Groupe Medvedkine

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Nouvelle Societe No7, 1969

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"Lettre a mon ami Pol Cebe" de Michel Desrois, 1970

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"Le-Traineau-Echelle" de Jean Pierre Thiebaud, 1971

Between the March strikes in 1967 at Rhodia in Besançon and work standardisation at the Peugeot factories in Sochaux, there occurred – under the impetus of Chris Marker and his friends – the constitution and action of the “Medvedkin Groups” for producing, directing and distributing political films.

What about these films? Rising up against total lack of action, dreams realised of a meeting between workers and intellectuals, moving around from Paris - province - province - Paris, true values of discussion opposed to ordinary discussion of commercial value, return of the camera to the factory after years of absence (since probably about 1936), incarnation of belief in the power of cinema, in its ability to change the world, at least the images of the world, critical images and critical of images. Idea (or utopia) that the cinema is not always behind the times and that it can sometimes like the brother Lumière’s locomotives or the Medvedkine cine-train just arrive on time and exceptionally ahead of time. Thus, À bientôt, j’espère – title slogan dealing the ruling class a real blow – the first film in the series was shot six months before May 1968 and shown in April.


A necessary caution: the “democratization of tools” entails many financial and technical constraints, and does not save us from the necessity of work. Owning a DV camera does not magically confer talent on someone who doesn’t have any or who is too lazy to ask himself if he has any. You can miniaturize as much as you want, but a film will always require a great deal of work - and a reason to do it. That was the whole story of the Medvedkin groups, the young workers who, in the post-’68 era, tried to make short films about their own lives, and whom we tried to help on the technical level, with the means of the time. How they complained! “We come home from work and you ask us to work some more. . . .” But they stuck with it, and you have to believe that something happened there, because 30 years later we saw them present their films at the Belfort festival, in front of an attentive audience. The means of the time was 16mm silent, which meant three-minute camera rolls, a laboratory, an editing table, some way of adding sound - everything that you have now right inside a little case that fits in your hand. A little lesson in modesty for the spoiled children of today, just like the spoiled children of 1970 got their lesson in modesty by putting themselves under the patronage of Alexander Ivanovitch Medvedkin and his ciné-train. For the benefit of the younger generation, Medvedkin was a Russian filmmaker who, in 1936 and with the means that were proper to his time (35mm film, editing table, and film lab installed in the train), essentially invented television: shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show it the next day to the people you filmed (and who often participated in the editing). I think that it’s this fabled and long forgotten bit of history (Medvedkin isn’t even mentioned in Georges Sadoul’s book, considered in its day the Soviet Cinema bible) that underlies a large part of my work - in the end, perhaps, the only coherent part. To try to give the power of speech to people who don’t have it, and, when it’s possible, to help them find their own means of expression. The workers I filmed in 1967 in Rhodesia, just like the Kosovars I filmed in 2000, had never been heard on television: everyone was speaking on their behalf, but once you no longer saw them on the road, bloody and sobbing, people lost interest in them. To my great surprise, I once found myself explaining the editing of Battleship Potemkin to a group of aspiring filmmakers in Guinea-Bissau, using an old print on rusty reels; now those filmmakers are having their films selected for competition in Venice (keep an eye out for the next musical by Flora Gomes). I found the Medvedkin syndrome again in a Bosnian refugee camp in 1993 - a bunch of kids who had learned all the techniques of television, with newsreaders and captions, by pirating satellite TV and using equipment supplied by an NGO (nongovernmental organization). But they didn’t copy the dominant language - they just used the codes in order to establish credibility and reclaim the news for other refugees. An exemplary experience. They had the tools and they had the necessity. Both are indispensable. —Marker Direct, An Interview with Chris Marker - Libération, March 5, 2003

Les Groupes Medvedkine

1967, la grande grève de la Rhodiaceta à Besançon annonce déjà mai 68.

Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Bruno Muel et quelques autres cinéastes militants, décident de donner à ces ouvriers les moyens de prendre eux-mêmes la parole et vont ainsi mettre du matériel à leur disposition et les former aux techniques cinématographiques.

Résultat : des films forts, des pamphlets parfois violents, souvent brillants et émouvants, réalisés entre 1967 et 1973 sous l'égide de l'infatigable et génial Pol Cèbe (ouvrier et bibliothécaire du CE).

Pourquoi se sont-ils choisis pour nom « groupes Medvedkine » ?

« Un train, un homme qui mettait le cinéma « entre les mains du peuple » (comme Medvedkine nous le dirait lui-même plus tard), cela avait de quoi faire rêver un demi cinéaste égaré dans cette jungle où le professionnalisme mondain et le corporatisme se rejoignent pour empêcher le cinéma de tomber entre les mains du peuple. J'ai donc passablement brodé sur le thème du « ciné-train », pour découvrir, en rencontrant Medvedkine, que tout ce que j'avais inventé était encore très au-dessous de la réalité.

On se demande quelquefois ce qui a décidé un groupe d'ouvriers français, débutant précisément dans cette difficile entreprise de prendre le cinéma entre leurs mains, à choisir de se baptiser Groupes Medvedkine. Je suis heureux d'apporter pour la première fois une réponse historique à cette importante question. C'est exactement au moment où, racontant le ciné-train à Besançon en 67, l'année des grandes grèves, dans la cuisine de René Berchoud en compagnie de Georges, de Yoyo, de Daniel, de Pol, de Geo et de quelques autres, que j'ai cité Medvedkine : nous emmenions avec nous des cartons déjà tournés, pour insérer dans les films. Et il y en avait un que nous prenions en bobines entières, parce qu'il servait toujours, dans tous les films. Celui qui disait : « CAMARADES, ÇA NE PEUT PLUS DURER ! » »

Chris Marker, « Le ciné-Ours - Revue du Cinéma - Image et Son », n°255, décembre 1971


- History of an encounter: cinema technicians and factory workers
- Des Images: Les Groupes Medvedkine