, unlike most documentaries, you are ultra-involved in your topic, you are not that of outside observers.

We are observers, producers, directors, actors, even, because it was filmed there in the tv series. And so we have done 3 feature films in 4 years. Films of 1: 20 which is mounted for 3 years with our money, without money, and without other support that the energy and the desire to do so. We lived in the city, with power cuts, then all your mounts that rub off 10 times a day… phew This is, it is 5 years pressure. Before I had not a white hair, this one is almost all white. But at the same time you have the life that goes with it, Kinshasa, festival, you live to 100 per hour.

Moreover, there is a real contrast between your involvement human and financial, that we see throughout the film, and your quasi-absence on the display screen. Even the voice-over is almost absent. It is a conscious choice ?

We wanted to not put at all, it was said ” never in our life we will do a voice over on a doc that we are going to do, never voice off ! “And then finally, to the projections, we said,” we understand not what is happening, we will not understand who you are. “All these guys who are on the sidewalk, all of a sudden they go in the studio, but the center is burning, and then they end up on the sidewalk, and then they re-return to the studio, and then in Europe. Our first mount was like that. Really tripie, had dates. And then suddenly the first test, we said, ” I have a problem : who you are in relation to the group ? “We were never on the screen, we took the party to ever be filmed, then that is bullshit, because they would have just filmed two-three times, it wasn’t the voice off. But we didn’t.

And suddenly you’re stuck.

And suddenly I’m stuck, with a lot of confusion at the beginning. I’m actually realized, the shock had passed, that it removed a lot of nodes. Ok, there was a basic assumption, but you had to say who we were and what we were doing. Here it is. But it was still very painful.

At one point during the film, she allows, moreover, to explain in a few words, an ellipsis of a year : the centre has burnt down, you come back in France. You can talk to us about what is happening during this period ?

We went home because we had more money and because they could not continue to pay the sound engineer who is there we can not continue to stay. There was a time when we must decide to stop, the band plays more, they are all like zombies, then it goes on a little, 4, 5, 6, 7 days… The studio is still 300 dollars per day, the sound engineer is paid at the daily rate, need to pay for the house… It is in a house a little rotten, but you have to pay. And it was nothing, it was 3-4 pieces of music. So we’ll stop. We are going to take it, we’ll see what we can do already with what we have, we are going to try to edit it, go find record labels, and try to find someone who lends us a hand at this level. And so we spent a year to be slamming doors in the nose, grosso modo.

And in the end you have found.

Yeah there has Crammed Disc, we had already talked about the project in 2004, and then by showing them the images they say “damn, that’s awesome, yeah agree, our recorder is there any way to save the Konono, so let us meet there and let’s make a record” So it was a little bit rid of the logistical issues.

Besides, now that you have embarked in the production of music, you intend to continue ?

It was u month of June in Kinshasa, to show the film and then to record another album, other musicians. And then there was a sound studio in Kinshasa, so for us it is really not finished, the list of people with whom one wants to work is still long. With a single well clipé, recorded in 2-3 different places, atmospheres, a live, improv ghetto and a studio, while filming all of it and telling who’s the character, you can do something.

A music product, but that would neither be an album or a film ?

Something between the two, that you diffuse direct, via your portal. To me it is a bit like that that I want to do, spend a little above the eternal squaring of the house of the disks and the artistic director, who say ” it does not please, that it pleases… “

You are practically in search of a new medium, in fact ?

A new model, yes. It is in the process of thinking about it. You can shoot the life of a recording studio in Kinshasa, the stories of the ghetto musicians. Ca interested in which is interested, but we know that there’s an audience. You know that your money goes directly to the musicians, there was 60% for the artists, and then there’s more of intermediate. People are downloading a file very heavy, high quality, with film and everything, because they have understood the adventure, because they are involved and because they see the lives of the guys. What we want to do it is a bellekinoise.tv that would be a music channel, where every month is renewed with artists, ghetto cuts, people become, we would ask spectators to finance certain projects or certain artists. I think that when people see and understand what is happening, and to whom they give their money, they give it and you get music like that. All of this, it interests me more almost that out of the albums. I don’t know the economic model of this thing. It speaks to me always of the economic model, I do not know. It is necessary to imagine an economy of this thing. It is necessary that, when we start a recording, you can put a minimum of 2000, 3000 dollars for the musicians, that they know that in the year, they have a small pension, in the meantime the figures, an advance. But how to go for the money when one is not sure to even pay for themselves ? So it was really interest to partner with portals that include, our approach to sponsors-private or public that are ready to build on development through music in the country like that, and the program is being able to broadcast it live on our site, but also that we can sell in 13 minutes, a format for the music channels. For us, the great portals of types iTunes can be interested in our project : since filming, it is a program… You do things, people get the broadcast directly at them. We are in the process of thinking about this model here, and the ideas of the record companies, I just fuck that, because currently we are going to ask for advice to people who are on a sinking vessel. They have seen nothing, they have nothing anticipated, and I think that there are other paths to explore. Must try.

And in movies, what is your next projects ?

We are going to start another documentary, and we created always this platform in Kinshasa, an image side a-side music, but it is closely related in fact.

A doc ? It’s about what ?

Of the pygmies. It is a doc, but a little more writing. For now I know that the shooting will take place for 3-4 months. It is a journey. Two pygmies of the city, fatigued by the racism and humiliations of daily life, want to go home, 800 kilometers upstream of the river, in a village that they had left 25 years earlier. We will follow them in their return home. And it is a doc… finally, me I call it a film, because it puts a lot more emphasis on their dialogues, their sense of humour. It is a fable ecological, but it is not in the Nicolas Hulot at all, it is in a really human adventure. I like eh, I have no problem with Nicolas Hulot, but it is located elsewhere. This is more of a tragicomedy. They go home, and there, big question mark. Ca has written, we are already writing assistance, SCAM, and a Draft of a Dream and a little help from the CNC. Ca will allow us to advance. Anyway it’s quite expensive to make a movie. I see plenty of guys who make the schools of cinema, and waiting a year and a half for a vague grant for a short film. I want to say takes a job as a bartender, pay yourself a camera, filming with friends that have the same energy as you, make. Do. I think that there is criticism of many of the United States or countries like that, but, without the slightest help from the state, they have an independent cinema, they are doing things with their balls and their heart. It is not free to do things, putting themselves in danger.

But in any case, you don’t plan to keep it elsewhere than in Africa ?

Yeah, until I found a subject that could make me bend to Paris. Or elsewhere.

It is probable to Paris ?

Enough to look well. There’s a lot of docs to do in Paris. If you’re immersed (in environments that are a little unexpected, there are stories. There are stories everywhere. Once I was told ” the end of The world is on the corner of the street. “

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