Jeff Benhamza: ‘We took Bobby to FIFO’
For his first documentary, Jeff Benhamza focused on Bobby Holcomb, an all-round artist who became a prominent cultural figure in French Polynesia. For FIFO, the director talks about this film that shows the true image of Bobby.
What incited you to make a film about Bobby, twenty years after his death?
Here in Polynesia, we all have Bobby in us. And, I had the feeling that it was important to highlight civil and humble people like Bobby, who had a real goal in mind: to defend the Polynesian culture and language. It was the first time in French Polynesia, that a man managed to alter parameters thanks to his painting and songs. That is why this character is captivating. And then, the other reason is that we wanted to benefit from the 20th anniversary of his death to have access to images other than archive images. Thus, we had access to events, concerts and exhibitions in tribute to Bobby. Without that, it would have been impossible to make the film, the archive images were not sufficient. Today, what makes me the most proud is to have taken Bobby to FIFO as I know that he would have loved this festival.
In your documentary, you show Bobby in a number of ways. The public finally seems to discover who he really was…
Yes, very much so. With the screening of the film, I realised in fact that people didn’t really know Bobby. They knew the singer of course but not the painter and less still his commitment. Few people, myself included moreover, were aware for example that he put himself in danger by producing canvases condemning the nuclear bomb. At the time, it was significant, especially knowing that Bobby was American, he could thus be thrown out at any time. Instead Bobby had the image of a man who was a little farfetched, with his pink shorts at the beach, but in reality, behind the image, there was a fighting spirit. Bobby was a deep person. Producing this film, I also understood that Bobby listened to his heart, even if the voice that he chose was the most difficult. It was the way he functioned.
How did producing the documentary go?
It is my first documentary, it took two years to film it. That’s long, very long! But in the end the editing was more complicated. I made the decision not to have a voice-over. I had never physically met Bobby, therefore it was not up to me to talk about him, I preferred to leave the people who knew Bobby to talk about him. This also makes the documentary more touching and moving. We also decided to use the familiar address, giving a more intimate slant to the film. What I am expecting from this film above all is for it to raise awareness. In Huahine, Bobby is a hero, yet his grave and his house have been abandoned. Perhaps a Bobby museum should be created? There is plenty of material: lithographs, music and now a documentary. For the Polynesians, it is a way of saying to Bobby that we will not forget him, and I think that he deserves it. If my documentary can bring this about then my journey to FIFO will not have been wasted!