Shaking Up the Tradition of Documentary Film in France: Individual Workers Speak (1961–1974)

By Nicolas Hatzfeld, Gwenaële Rot, Alain P. Michel

The cinematographic representation of workers was significantly transformed during the 1960s in which the importance of the working class in the French society reached its peak. This change occurred in documentary pictures and not in fictional dramas which generally neglected this theme. Some filmmakers developed new techniques based on light cameras and synchronous sound, and used them to capture words directly taken in the filmed scenes. This new way of filming shook up the documentary tradition hampered by heavy equipment and relatively high costs thus depending on institutional funds. Until then, the workers served as extras in motion pictures praising the industrial performance of firms. The new documentaries revealed individuals, both common and singular. Their live words, shot in automobile plants still filled with a positive aura, produced a strong impression of being true and contradicted the enchanted image of the post-war decades. After 1968, a new trend among filmmakers, critics, and spectators, tend to present these characters as political figures, giving their expression an anti-establishment role.


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