Giulia GrossmannOctober 15, 2017

Redefining The Scientific Fiction(S)

Films

Giulia Grossmann carries on the Parisian artistic spirit. Graduated from École nationale supérieure d’arts de Paris-Cergy in 2008, she has continued since to construct a singular approach as an artist and filmmaker. Now, she will participate in the Symbiosis Competition during the 10th edition of the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York. Discover Giulia’s world!

Interview conducted by Charlotte Salvatico, Imagine Science Paris Coordinator

“I shoot people who become characters, real places and landscapes which become sets.”

In your films, you explore the relationship between film and life, fiction and reality, documentary and drama, dehumanized landscape and poetry. To what extent does this express your vision of the world?

Yes, these are things I question a lot. For that matter, I don’t really understand these dividing lines between kinds of films. To me, it’s most interesting to shake things up drastically. When I make experimental films, video clips or documentaries, in the end it is always a fiction, even if not qualified as such. In my films, I like to stage real meetings with people, whether these are historical or scientific reenactments, or with people devoted to rituals; the relation between reality and fiction is already established in these situations even before I step in. In this context, the film is written with the characters: it is like the resolution of a game between them and myself, where the film is the given shape of the experience. 

Blue Stag © Giulia Grossmann & French kiss production

I move away from reality as soon as I finish shooting. When you edit, you change chronology, you establish an eye, you associate an image with a sound: it is never an exact reproduction of reality, but it is not a product of the imagination because the characters are real. I shoot people who become characters, real places and landscaped which become sets.


Proxima B © Giulia Grossmann

Proxima B © Giulia Grossmann

From my point of view, everything that is filmed, even if it is called a documentary, is actually a fiction. The reality is what is experienced and the film tells a story, rebuilds that reality. In that way, my films are drawn from my relation to the world, as they enable me to experience, to conside, to learn, to assert my sensitive knowledge and finally to transmit my interpretations. I like to work as a team to make a movie because “Man is by nature a social animal”. This team aspect is stimulating for the same reasons.

Nature is ever-present in your films. Is this a source of inspiration for you?

The eloquence of nature inspires me, and it is precisely here that my relationship with reality seems most unreal, because of the spectacular aspect of the natural environment. I like to shoot landscapes because they are immobile; I am the one who adapts to them, gets around them, outruns them, moves in closer to them. Unlike characters, landscapes are fixed and unchangeable: I can’t direct them. I like to adapt to the environment that I shoot. Aside from my films, I travel a lot. However I don’t take pictures or film outside from shooting periods. Indeed, as soon as I begin shooting, I establish a distance which is incompatible with travelling. Finally, I think discovering a landscapes through a film project creates a kind of triangular situation: the film transforms the landscape into memory, shielded from time. 

Peaks experience © French kiss production & Giulia Grossmann

Peaks experience © French Kiss Production & Giulia Grossmann

Whether taking place in mountains, jungle, desert or cosmos, my films connect human beings to space. The ecumene is a term that implies a relation between human beings and their environment, some kind of Encompassing (Karl Jaspers) going for geography. If a human being is created with his temporality, he is also created with his spatiality, his own and mastered view of space.

In two of your films, you explored (with the Huichols, one of the oldest Indian ethnic groups in Mexico, the men of Bugarach in France and Quemado in Mexico) the notion of reconnection with the spirit world. What enthralls you about these practices?

Since I make films, each project follows one after the other, like in a relay race. The two films that I shot with the Huichol community Peaks experience and Blue Stag were born as a result of my first short Native American. This ethnological film featured a little known heritage: the reappropriation of American folklore in a kind of unexpected identity movement. These phenomena of cultural reappropriation and the uprooting of identity are of great interest to me.

Peaks experience © French Kiss Production & Giulia Grossmann

I wanted to compare two sacred mountains: the Bugarach and the Quemado. I suggested to an anthropologist, Vincent Basset, that we work together on this film. These two films are as much cinematographic objects as they are anthropological documents on the mixing and shaping of cultures. Blue Stag became self-evident during a post production residence at Light Cone as I was editing Là où les dieux nous touchent (Peaks experience). I had many hours of rushes and the work was a bit tedious. Simultaneously and more casually, I edited Blue Stag with unused rushes. Today this short, 9-minute film edited in one hour appeals to me much more than the one I spent two years making.

Blue Stag © Giulia Grossmann & French kiss production

Still in this tradition of the relay race from one film to another, I am currently carrying out a film project named Le seuil de la forêt in Laos and France coauthored with Estelle Benazet. Le seuil de la forêt materializes the initiatory trip of Dao. She walks through the forest and recollects tales both heard, lived and fantasized of her family history. Daughter of Laotian political refugees, goddaughter of an exorcist, Dao crosses woods without borders.

In these films dealing with the relation to mystical experiences, the environment in which my characters roam sets the pattern of the reflections developed. 

Tell us about your current project: a scientific documentary made from CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) archival images?

"Cinema, because it's about recording, has this aspect of archives", said Godard.

I wish to force myself not to film, to make a film only from the archives of the largest particle physics research center in the world; the European Organization for Nuclear Research. This project will lead the spectator on a journey through time and space at CERN.

La couleur de l’intervalle © 1974-2017 CERN

The circularity between different stories from different periods in CERN’s history, coming from various sources, highlights the problem of relating to reality and structures the film. All these sources will be taken into account on the same status; photo, sound, music and video, in order to develop a "novel film".

The role of representation through image, the relationship between scientific image and fiction, the links between anecdotes and History will all be displayed in this film.

I am currently looking at photos from these archives, but they are countless and it will be impossible to see everything. I think therefore that I am going to select from these images in a random way, just as one discovers the Higgs Boson by random sampling. 

