Frédéric Choffat tackles the issues of his time through his work, whether in photography, in the Bosnian refugee camps in Croatia in 1993, or in short films A Nedjad (Pardino de oro, Locarno 1998) or feature films, La Vraie Vie est Ailleurs (2006), Mangrove (2012), both of which have won several awards, or on stage with Julie Gilbert, Outrages Ordinaires (2011 - 2012), which mixes theatre and cinema, crudely recounting the tragic destiny of migrants thrown on all the roads of exile.
In 2015 he directed a documentary for television, Terminus Brigue, which received the Louise Weiss Prize of the Association of European Journalists in February 2016 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. In March 2016, he directed Non-Assistance, which won the (In)Iustice for All - New-York 2017 award. Also in 2017, he covered the US presidential elections from Los Angeles in the mini doc series It's So LA, broadcast online by the daily newspaper Le Temps, Geneva, totalling over half a million views.
His latest feature film, My Little One, was released in 2019 in Switzerland and sold in Eastern Europe, South Korea and the United States. In 2020, he is directing the short film Confiné dehors as part of the "Lockdown" Collection, by Swiss filmmakers.
After three years of filming, he has released a new feature-length documentary, Tout Commence, which follows these activists intimately, both in the euphoria of the first demonstrations and in the spleen of the health crisis. It asks us, young and old, about our relationship with this world that is collapsing and how to envisage a future together, all generations included. To be discovered in French-speaking cinemas.
We can feel through your work and all the documentaries and films you have made that you are totally anchored in your time and in the observation you make of society and its deficiencies. Is it in this perspective that you decided to deal with the subject of climate change and from a certain angle in particular, that of the climate struggle of the younger generation?
Yes, I'm not a film theorist, I'm not going to make a film in reference to another director, I'm not a film buff and I even have a rather meagre film culture, but on the other hand, a very broad one, in many fields. I'm as interested in theatre as I am in political movements, in literary discussions, and so it's more the subjects that catch my eye than me catching the subjects. I don't ask myself what subject I'm going to deal with, it's rather good that I'm obliged to film and then we'll see how I'll do something with it.
It's really reality that tells me what to do.
It's really reality that tells me what to do.
And how did you come up with the idea of involving your children in your film project?
The project started without them but then it's a bit of a synergy because I had done a little series on the American presidency, It's so LA. And there, typically, it was my son who absolutely wanted to go and see the Bernie Sanders debate, so I said to myself, well, I'll take the camera and then, during the journey, I asked my two children what questions they would ask if we saw him. My daughter took her notebook, my son made some suggestions, they bounced around a few questions. And then finally when we got there it was too crowded, my daughter was too small so I continued with my son and that's how we made a first episode by filming what was happening. It was really a collaboration and that's how it started.
For "Everything Begins" it is a field that has been nourished for a very long time, since always, the question of ecology, of the respect of the ecosystem, of the other living species. But at the end of 2018 I discovered collapsology, the books of Pablo Servigne, Jared Diamond about this possible collapse, not unique but plural, of systems, as much internal as economic or ecosystemic, with the impression that each domain could collapse overnight. The impression also that in each field there are as many geeks from Silicon Valley as ecologists from the Ardèche who say that if we continue like this in a month, a year, six years, it could explode. Collapsology is really this movement of bringing together all these fields and saying that if we don't have any more petrol, we don't have any more deliveries, so we don't have any more cooling or power for the nuclear power stations, and that everything is totally linked.
Lucia and Solal Choffat
It's interesting because even though ecology is not a recent field at all and we've known for more than 60 years that it's not going in the right direction, this awareness of the interconnection of all the issues is fairly recent.
Yes, and I think we discovered this with the containment, but we are in such a complex, globalised and interconnected world: I don't know exactly, but to make an airbus, I think there are 5,000 different companies involved, so if one of them can no longer make the seat covers, for example, then the plane is blocked, so we can no longer produce. So it may not be very serious in this case, but all our systems are completely caught up in a multitude of interconnections which mean that we can no longer just get up and go and eat a piece of bread and then do our job if we don't have the internet network, if we don't have this or that. So the observation for me was really to want to make a film about it, to tell the story. Then I asked myself if it should be a film with a charge, a reportage, an interview with white thinkers in their forties or fifties who have thought and theorised about this?
