Creativity and Filmmaking with Agnes Varda's 'Faces, Places'

04 Oct 2018 BY Maria Cabrera in Film Features

4 mins
Faces, Places
Faces, Places

The latest film from director Agnés Varda and artist JR is a celebration of the role art and film plays in our lives and an encouraging call to young filmmakers, or those eager to make their first film.

Agnés Varda is a French filmmaker and artist whose playful and curious storytelling in both documentary and scripted film has been praised for shining a light on the perspectives of women and those on the margins of society. Whether it's pondering on the joy of potatoes, through an exploration of gleaning and working-class French communities in The Gleaners and I, or strolling through the streets of Paris in real-time while a young singer awaits the results of a health test in her first feature film Cléo from 5 to 7, she has consistently innovated new forms of filmmaking and ways of seeing the world.

Varda is renowned as one of the key figures of the French New Wave. This was a movement established in the 50s and 60s by French-based filmmakers unsatisfied with "traditional" filmmaking and whose early works were often made on very low budgets, filmed on location and edited in a swift style. Now in her sixth decade as a filmmaker, Varda continues to be loved by many for her embrace of new and accessible technologies, with both digital cameras and smartphones being used in her film. She is also praised for her inventive storytelling which ranges from light-hearted topics to deeply personal portraits of her life. 

Her latest documentary, Faces, Places sees the director roaming through the French countryside with artist JR, who is known for his large-scale photographs of ordinary people, together creating art in the form of still images, painting or graffiti, with locals they meet on their journey. The film has moments of inspiration which can be useful for guiding students when making their first films or for anyone who wants to explore their creativity. Here are a few straightforward ideas you can encourage your students to try, based on moments in the film:

 "You can make stuff with anything…you just need an idea"

Throughout Faces, Places, Varda discusses her process of filmmaking and how you can find inspiration from objects, your surroundings and even other films. Highlights include photographs of fish from a local grocer's market, that Varda took on her digital camera, before being enlarged and stuck on the side of a water tower by JR, brightening up a salt factory that lies below. In the classroom, this could take the form of a creative exercise in which students bring in one object from home and use this as the starting point to a story by asking questions such as: Does it resemble anything else? How was the object made and what journey do you think it's gone on?

Create a story using voiceover

The use of voiceover plays a crucial role in Varda's films and in Faces, Places she uses it to create stories and characters. In a scene where Varda and JR gather a group of locals to decorate an abandoned beach resort, Varda uses the voiceover to imagine that the buildings are still inhabited by narrating over the footage. This simple technique can be used to create a narrative from a piece of archive footage or to interpret a series of photos. If a microphone or recording equipment isn't available, you can also try doing a live reading alongside the footage as they did in the era of silent film.

For more information on using archive in the classroom or how to edit clips together using an iPad:

Collaboration is key

The documentary brings to the foreground the joy and importance of collaborative work. Although Varda and JR are very different characters, they each bring their own qualities to the project, and those they meet along the way play a vital role in the making of their wall murals. The individuals they encounter do not just feature in the photographs but also work behind the scenes; holding props, pasting the finished images or simply inviting their friends and family to take part.

Filmmaking in groups is a rewarding activity that can help students understand the different roles available in the film industry. Stop-motion animation is a also particularly effective way to practice working with others as each person's contribution is crucial to achiving the final product.

Faces, Places will be screening as part of this year's Into Film Festival.

Maria Cabrera news author image

Maria Cabrera , Curation Officer

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