Interview with David Dufresne (May, 2011)

Interview with David Dufresne. Journalist and webdocumentary-maker.

Original in Spanish Published in Gara Journal in April 2011.

“The documentary author is dead”, David Dufresne.

p054_f01_119x116He is known, with Phillipe Brault, to be the coauthor of “Prison Valley” (ARTE, 2010) a French webdocumentary winner of the World Press Photo 2011 Best Multimedia. The webdocumentary allows users to explore the “Prison Valley” in Colorado, a small town surrounded by prisons: “where those who live outside live nearly inside”, says the off voice when we began our cyber-journey. This webdocumentary is the first to combine: documentary and videogame, with also blogs, forum and even a specific I-Phone App. 

Clàudia Prat, Brussels. May 2011.

Inventive and curious, Dufresne participated a few weeks ago in the Webdoc Meeting in Brussels (Belgium). The meeting was held in the framework of the Millenium Documentary Film Festival and it gathered close to a hundred of filmmakers, photographs, coders, designers and students that discussed the opportunities of the web on documentary filmmaking.

David Dufresne walked around satisfied and cheerful. In this innovative meeting he was the one who was most listened to and requested for and demanded by: e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y. In the cafeteria, in the sessions, in the hallways: Dufresne was the humble searched star. Obsessed with the possibilities of new narratives and attached to his Iphone, David livened up the sessions without dominating the discussions. He patiently listened to the participants and provided them with his point of view. Brilliant and smart, he overwhelmed pages of notes of many attendees.


Why did you decided to do the story on the web?

I am in Internet since 1994 the beginning of the web. But I separated my Internet activist life from the one as journalist. In 2008, there where two webdocs that made my see the light: “Gaza Sderot” (ARTE) and “Voyage au but du carbon” (Honky Tonk). I found them extraordinary. One night, my photographer and friend, Philippe Brault, showed me an article in the newspaper that talked about a city in Colorado with 36.000 habitants and 13 prisons, I told him: “Philippe, I think that’s what we have to do”.

 To experiment with web?

Yes, our objective as journalists was to poke our nose in the web. We made the proposal to the Center for National French Cinema (FNC) and we contacted ARTE. In the beginning they didn’t support us, they didn’t visualize our project. Finally they said: “Well, we will lend you some money although we don’t really entrust film”. When we arrived in Canon City we realized that we had the perfect scene for a webdocumentary.

 When was the moment you decided that: “the spectator will investigate and will come with us”?

This was days later, when we were in the motel in Colorado. I woke up one morning and I told to Philippe: “We should build the narrative exactly like this town”. Canon City is the typical American city cross by the main principle road. And I thought: “This will be the linearity of the narration and all the secondary roads that cross the main road will be the vanishing lines and secondary stories”.

After, I also thought that our “house” should be our motel, like it really was in reality.

Many people abandoned the webdocumentary when you told them to “register in the motel” with their e-mail, Twitter or Facebook account.

Yes, but this was our bet. The moment the spectator chooses if he wants to come with us. It is an important moment because Philippe and I, no longer we travel alone. The subject of the action turns to be “we”. It is a crucial moment. Also when the spectator registers we can remember where he left the story and when he re-enters to the webdoc, we can move them to point where it was.

The motel was your real motel?

Yes, and the room is my room. We got the idea from the typical videogame of the 80’s, where you could go around and choose what you wanted to do. Philippe did thousands of pictures and I registered the real sound of the motel. They are real sounds: I think you can feel it in the documentary.

 A part from Philippe: what was the role of coders and designers in this webdoc?

Every, every day we phone and talked with Upian the “web-producer” company. Before we went to Colorado we look together webdocumentarys, stories, designers and we start thinking different possibilities.

 Webdoc is the sum of all this professional profiles?

Yes, and for me: this was the most incredible. Upian people didn’t come from the journalism field and they were giving us total freedom. And ARTE professionals too. It was like playing ping-pong: a collective around the work, without ego problems. We were many ego’s walking together, talking from creator to creator. I never thought this could be possible.

You said in this meeting “the author is dead”. But we also see appear a collective author…

Yes, in this kind of Festival I love saying the documentary author is dead. I want to provoke. But I said dead in its “classical way”. The author can no longer be alone: it has changed of place. A camera or a photography director has always had a role, but the filmmaker was the one who finally decided everything. In a webdoc you can’t: you have to connect with many knowledges and energies. You are not alone.

Maybe we are talking about a new author?

Yes, in front the conservatism of the documentary’s world. The author has changed place, it is not where it used to be. It shares the narration with the spectator and becomes an orchestra director.

What do you think about the “participatory myth”?

It’s a myth… but is also the web’s grace. When the documentary will really integrate this idea, when it will go together with participation: it will be the revolution. The hierarchy age of “the one who knows” and “the one that doesn’t know” is finished. Roles are exchangeable. Although participation is not mandatory: is not a sine qua non condition.

 You filmed Prison Valley in the moment Sarkozy was elected, 5 years ago. One of his statements was to increase the repression in France. What’s the political role of a webdocumentary?

 Personally, if a documentary pretends to be neutral; it is no longer interesting for me. The documentary has always a point of view; it wants to change something… Documentary is politics. This is not a documentary against Sarkozy but a way of asking ourselves: Do we really want repressive policies’? Well, let’s go to the place where they have the most prisons in the world and see if they are better…

What risks have the documentary in front of Internet privatization and censorship? The SOPA policy, the closing of websites…?

Being in the web, occupying this territory is very political. We have to protect the freedom of the Internet.. Internet has been an unattended space of communication, it was born from military investigations but we are using it in a thousand ways… Webdocumentary is filmmaking but we can also by affected by the censorship in the Net. It is important to keep struggling for this freedom.

 What is your current project?

I am working with TOXA, a multimedia platform for NFB (National Film Board of Canada) and co-produced by ARTE. It is a very interesting project but I cannot say anything now. It is a really sensitive subject. The story is in Canada, but it touches worldwide. It is not a Canadian subject. If we achieved to do it we will release it in one-year a half time. I really hope so!

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