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Highlights from the Locarno Film Summer Academy Master Class with Award-winning Director Agnès Varda

Highlights from the Locarno Film Summer Academy Master Class with Award-winning Director Agnès Varda

Stefano Knuchel, Head of the Locarno Film Summer Academy, invited me to sit in on his master class with the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival’s Pardo d’onore Swisscom winner French film director Agnès Varda.

Known as the Grandmother of the French New Wave (a term with which she takes issue, as I cite in my Conversation with Varda).Varda’s film credits include
La Pointe Courte
Cleo from 5 to 7
(Cléo de 5 à 7, 1962), “The Creatures” (Les Créatures 1966), “Lions Love (…and Lies)” (1969), “Documenteur” (1981),”Vagabond“(Sans toit ni loi, 1985), “The Gleaners and I” (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, 2000) and ” The Beaches of Agnès” (Les Plages d’Agnès, 2008).

Speaking to the group of international students, Varda shared her passion for cinema, photography, and installation work, with humor and honesty. Here are
some highlights from Varda’s talk.

I asked Varda about finding inspiration and her writing process

I don’t search for ideas; I find them. They come to me or I have none. I would not sit at a table and think now I have to find ideas. I
wait until something disturbs me enough, like a relationship I heard about, and then it becomes so important I have to write the screenplay.

I never wrote with someone else or directed together. I wouldn’t like that. I never worked with (her late husband, director Jacques) Demy. We would show
screenplays to each other when we were finished.

When you are a filmmaker, you are a filmmaker all the time. Your mind is recording impressions, moods. You are fed with that. Inspiration is getting
connections with the surprises that you see in life. Suddenly it enters in your world and it remains; you have to let it go and work on it. It’s

Question from Student: How did you manage to navigate a male-dominated film world?

First, stop saying it’s a male world. It’s true, but it helps not to repeat it. When I started in film, I did a new language of cinema, not as a woman, but
as a filmmaker. It is still a male world, as long women are not making the same salary as men.

Put yourself in a situation where you want to make films; whether you are woman or not a woman, give yourself the tools: maybe you
intern, maybe you go to school, or read books. Get the tools.

On Filmmaking

We have to capture in film what we don’t know about.

If you don’t have a point-of-view it’s not worth starting to make a film.

Whatever we do in film is searching. If you meet somebody, you establish yourself, who you want to meet, what kind of relationship it is. Our whole life is
made up of back and forth, decisions, options — and then they don’t fit.

When one is filming we should be fragile; listen to that something in ourselves. The act of filming for me is so vivid, it includes what you had in mind,
and includes what is happening around you at that moment — how you felt, if you have headache, and so on. A film builds itself with what you don’t know.

Life interferes. You have friends. Kids. No kids. Then there is a leak on the wall. Everything interferes. It’s how you build the life with others.

Sometimes I go by myself to do location scouting. When I go by myself, something speaks to me in a place I’ve chosen and I know maybe we should take
advantage of that. We have to be working with chance. ‘Chance’ is my assistant director.

About Cleo de 5-7

I had to be able calculate the time of speaking, taking a taxi, and so on — it was very interesting to write what was happening and try the mechanical
thing of time, to let emotion and surprise come in.

About Vagabond

I knew people who were on the road. I knew the kind of people she (Mona, the protagonist) would meet. I would write the dialogue the night before. The
people I met gave me their attitude and state of mind.

The Beaches of Agnès

It was supposed to be autobiographical. Like a gesture of a painter, when they do a self-portrait and look at themselves and paint. In “The Beaches of Agnès” I am turning the mirror to the people who surround me; it’s not so much about what I did in my past. It is about how you
build the life with others. I am turning the mirror to the people who surround me.

Varda on Varda

In the last ten years, I’ve done installations in museums and galleries. I enjoy that other expression of things. I got out of the flat film screen — to
invade the space, using three- dimensional objects. It helps to express other things. You put yourself at risk. I’ve been experimenting in motion, and
surprises.I’m naturally curious.

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College and presents international workshops and 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 over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and executives worldwide.,

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