An evening with Jan Kounen: blending a voyage of discovery and sharing of cultures

rencontre avec Kumu HinaHeld at the Concorde cinema on Monday 2nd February, the evening with Jan Kounen was in full swing. The chairman of the jury presented two of his productions, two docu-fictions that are testament to an Amazonian community. A surprising adventure…


‘What a journey!’ This spectator is not alone in continuing to be fascinated by these psychedelic, enchanting and at times crude images that she has just seen come and go on the large cinema screen. Screened as part of the Special Jan Kounen evening, the chairman of the jury of this FIFO 2015, Other Worlds and The Story of Panshin Beka have touched, affected and even overwhelmed the public.

‘It is impossible not to be moved. It is special, surprising and disconcerting,’ unleashes Carole upon leaving the screening. The young woman is still marked by the filmmaker’s journey, to meet Peruvian Shipibo healers in the Amazon. Beside them he disovers a sacred plant : the Ayahuasca, the vine of the soul (or vine of the dead). ‘It’s borderline creepy! The trip takes you a long way, I have no desire to try it,’ confesses Carole who receives a nod of approval from her companion still reeling from the hallucinogenic effects of this plant. For 33-year-old Benjamin, his opinion is somewhat different. ‘I saw the film fifteen or so times, each time I see it I feel the same thing as the first time: the desire to experience it!’


The universality of people and cultures


Through Other Worlds, released in cinemas in 2004, Jan Kounen tells the story of self-discovery and the discovery of others. Questioned at the end of the screening by a spectator about the effects of this experience, the filmmaker willingly admits that it changed his life. ‘I understood things. Now I return there every year, it is an integral part of my life. This journey is  a way of linking my feelings,’ explains Jan Kounen, dressed in a relaxed outfit that seems to delight him. ‘It is lovely to participate in a festival whilst in shorts and old shoes,’ confides the amused director at the end of the evening. Before noting that it would not of course, in any way, compromise the seriousness of his work during FIFO.

‘It takes us in pursuit of the truth, we should all look for our own,’ confides 36-year-old Freddy, who insists that he found himself in the two films. ‘The director showed us the universality of people and cultures.’ Jan Kounen acknowledges having found this energy and this strength in their relationship with nature and spirits amongst Amazon Indians as well as amongst Polynesians. ‘In spite of the distance, these are close people,’ explains the director, above all marked by the mana on Moorea Island that he visited on Sunday with the festival guests before FIFO began.


Shared Histories

The proximity between these people and these cultures is also found in the problems that they encounter. A point that has not gone undetected by a Polynesian mother, sitting in front of the filmmaker. The Story of Panshin Bekacalled out to her, it resounds like a reality that is only too familiar. This film produced as part of a millenium goals for development campaign comes back to the question of maternal health. Based on real accounts by Shipibos people in the Amazon, Jan Kounen has constructed a fiction in which a pregnant woman dies as she is unable to reach a hospital in time. ‘It is sad and dramatic,’ interjects the Polynesian grandma. ‘In the Tuamotu Islands, we have the same problem, some women die because they cannot be supported in time.’

The rest of the public are moved by this and there is a general whisper and nod in agreement. ‘In the Amazon rainforest, the river isolates the tribes, here it is the sea,’ confides Jan Kounen satisfied to have been able to share these films and this moment with the Polynesian public. The chairman of the jury is now impatient to discover documentaries from the Pacific that he has, by his own admission, rarely the oppportunity to see. So, enjoy FIFO and enjoy your trip in Oceania, Mr. Chairman!


Suliane Favennec