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Cahiers du Réel #5 - Hommage à Marie-Pierre Duhamel

Marie-Pierre Duhamel: In Memoriam and Gratitude

Par Amit Dutta

It’s an honour to be invited to write about Ms. Marie-Pierre Duhamel. I have a faint regret in my heart that maybe I did not thank her explicitly enough and express my gratitude appropriately when she was alive. I hope this piece of mine remedies it a little bit. Moreover, I could never meet her even once, even though we had been in touch on and off for the last decade. When I received her first email, I was immediately struck by her kindness, respect, and deep engagement. Eventually, in 2015, she organised a comprehensive retrospective of my work for the Cinéma du réel film festival at Centre Pompidou and even translated a part of my novel to French. Only then did I come to know of her many exceptional achievements: she had graduated in Chinese and cinema studies from the university, and while curating films for festivals, she was also teaching editing at the Paris National Film School (Fémis) and, for some time, even headed an esteemed film festival like Cinéma du réel.

I think not many people realise the importance of such extraordinary curators in a filmmaker’s journey. They remain mostly behind the scenes and work hard to understand and appreciate the specific socio-cultural and psychological nuances and even eccentricities of the filmmakers, opening many doors for broadening the works themselves. In a way, they expand the film on behalf of the filmmaker, remaining almost invisible or non-reactive like alchemical channels and universalizing a personal, subjective creative process, making both the filmmaker and the audience grow larger through mutual association. What an achievement! In this process, there is also the precariousness of dealing with filmmakers, who are in a very tough profession that is heavily dependent on money and vulgar visibility. If one’s inner conviction is not strong enough, then the pressures of being an obscure and poor filmmaker can get to you, and one may start making compromises. That is when curators like Marie-Pierre make an important intervention: they remind the filmmakers of what made their journey special and why it’s important to be focused on their inner calling. It was my extraordinary good fortune to get such a kindred audience in her, because unlike most curators, who also get burdened by the intensity of engagement with filmmakers (with possibly fragile egos) or the pressure to move on to fresher talent to suit emerging trends, she kept in touch even after events got over. Her interest was steady and sustained like that of a true co-creator’s, whereby both of us are on a continuum of ideals and first principles that becomes our fountainhead. The rewards of this lonely journey are mitigated by the gentle hope and expectation to keep meeting each other at some junctures, exchange notes, discuss roadmaps, and feel the kinship before moving on. And as if to remind me symbolically of this artistic journey, a deep blue dragon she had gifted me always faces my work desk. It is a powerful paper cut by a traditional master artist of jiǎnzhǐ. It is said that the dragon symbolises the soul’s mission, with its northern face pointing to the place one is heading to and the tail indicating the regions one has covered. It guards the egg, the germ that is most precious, from which whole universes can hatch. This is truly Marie-Pierre’s gift to filmmaking: from the intensely personal level to the ideal universal, her devotion to the authentic creative effort has made a lasting impression on me. It was always so assuring to get her friendly inquiry about what I was doing next. The only time I saw her was once during the lockdown, online. Surrounded by books, she said she had made that angle to show me her house. I hope she could see the dragon in mine, even though I had forgotten to set the perfect angle.

Amit Dutta est un cinéaste indien. Il a étudié le cinéma au Film & Television Institute of India (FTII). Ses films ont remporté plusieurs prix, dont le FIPRESCI au Festival du film d’Oberhausen, Gold Mikaldi à Bilbao, Golden Conch au MIFF et quatre prix nationaux. Des rétrospectives de son travail ont eu lieu à Oberhausen, en Allemagne ; au Cinéma du Réel, Centre Pompidou, Paris ; et au Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Californie.