Carl Aderlhod: ‘I’m here to meet people and listen.’

Carl Arderlhod is chairman of the jury for the 16th FIFO. Historian and writer, he is taking on this role for the first time and is very much looking forward to this experience.

Is this your first trip to French Polynesia?

Absolutely. Likewise it’s the first time I’m chairing a jury. Nothing but new experiences! (laughter). I’m embarking on my first visit to Polynesia with great humility and a desire to listen. I have just finished a documentary series on the history of immigrants in France, there’s one thing that I took from this experience: you need to know when to keep quiet, listen and learn. You have to endeavour to forget any preconceived ideas on certain subjects. Before arriving in Tahiti, my first reflex as a historian was to read all the books on the history of Polynesia. Wallès Kotra quite rightly said to find out but also and above all to meet people and listen. I therefore didn’t read anything and am looking through the eyes of an innocent child. I think that this innocence is a virtue that may entail risks as we may ask awkward or inappropriate questions, but at the same time it helps to assuage potential speakers who would be shocked by my questions. Naivety is an effective way of crossing paths, meeting people and having an enriching experience.

As a novelist and director of documentary series, how do you approach documentary at FIFO?

It’s a new experience for me. Approaching documentary is diametrically opposed to writing, which is closer to that of a historian. Let me explain: the more you step back in terms of the subject, the closer you get to it. And the better it is… Here, at FIFO, what interests me is seeing all the cultures in their original state, without any intermediary. One of the criteria for judging a documentary is being aware of the director or screenwriter as little as possible.

What do you expect from a documentary?

I think that there bad perspectives rather than bad subjects. Other than that, I am a man of words therefore the aesthetic quality is not necessarily the most important. The question of form is important however in that it must not detract from the content. Documentary is a combination of emotions and reflections. A documentary is successful when these two elements are combined: emotion as it speaks to the human side of each of us; reflection as it extends this emotion and does something with it. If there is just emotion it’s a bit short-sighted…

What did you feel when you arrived in Polynesia?

The warm welcome first of all of course…but what really made an impression on me was what I experienced this morning. My alarm went off two hours too early, so I saw the sunrise over the beach. I must say it was a big shock, especially as I saw the mountains emerge from the other side. I thought Polynesia was all about sandy islands – there’s naivety for you (laughter), so seeing mountains so close to the sea was an even greater shock!

As chairman, what’s your advice to the other members of the jury?

My advice is quite simply that there is none. The word ‘chairman’ does not mean much to me as the members of this jury have more experience in terms of documentary, or are more familiar with local culture than me. My aim is twofold. First of all, I want to give these documentaries the attention they deserve as work that has been put into them. There are directors and authors who have really put all their talent and expression into these works. We need to watch, study and analyse them as diligently as possible. Then, I want to drive the momentum for discussions. We have already been discussing a little between us. There were greatly contrasting approaches and visions. It is important that I ensure, that I cast a favourable light on this diversity.

Are you excited for FIFO 2019 to start?

I’m excited about two things. The first is to get the rhetoric over with. I’m a writer not a talker. Then I want to discover. I’m conscientious so I watched then re-watched the trailers of the films in competition. I must admit that I’m eager to discover each of these films. The trailers whet my appetite and showed important issues. When I got here, I thought that I was going to feel completely out of place. The reality is that what strikes me about this programme is that there are questions and themes on which I work myself: identity, transmission of culture, ecological transition, migrants, etc. I am particularly excited for it to start as I’ll see the way in which these themes are addressed by other cultures and the solutions provided. It’s not simply curiosity; it gets me out of my comfort zone. It’s very interesting because that’s how you gain a broader vision of the world.

FIFO – Suliane Favennec