La couleur de l’intervalle © 1974-2017 CERN

These images show more than their perceptible content: they tend to bring forth the laws that govern an unknown and underground world. We can call this film with documentary content a "scientific fiction".

You’ve collaborated on films with an anthropologist (Vincent Basset, 2014) and a rocket propulsion engineer (Alain Souchier, 2016). You are now working with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (The Digital Memory Project of CERN). Where does your interest in science come from? How do these collaborations nourish your work? How does this collaboration take place?

I didn't intend to show Vincent Basset’s work in a didactic way, nor describe the phenomena studied by Alain Souchier or illustrate CERN's archive words, but to recreate atmospheres, colors, and situations by a relation to reality modified and sublimated by being re-enacted and filmed with a fictional aesthetic. 

Mars Society © Giulia Grossmann

For all these reasons, these film projects are not descriptive sociologies but progressive immersions in the universes of research made possible by the medium of the cinema. My collaborations with these researchers and scientists, whether in social sciences or physical sciences, allow me to construct narratives from their previous research, and the objects of their studies become location scouting for my films.

With your light show group "Tharsis Dome", you make stage visuals for concerts and video clips for different groups (Zombie Zombie, Imarhan, etc).  Music is also very important in your films. How do you work with Cosmic Neman, the composer (and member of the band Zombie Zombie)?

The relationship between sound and image is at the heart of my desire to make films. I started using video by making installations during my studies at the École nationale supérieure d'arts de Paris-Cergy. I was very interested in the issue of recording and existing strata in sound. I created, for example, a "Variation" installation where, several musicians recorded playing their instruments separately appeared simultaneously on screens in one space. Superimposition of the videos created a symphonic play between the different soloists, with the five shots becoming  new random composition, both sonic and visual.

The relationship between sound and landscape has always been at the center of my research. Then, during a long internship at France Culture, I observed sound engineers at work recording and mixing. This lead to a film documenting the recording of actors in a radio play based on the films of Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. It was therefore necessary find images to express the creation of a sound work. The spectator is allowed to observe an event with no place for a camera.

The soundtrack has always had a central place in my film projects, although, paradoxically, I have a lot of admiration for directors who avoid music in their films; for instance, I am thinking of Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, which I recently saw, or of the Apichapong movie, Cemetery of Splendor.

I’ve worked with the musician Cosmic Neman on my last three films. 

Watch : Zombie Zombie - Extra Life (Official Video)

For my most recent film, Proxima B, he recorded during the shooting (field recording), which was very pleasant, given that we were only two. This allows me to delegate the sound work to someone I trust who will later integrate these sounds into his music.

As soon as one composes the sound and the image, one in accordance with the other, their scriptural history is drawn in "different layers of presences" and are likely to illuminate one another.

Thus, the interest for the two of us, as musician and as videographer, is to build the sound and image simultaneously during the shoot. Typically sound holds a film together: the continuity established by the sound track frees the image for editing. It allows the narrative to build its ellipses in a stable and explicit sound landscape. Since my first films, I’ve tried to reverse these commonly accepted roles; in my films shooting does not precede soundtrack. The sound does not just confirm the picture and the picture does not just justify the sound.

Mars Society © Giulia Grossmann

Whether it's in your video clips (Zombie Zombie, Extra Life; Tarha Tadagh, Imarhan) or in Mars Society, you like to experiment like a scientist. Tell us about these colored liquids used in Mars Society?

In the video clips and in Mars Society, I collaborated with François Wizz Decourbe, who started the practice of light show in the late 1960s in the Open Light collective (Open Circus) and accompanied live many groups (Frank Zappa, David Allen, Gong, Joan Baez, Pete Brown Piblokto & Arthur Brown).

Again this choice was driven by my preoccupation with the relation between the image and the sound. These lights were used for stage visuals of psychedelic groups of the 70s. Moreover, I liked very much this idea of association between pictorial, video, light, matter, and music.

The colored liquids are manufactured artisanally and under the influence of heat, these organic materials move, distort themselves in infinitely varied scrolls, or explode in bubbles in a rich mixture of colors.

Mars Society © Giulia Grossmann

We also perform in live the moiré pattern (designed by the artist Doris Rutzel), which is an artistic practice very close to optical art, including works by Bridget Riley. It is based on geometrical compositions, in two parts (in contrast with each other) first painted on paper, then reproduced by photo-engraving on transparent films of rhodoid type. Exactly superimposed, these two designs produce a black image. Placed on an overhead projector, they are then slightly moved by hand, by means of circular motions, in order to form shimmers and vibrations of geometric shapes: moving undulations, spirals, stars and triangles.

Watch : Imarhan - Tarha Tadagh (Official Video)

Video projection is added to these hand-crafted techniques (specific to light shows), as an additional stratum, and the whole is manipulated live with a vision mixer.

About the Author

Giulia Grossmann forges links between fiction and reality, blurs the boundaries between documentary, representation and staging. From Native American to Mars Society, she takes an ethnographic look on myths appropriation phenomena and utopias. Whether in the mountains, the jungle, the desert or the cosmos, her films link human to his environment within the limits of the ecumene. These projects have been shown in various exhibitions and festivals in France and abroad. in particular at the FID Marseille, Short Side (Movies 104), Jeunes Créations (Le centquatre), Environmental Film Festival Australia (EFFA), Instants Vidéos The Armory (Pasadena), Comfort Station (Chicago), FEST (Portugal), FIFEQ (Montreal), Escales La Rochelle, amongst others.

Giulia Grossmann is watching you

Cover Image Credit © Cosmic Neman

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