ITW with Cécile Tessier Gendreau

A call for action for a suffering youth.

_MG_0509(1)A valuable lesson in humility is what Cécile Tessier-Gendreau took away from her ‘humane adventure.’ For this investigative reporter, directing Ananahi, demain was a real life experience. ‘Things do not look the same after that,’ she confided during the conversation. Concerned by a suffering Polynesian youth in search of its identity, Cécile Tessier-Gendreau went to meet them. What did she discover? A youth marked by 200 years of upheaval, a youth that logically aspires to modernity but also a youth that struggles to build an identity in this world. ‘The young have great difficulty expressing what they feel. Speech is not yet liberated unlike other countries in the Pacific, they are ‘ashamed’ to say things.’ That is why the journalist, a confirmed globe trotter, has turned to music, An important element in Polynesian culture. ‘When I met the Takanini, I knew straight away that I had to film them.’ ‘Takanini’ is a group of Marquesan musicians with a new style of reggae. It sings about its culture, asserts its language and values. The message delivered by their music, a call for action to young people, is somewhat disturbing but fires up the crowds with its evocative power. Still preoccupied by this meeting and this non-competition documentary at FIFO, Cécile Tessier-Gendreau passionately tells us about it.

Tell us about your meeting with this group that is now known throughout French Polynesia…

The first time that I saw Poiti, the author, composer and singer of the group, he seemed completely preoccupied by his culture. In fact, Poiti is someone touched by grace, he is on earth as he has a message to convey, a fight to lead. The other musicians are there to accompany him and help him to shape his message. Poiti is known in the Marquesas as he is a living force. He has had to fight against an illness all of his life. It is therefore evident that the film should focus on him and his film.

You therefore used their music to deal with the problem of  Polynesian youths torn between tradition and modernity?

Yes as their music is a call for action as the Takanini say: ‘Let’s take ownership! Stop looking for the guilty ones, we now need to reconstruct.’ Beyond denunciation, the Takanini have a constructive vision of the future. What immediately attracted me to them, was their forward thinking. Today, on the mainland or in Europe, there is talk of decline, of a return to simple values. The Takanini have always advocated this. I also admire their fight towards this return to earth, to the faapu (kitchen garden), whilst the majority of young people aspire to a consumer society. Note though, Takanini is not involved in politics but humanity.

Do you sometimes feel a barrier between your two cultures? 

Not a barrier, I would say more that I feel the difference between our cultures. It is felt particularly in the language, the Tahitian one is based on metaphors. The problem surrounding this documentary has always been in the editing as it was the first time that I had edited a film in which I could not always master the language. For the group’s songs, I asked for a literal translation. It was impossible sometimes to leave it as it was as it would have been incomprehensible for Europeans. I therefore had to modify the translated phrase without losing the meaning or the depth. This was when I understood the challenge for Polynesians as 42 % of them are not fluent in their maternal language or French. How can you flourish when you are not fluent in your language?

You have not tried to look deeper into the historical aspect of Polynesian culture, why?

I have obviously read up a lot about it but I have always favoured reports about society to historical films, even if it is very good. I think that we need to talk about what is happening now, the present is important. A film will not mend the past, on the other hand, but it can encourage us to think about the future.