Nuit des Idées 2021: Despite worldwide lockdowns, Covid brought the world closer

·5-min read

The 6th edition of the Night of Ideas (Nuit des Idées) organised by The Institut Français (French Institute) starts on Thursday for a 24-hour online event with participants all over the world. The theme Being Close in the 21st century, reflects the need for cross-cultural exchanges at a time when the global Covid-19 crisis is restricting international gatherings and mobility.

"From Fiji to San Francisco, via Seoul, Tel Aviv or Bogota, as the night progresses, embark on an exceptional 24-hour digital experience for a true round-the-world trip of thought!" say the organisers of the 6th annual Night of Ideas (Night of Ideas) event, completely online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Among the guest speakers participating are French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, musician and poet Patti Smith, German sociologist Hartmut Rosa, and Gabonese mystery writer Janis Otsiemi who will share their take on the theme "bringing people closer" in the 21st century.

Franco-Cambodian film director Davy Chou was one of those invited to participate from Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

He told RFI about his personal experience of lockdown during the first wave of Covid-19 in Europe in early 2020 and what came from it.

Q: Why have you been invited to participate at the Nuit des Idées?

Davy Chou: I was contacted by the French Institute in Cambodia after a full year of Covid lockdown in Europe to intervene about the topic "Being close".

I thought about something I did which I believe is a result of my experience of being locked down as million of people during the first wave of Covid in Europe.

I decided to make some long interviews of several members of my family, mainly people over 60-year-old, my parents, some uncles and aunts, in September and October 2020 in France.

The French Institute suggested I could make a short video where two students in last year of high school at the Lycée Français René Descartes in Phnom Penh would interview me about what had been my experience of the lockdown when I was in Europe.

And developing a bit about this personal project which was interviewing my relatives. I really wanted it to be as simple as possible, as intimate as possible so I could reassure them that it was a personal thing of archiving their stories.

Q: What was your experience of being under lockdown last year?

DC: I remember precisely these three months of lockdown. I was visiting Europe and some friends in Amsterdam. We were caught up by the Covid in March when France was under lockdown itself and I couldn’t go back to Cambodia.

Many people thought I was privileged to be able to stay in a place during these three months and not to have to work. That was a kind of lucky position for me but of course like millions of people, it was kind of difficult and surprising to be suddenly isolated from everything, to be alone with yourself and not to have the possibility to meet your family and your relatives.

So I found myself, and I believe I'm not the only one, spending a lot of time talking on the phone with my relatives, my family which maybe would not happen that often for me in a normal time, when as everybody you are always racing with the time in your daily activities.

When you are a director or a producer like I am you always have so many projects you run after, so you don’t take the time to be connected with the people around you or with your family.

I remember taking that time and having long discussions during the lockdown. And I found myself in this paradoxal situation where feeling a bit closer to this family although we couldn’t really meet and at the same time having reconnected in a different way and maybe in a more personal and intimate way. That pushed me to meet them after when the lockdown would stop.

But of course as many people we were on panic at the beginning of Covid, thinking that something bad could happen to your family. And there was this brutal awareness of the mortality of the people around us.

Q: What's the story of your family?

DC: The story of my family is specific because they were all born in Cambodia and escaped Cambodia. My parents did it before the Khmer Rouge regime, they went to France in 1973. They were 16 and 19, they were looking to study in France and coming back to Cambodia but they never did because they lost their family during the genocide.

I have other members of my family who experienced the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. They could go to France in the early 80’s.

For many people who suffered this tragedy, it’s not that easy to talk actually. We know it happened, we talk a bit about it but we never go into details. We never take the time to do it.

They revealed painful stories but also happy memories.

Q: They were willing to talk?

DC: Yes, I must say, very willing to talk.

I had the intuition that something had changed because of the lockdown. It made us realise that if we don’t talk now when it will be the good time to share the stories.

It was some kind of very heavy experience. It’s something I’ve never experienced actually. I just had the image of a hard drive where you transfer a lot of data.

So of course definitely I feel much closer to them now.

Sometimes we just need to do a simple thing that we tend to forget when we’re always racing, it’s just listening, just asking a question and listen to what people have to say. We need time for that.

And maybe the lockdown, I had this little chance personally to realise that in this time of crisis, maybe the most valuable thing that we have is time. We forgot to take our time, to be available.

Now I’m back in Phnom Penh to my daily life racing again and somehow forgetting easily about this lesson I had last year after the Covid which is to decelerate, slow down the pace. That was so easy to go back to the fast pace.