- On 5 October 2019
The conference Documenter une présence au monde: le cinéma de Johan Van der Keuken, organised by Université Rennes 2, the Université de Picardie Jules-Verne and TECHNÈS, took place from 28 to 30 March 2018 at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Brittany.
Johan van der Keuken (1938-2001) created a protean body of work, in terms of the format of his films (their duration), the media he used (cinema and photography, film and video) and the methods he employed. This diversity gave rise to a variety of aesthetic and dramaturgical explorations which made him an uncategorisable filmmaker, one whose work could not be reduced simply to the classification documentary, a label he disliked to the point of preferring the term improvised cinema, in contrast with much more premeditated fictional films.
Van der Keuken encountered the cinema in the late 1950s, a time when new technical resources for recording sound and images were appearing, making possible the emergence of what would come to be known as direct cinema. His career spanned nearly fifty years of cinema, from direct cinema to the advent of the digital age, and all of his films (numbering some fifty or so) have two common elements.
First was a keen and sensitive way of looking at a world he did not necessarily seek to understand; nor did he try to inform, and much less to explain. Rather, he sought to recreate it poetically through the adventures of a gaze, as it was described in the fitting title of a volume of some of his writings and photographs published by Cahiers du Cinéma in 1998. Second, he paid singular attention to himself and to those close to him by means of an autobiographical impulse which did not, however, confine him to the private sphere, as the outside world was never far away: “I document nothing other than my own presence”, he wrote in one of his many texts. By relating these two impulses, van der Keuken sought, not to define but rather to forge, to interrogate, his own place in the world.
This conference thus had as its ambition to restore the complexity of a body of work which is always in movement and whose political ambition, founded in particular on an incisive perception of the inequalities between the global North and the global South, echoes the turmoil found in the world.