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Life According to ‘les Bretons’: An Inside Look at the Cinematheque de Bretagne

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Mevena Guillouzic-Gouret, head of archive sales at the Cinémathèque de Bretagne presents us their collection of rare and surprising films – from amateur travel films from the four corners of the earth and magnificent early reels dating from colonial France to daily life in 20th century Brittany. 

The Cinémathèque de Bretagne is a major French cultural institution. Can you briefly tell us about its history? Why was it created, and what went into its founding? What are its central missions today and goals for the future?

The Cinémathèque de Bretagne was created in 1986 to preserve and share the audiovisual heritage of all five districts of historical Brittany: Côtes d’Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine, Loire-Atlantique, and Morbihan. We currently preserve over 27,000 films shot in Brittany or by Bretons, both amateur and professional.

With its collection of fiction, documentaries, home movies, and reportages on local happenings, the Cinémathèque de Bretagne’s archive provides a unique look at Breton society, history, socio-cultural change, economic activity and industry, as well as sports, tourism, artisanry and local traditions. It’s a real filmed history of Brittany and all its cultures and regions that Bretons have filmed since the beginning of the 20th century.

The Cinémathèque de Bretagne sets itself apart with its focus on amateur films and home movies, which today make up over half of your archive. Why such an interest in amateur films? How did the Cinémathèque put together this collection, and where to do you find all these films?

Our interest in amateur footage dates back to the very beginning of the Cinémathèque and its first director, André Colleu. We’re really a pioneer in collecting these images. This innovative effort has allow us to engage and educate not only spectators and media professionals, but also local officials – for whom amateur films constitute important artefacts that can speak to a collective memory.

The collection has over 13,000 amateur films – about half of the collection – and this number continues to rise. In the beginning, it was through analog photo labs who were selling roll film that we approached amateur cineasts and encouraged them to deposit their films in the Cinémathèque de Bretagne’s archive. Today people contact us regularly when they find old film reels in their family archives, mostly because they don’t have the equipment to view old film reels. They often have no idea what the films are about. After viewing the films and deciding if they have historical or cultural significance, we téléciné the film and give a digital copy to the owner. We’re still collecting around 500 silver-based films a year.

tapes of archival footage about Bretons and Brittany in La Cinémathèque de Bretagne

How can amateur films illuminate history? What do archive researchers look for in amateur footage?

Where professional films are to be shown to large audiences in movie theatres and on television, amateur films are more often than not destined for intimate viewing among family.

The common denominator of amateur cinema rests on the uniqueness of the points of view it offers. In most cases, the cinematographer participates in the the situation being filmed. Contrary to the news image, filmed by a professional journalist seeking to report on a given event from an external point of view, the amateur cinematographer creates a sort of personal testimony.

Cinémathèque de Bretagne’s approach to home movies and amateur film in general demonstrates that both – filmed to constitute and illustrate family history – have an important place in collective memory.

Archive researchers are today totally aware of the value these images bring and of their often surprising and novel character. Films around certain historical events too often rely on the same archival footage. Amateur films offer different points of view. They bring history to life with small, personal stories.

Can you talk about some gems we can find in the collection of the Cinémathèque de Bretagne?

The film Au pays des pêcheurs (Fisherman Country) is one of the oldest films preserved in the Cinémathèque’s archive. Filmed in 1910 by an unknown author, the silent hand-colored film allows shows old tall-ships and Bretonnes wearing traditional bonnets on the coast at Penmarc’h at the turn of the century.

The film Huit jours en Bretagne (Eight Days in Brittany) is also interesting. Marcel Grégoire, a Belgian tourist who sold cinema equipment in Liège, took advantage of his trip to Brittany to test out Eastman Kodak’s famous Kodachrome color film stock. His magnificent images were filmed only a month before the outbreak of World War II!

I’d also mention the archives from the French Polar Expeditions, those of Emile Gaudu (an amateur filmmaker who filmed news reports in the Dinard region from the 20s onward), the films of oceanographer Anita Conti, the activist films of René Vautier, and tons of others!

Do people who deposit their films at the Cinémathèque keep ownership of their material? How does the Cinémathèque de Bretagne manage licensing sales of images owned by individual people?

Each batch of films deposited in our archives comes under a contract – whether silver -based film or video. Yes, anyone who gives us a film retains ownership of the content, but we encourage them to leave their material with us to be better preserved. This also allows us direct access to the source material when we need to perform a new digitization of the collection. In addition to this contract, we also put together a contract for use of the films that specifies the possibilities and restrictions for use and distribution.

You joined Archive Valley this past March. What kind of opportunity is this for the  Cinémathèque de Bretagne?

It’s important for us to get the word out about the variety and global nature of the films in our collection. Of course most of the films were filmed in Brittany, but we also have many filmed from the former French colonies, from the wars in Indochina and Algeria, of May ‘68 in Paris, and lots of trips (Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas) as well as images of daily life in France after the war – from French political personalities to agriculture and maritime activity.

Archive Valley’s platform allows us to be put in touch with Archive Researchers from the all over the world who wouldn’t necessarily think of contacting us and acquaint them with the Cinémathèque de Bretagne and our collection.

logo of La Cinémathèque de Bretagne that collects, stores, and shares archival footage and records of Bretons and Brittany

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