And then all of a sudden it was my children in the street, it was the big demonstration, the first climate strike in January 2019. I arrived at the Place des Nations and it was my son who was giving the speech, although I didn't even know about it, and I filmed him. You can see him at the very beginning of the film and also in the trailer. I say to myself that it's not up to me to explain the world to them, it's rather up to our generation, which did nothing, that of my parents, and I'm speaking globally because we have all done small things, who must listen to them. It's no longer up to us to lecture them about turning off their television, their smartphone or the shower, but it's up to us to listen to them about their urgency, their needs and what the world of tomorrow will be made of.
And from the beginning you wanted to focus on this generation of hope?
Hope or despair! It wasn't a choice, I said to myself either we fall back into the ways of old philosophers and thinkers of my age or older, full of privilege and who allow themselves to look down on the world, or we talk about this generation that is shouting, that for the first time is taking up so much space in the streets, is becoming political, whereas many of them had never been to any demonstration. For me it was logical that this was what had to be told. Then I asked myself if I was making a film about the collapse, but there were lots of reports and podcasts and then I said to myself that I had to go further, I had to go into the evolution of this movement. And then, am I talking about all the children of the world or am I talking about my children? So I decided to tell the story through the eyes of my children and three other activists.
There are five people that I follow over three years and then in the middle comes Covid, I see the interruption, I see that everything stops, I find myself with my family and so I start filming my parents saying to myself that they are early anti-nuclear activists and I ask them how they see the world today. That's my mother in the trailer too. I then ask myself what it says and it inevitably becomes a more and more intimate film as time goes by and I say to myself that perhaps the more intimate it is, the more universal it will be because I can only talk about what I know and they will talk about what they experience on a day-to-day basis and I thus avoid any generality by saying "young people today want this.
I can only say that I have children and their girlfriends and boyfriends may not want children in this world.
I can only say that I have children and their girlfriends and boyfriends may not want children in this world.
How do you think we can explain, given the rationality of what we know about climate change, this inaction and this denial of the seriousness of the problems that ultimately outweigh all other problems because it is the survival of our children, of a species, this inaction and this denial of the seriousness of the problems that ultimately outweigh all other problems, since we are talking about the survival of our children, of a species.
I don't have an explanation of my own or my author's, what I see is that we're not affected by all this. A lot of people still think that a degree or two more will be nice because we freeze a bit in winter and that if it's -1° instead of -3° it will be nice. The scientific warnings, the IPCC reports are rational in what they say but have no rationality in relation to our way of interpreting them and we may see cataclysms, but I was reading in the newspaper this morning thata child born in 2020 and who will live until 2100 or so will have three times as many climatic consequences in terms of the number of tornadoes, etc. and this figure may even increase tenfold depending on the evolution of the curves. So to answer your question I think it's the fact that we are not impacted, it's the fact that the leaders are now totally at the beck and call of the lobbies and the corporations and it's not a leftist speech to say that, it's just that if there was a lobby of permaculture gardeners or a lobby of organic seed sellers the policy would change. But it doesn't because it's not an economic power so the people in power, the people who are accumulating billions, and this was multiplied tenfold during the Covid crisis, they have no interest in it changing.
So it's a systemic problem?
Yes, it's a system problem, we are in a system based on unlimited growth in a world with finite resources. If we question this, we are questioning something that is much more frightening and much more global: how can we continue to dream of making more money, of growing, of being more important, if all of a sudden we are told that we should perhaps do the opposite? This is the issue of patriarchy, this is the issue of capitalism, we think that the stronger we are, the more virile we are, the more beautiful we are, the more we will win. How can we let different people who are not in domination win? You can't win if you're not in domination, so maybe you have to change and say to yourself that the goal is not to win but to live, to share, to move forward.
We should change our software in some way?
Yes, there is a 23 year old boy in the film called Robin who says that they try to make us believe that we have the elements in our system to change the system, but we can't take tools from within the system that we have to change.
In the same way that you can't slow down a car while you're driving it, or take the wheels off while you're on a motorway at 130km/h. So it's really the obligation to completely change the paradigm and it's scary and it's very difficult to do because you're driving in a car at 150 kilometres an hour that's stuck everywhere, that's pissing water, air, gas, that's polluting, but you can't slow down and then just stand on the side and ask yourself what you should do: do you continue on foot, is it the right direction, do you go through the field, do you continue to the right. There are so many cars around that you have to be very careful.
