'Caméra Libre': a French plan to foster freedom of speech for muzzled filmmakers

·3-min read
© Eric Bonté / CNC

France is to help filmmakers from countries where freedom of speech is under threat with a new residency programme that will support a dozen directors each year.

The filmmakers, whose projects will be selected by a commission, will be brought to France for six months at a time under the scheme known as 'Caméra Libre' (Free Camera).

“French cinema is the most open-minded cinema in the world,” French Culture minister Rima Abdul Malak said on Monday as she announced the programme, which is due to start later this year.

A contract is due to be signed soon between the Cité Internationale des Arts and the national cinema centre CNC (Centre National du Cinéma et de l’image animée), she said.

“France will continue to be a land of welcome for artists who need to express themselves freely and create freely."

The programme will be open to filmmakers in the process of developing a feature-length project (documentary, animation or fiction) for an international audience.

With a budget of 200,000 euros for the first year, the programme will cover travel, residency and training costs for each of the participants.

Up to a dozen participants are expected in the first batch.

Solidarity, values

Malak said 'Caméra Libre' was an extension of the international scope of the CNC’s activities. Around 60 agreements for co-production have already been signed with countries around the world.

“Caméra Libre is the embodiment of our solidarity and our democratic and artistic values,” CNC President Dominique Boutonnat told the press in May during the Cannes film festival.

“France has always been a friend, an ally and a refuge for filmmakers from all over the world. Faced with a deteriorating situation in a number of countries, it is essential to reinforce our support towards creators who already experience censorship, persecution and violence in their homelands,” he said.

No stranger to the experience of exile and speaking out over controversial issues, Greek-French film director Costas Gavras was present at the initial project launch in May.

His father's ties to the Communist party prevented him from studying in Greece or getting a US visa, so he moved to France and attended the Sorbonne University in 1951.

He is known for films with political and social themes, such as the thrillers, "Z" (1969), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and "Missing" (1982), for which he won Palme d'Or at Cannes and an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Reacting to an 'emergency'

The participants of 'Caméra Libre' will be able to use the facilities at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris where residency programmes for artists of all nationalities and backgrounds have existed since 1965.

“This new programme, co-created with the CNC is a reaction to an emergency: that is to allow filmmakers, muzzled in their own countries, to be able to create freely,” Bénédicte Alliot, director of the Cité Internationale des Arts said.

Hoping to rejuvenate the arts and culture scene after the slump due to the pandemic, 44-year-old Rima Abdul Malak took over as culture minister from Roselyne Bachelot in May.

The choice of the young Franco-Lebanese minister was perhaps a surprise to the public, but she had already been the president’s cultural advisor since 2019 after experience at the Paris City Hall.

Among her other tasks, she will oversee aid packages for stage performers out of work during the Covid-19 pandemic and the launch of the “Pass Culture” for 15-17 year-olds to access cultural activities more easily.