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Éric Barbier, a ‘candid’ chairman armed with insatiable curiosity

Éric Barbier is the chairman of the jury for the 17th FIFO. Accustomed to fiction, the director of Promise at Dawn, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Romain Gary, