What lies behind the success of a small Auroville film unit?
Before coming to Auroville in 2000, Basile had worked for 20 years in film production, making films for French TV and large corporations. Claudine, his partner, has expertise in 3-D animation and worked on computer games. Today, they are much in demand, both in Auroville and outside, as artistic and innovative film-makers.
I first saw Basile's work at an international video evening in Auroville a few years ago.
His short film about a special puja in a local village stood out from the rest of the offerings, not only because of its technical inventiveness but also because of its deep humanity. Clearly, here was a film-maker who was genuinely interested in people and their customs; he was not ‘using' them to satisfy his personal ambitions as a film-maker. Since then I've seen more of his work and all of it, whether commissioned or deeply personal, has the impress of a particular ‘eye', a particular way of seeing and celebrating the world. Recently I visited him and his collaborators, Claudine and Coriolan, in their workplace in a small, thatched house in Dana community to find out more.
AUROVILLE TODAY: When you came to Auroville had you planned to keep on making films?
Basile: Yes and no. I wanted to recover my artistic creativity, to liberate myself, because for many years in France I felt I had not been able to do what I wanted and I had stagnated. When I came here I wasn't sure I would continue making films. But then I realized that, with the new technology, I could do something more personal, more artistic, than I had been able to do in France where much of my work was commissioned by television companies or the corporate world.
Claudine: When I came here I was tired of computers, of business and money, and for one year I just remained quiet. After that, with my background in video animation, it was natural I should come to help Basile with his film work.
Basile: Our first project in Auroville was making a film on Auroville's environmental achievements for the Indian Space Research Organization. Originally they wanted 15 minutes but after rough editing we still had 90 minutes. It was difficult to know what to cut, so we ended up making a 52 minute film. For us it was very interesting because we had wanted to make a video on Auroville but didn't know how. While making it, we discovered so much about Auroville's history of afforestation etc. And what's remarkable is that many other Aurovilians also learned about this for the first time when they saw the film!
Then we made some short films for the Pondicherry municipality in collaboration with INTACH, the architectural heritage organization. After that, everybody wanted us to make films for them! We have a project with Tency and Gilles to make a big movie on the water situation, the Handicrafts Council of India wants us to help them communicate what they are doing, and the Auroville Tsunami team wants a film made on their work.
Do you feel trapped again?
Claudine: No. We are not going to let what happened in France happen again. And the interesting thing is that many of the films we are asked to make now are about the environment and ecology which, along with the human aspect, is what interests us most.
Basile: I feel we have a balance now between work which is commissioned and the more personal work which the commissions help finance. The last movie we did was on the silk weavers of Varanasi . This was commissioned by a Danish company which wanted to give all their workers a silk scarf as a New Year gift. The scarf would come in a box along with our video, which would explain the situation of the weavers. The company wanted a 15 minute film – which we made – but we found the subject so interesting we ended up shooting 20 hours of film, which we're now turning into a 52 minute film.
Claudine: It's important for the weavers that their story is told. They produce such beautiful work but many of them are starving as they can only make one metre of woven silk a day on the hand-loom and this means it is very expensive. Most people prefer to buy imported products from China instead.
To whom do you want to show this film?
Basile: This is the problem. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to sell something that's already finished to the television companies: they prefer to specify what you should work on. Also, there's a problem when you want to make a more personal film.
Has living in India changed the way you make films?
Basile: Yes. Not technically, it's more to do with the inner rhythm which is slower here than the frenetic pace of films in France .
What is your main motivation in making films?
Basile: For me, artistic creation is always to do with personal evolution, with yoga. Before making films I was a painter for twenty years, but it was the same process. In order to express something you have to confront something in yourself: it's a need. I don't make something to get praise from the world but to confront something in myself. At the same time, I think it's important that we record the history of Auroville, how the people came here, the extraordinary personal stories etc., otherwise all this will all be lost. It's the human aspect that interests me most.
Do you also feel a sense of social responsibility?
Claudine: Of course. I would never make a movie about, for example, nuclear power. The reason we're making the longer film about the weavers is that these people touched us deeply. We went to one of their villages. They are so poor – one third of the hand-weavers in Varanasi have no work – but everybody welcomed us. It was an incredible experience.
Basile: What interests me most is not journalistic reporting but making films with a personal vision. I don't like rummaging in the garbage. I would never do a documentary on the slums, for example, even though I know such places exist. I prefer to show what is positive, higher, more refined, like the fascinating culture of India . That is my philosophy.