Optimistically, we could say that in fifteen years or so the new generation will occupy decision-making positions and that there is a good chance, given their commitment today, that this new generation will be bolder and more courageous in their decision-making, even if it will be too late.
It will be too late indeed and I'm not even sure it will happen. Our generation has been aware of other things for a long time, whether it's immigration, racism. But we didn't have some kind of openness or greater tolerance because we fought against apartheid in South Africa when we were 15.
There is a system that means that at some point you have privileges and then you forget that they are privileges and then you sit on them and enjoy them and you don't see those who don't have them.
There were perhaps 10,000 people in the streets of Geneva at the beginning of 2019, of which perhaps 10% were really motivated, the others were perhaps very happy to follow because there was a very festive and fun side. Of these 10%, perhaps only 1% are really active and leading the boat. So these are purely invented figures, but will this 1% be green federal councillors in 20 years? And will they even be in power in 20 years if they are 20 years old today? Today, the people who are coming in as decision-makers are more like 60 years old, with a few exceptions, and then they are people with long enough teeth to put everyone else aside and be there. If we have a generation of humanists, listening, polite, pan-cultural, pan-sexual, etc., it may not be a generation that will have the long teeth to tell everyone I'm going and I want power, if the goal is to change this time.
So if it's not a solution, is civil disobedience a solution? If we look at the great liberation movements, the great social movements, they have all more or less involved civil disobedience and a certain amount of violence. Do you think this is a necessary step?
I think it's obligatory, yes, but it's a complex issue. If we take for example the queer milieu today, which I'm passionate about, it blames the white gays of the 1990s and 2000s for being in power now and locking everything up in a kind of clique, which is once again patriarchal in the end, without having at all integrated the issues of colonisation, racism, plurality, and even the purchasing power of lesbians. So we are once again in a reproduction of a power that has been put in place.
Being gay today is much more accepted than it was twenty years ago, but being a transsexual of foreign origin is just as terrible as what gay people have experienced themselves but do not support.
It's wonderful that there was this evolution for the gay community but it stopped there. I'm making a quick analysis of it when maybe it's much more complex but they managed to change things and didn't ask themselves what they could change for others and how they could build a permanent movement of change in attitudes and not just say "we're going to save our skin".
I told myself, for example, that I was going to talk about the pollution of the lake in my film and I met ecotoxicologists who told me that the lake was 10 times less polluted than 20 years ago and that the fishermen even said that it was too clean because there are no more fish or algae. It's because it's a closed territory with Evian, its casino, and Switzerland, which will put all the means they can into saving a lake, but we won't do it for the ocean, nor for the Nile or the Ganges because it doesn't concern us.
If you could imagine the community of tomorrow, the community of the new world?
I'm thinking of the internet. With the internet we managed to get out of a linear functioning, with this idea of a web, this idea that when information is not there it arrives from elsewhere. And it's a very good example of a horizontality which suddenly becomes a trap and the web of thought becomes a sort of net which is going to wrap you up because the algorithms are only going to lead you into a thought. For example, and this is another debate, we cut off the tap to the media, but should we cut off the Russian media for Europe? Is that going to help us understand the conflict better or is it censorship in the other sense, where we no longer have the right to have access to what the Russians think or what is transmitted to them in order to be able to make our analysis?
So I would dream that this hyper-dependence that we have today because of technology and globalisation would become a synergy, i.e. that each person could share what he or she knows, that we would arrive at a much more horizontal relationship of sharing skills, sharing resources and knowledge, and sharing knowledge.
With the trap of the internet that it turns into something else again. It's also the questioning of private property, of inheritance, of the system once again: as long as the great families of Florence are the same since the Renaissance, the dynasties have been the same for 500 years and nobody has managed to get in. So there are the new rich, but they have joined this monarchy by marriage. Young people who are starting out today, if they are like my white and well-educated children, they will have chances, whereas a first-generation Syrian child who has been traumatised will also have chances, but that doesn't mean that he or she will become a lawyer, a banker or a doctor... Even if we have a power of integration in Switzerland that is quite amazing, we remain in this system.
What I would like to see is that we leave this functioning of the assets to mutualise the assets, but what form this will take I don't know, I am open. I'm excited to imagine that everything is possible and I'm not overly optimistic in saying that everything is going to be possible but we have to do it, we have no choice. So it all starts!
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