In a salute to Agnès Varda at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Art of the Real, Documentary Redefined Series in New York City, Varda’s short films
and features were included in the Actualities of Agnès Varda program, featuring the acclaimed filmmaker in person.
I had the honor of speaking with Agnès Varda at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival at two separate events, which I covered for this publication: Conversation with Varda: HERE and
Highlights from the Locarno Film Summer Academy Master Class
Speaking before and after each of the following short films, Agnès Varda is ever the powerful and poignant storyteller with a provocative sense of
(1968, 31 minutes)
Centering on a “Free Huey” rally in Oakland California in 1968, Varda discussed her experience filming this short documentary.
Varda: “Tom Luddy told me I should come to Oakland because of these demonstrations. Every Saturday I flew from Los Angeles to be there. I had a 16mm
camera. I shot a lot of it alone; and I had some help from some others. I needed to get their speeches. I needed to understand the mind body theory. So
far, the theory of black men was written by white men. This was the first time they were really involved in their own history. I remember thinking about
the women, and also for the first time in the sixties women were writing about their history. I was fascinated by the equivalence. It was a precise time in
1968; two years later it was almost gone. It was so important at the time; I thought and everyone thought it would change the history of black people. The
documentary bore witness, the testimony of that time of the Black Panthers. The film was not shown in France; they were afraid to wake students. It was not
shown in the U.S. then either.”
“I bore witness. I was discreet as much as possible. It belongs to their history. Each time there is a film about Black history, we are asked about it.”
Our Bodies Our Sex”
(1974, 35 minutes, 8 mm)
Varda: “It was the ‘year of the woman.’ A German television channel asked seven women to make films about what it is to be a woman; our different points of
views. I went to the boss of the channel and I asked, aren’t you ashamed to talk about this subject in seven minutes? He said how long do you want to make
it? I told him eight minutes.”
“The women in this film are people I met, friends, a beautiful mannequin, my neighbors, a worker, a teacher, a pregnant woman — she was expecting twins
and in good shape, and another three. The body of a woman is not just the erotic parts of her body. That was 1975 and 40 years later, I cannot say that
situation is totally good. It’s my statement at that time, and now. The cause of women is always important to me. I never became a specialist filmmaker or
specialist of feminism of film.”
“Salut les Cubains“
(1963, 30 minutes)
At the invitation of the Cuban Film Institute, four years after the Cuban Revolution, Varda visited Cuba, returning with over 2,500 photographs — more
than half of those stills are included in this film.
Varda: “So another jump in time and history. Chris Marker had been invited in 1961 to go to Cuba and came back very excited about what was going on there
not only the personality of Castro, but the Revolution was a big thing for everyone in the world. Marker came back and said I was a good photographer and
said I should be invited. I went there knowing that I wouldn’t be able to film. I did it with the Black Panthers because I knew I could find help. So I
couldn’t take a 16mm camera. I thought I would make enough images and reconstitute the movements. Each shot you had to do twice — the click click of the
camera. So the time between each image is not that short. I thought I should fit these spaces with Cuban music. I edited using the negative tape and put it
in the machine and counted the images. I tried to have information and images and understand the incredible energy and joy at the time.
When I had chance to take pictures of Fidel Castro, I was told that at some point he will call you if there is opportunity. I couldn’t choose the place.
When I got the call, I asked him (Castro) to sit, and I put the two stones behind him as stone wings because it looks like he has wings, he has a dream, an
incredible utopia, but it won’t fly because he has stone wings. The photo touches me. That’s what happened.”
(1982, 22 minutes)
This essay film centers on a haunting photograph of a naked man, a child, and dead goat taken by Varda in the mid-1950s.
Varda: “The image was the question. I was questioning the image and questioning myself with my own memory. There are so many ways of seeing an image. The
date, it was an important date. When I started to investigate it, it didn’t fit together. The emotion of that time.” (It was the day following the Fête de
La Victoire, France’s V-Day, which was marked by France losing the decisive Dien Bien Phu battle in Indochina, which set the stage for the eventual U.S,
involvement in Vietnam.)
“I do the editing. In the editing room, I write the voiceover narration. I try the images. I write it again in the process of editing
and try not to speak too much and say things that make sense, and lead the viewers to go in one direction or another. One image can be powerful in question
and dreaming and knowing, and related to your own life, what you feel about a dead animal or a dead person, and all these circle of thoughts can be shared.
Everyone looks at the photo and at the film with their personal feelings. It’s like proposing things to everybody — everybody has their own way of
thinking. Whatever you ask an image to tell you, you put an image in it what you feel but at the end, it just represents something. The viewer of the photo
and the viewer of the film about the photo — everything is related to your own life. I suggest that, and at the end — it represents a child, goat and
In the film, Varda interviews the boy Ulysses Llorca in the photograph, who now as an adult and owner of a Paris bookstore, denies memories of that day on
the beach, stating, ‘To each his own story.’
(1976, 80 minutes)
A portrait about the shopkeepers and shops on the small street of Rue Daguerre where Varda has lived for over 50 years.
Varda: “1975. I was already living in the street Daguerre, at the time I was a photographer. I thought it was good to live there.” (Varda laughs, remarking
on the ironic name of the street) “I decided to make a film about shopkeepers near me. It was a small block; you could find anything you needed. A tailor,
driving school, butcher, baker. I thought I will shoot people who have their door open. I’m not entering their private life even though I asked questions.
When I started – they said it will cost us money, so I took a long electrical wire and went through my mailbox and plugged it into my own power. The woman
DP would hide in the shop – she was smaller than me, sometimes we started to shoot before the person came in. We had nice surprises; some people didn’t
understand we were shooting, we were so discreet.
I asked them to all come to a café for the show of the magician, and I discovered a lot. Filming is discovering people. I was almost finished when I
thought there is something missing. I should ask them about their dreams. I discovered that dreams mean nothing for most of them. We know dream is part of
sleep. Like their heart is beating. In some shops there is no language. We speak about things that make sense. You notice the butcher always saying, ‘It’s
the weather. How is Jacques? How is the kid? And whatever you responded he said, ‘It’s the weather” Someone said, ‘My husband had a heart attack.’ He would
say, ‘It’s the weather,’ and more and more I realized that no one listened. In language we have to trade words. I learned about society.”
At the conclusion of the event, Varda remarked about the discoveries she uncovers when making documentaries: “I always say chance is my first assistant.”
Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College SUNY, and presents international seminars on
screenwriting and film. Author of Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! and The Savvy Screenwriter, she is chairperson of Su-City
Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with writers, filmmakers, and executives worldwide. www.su-city-pictures.com, http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog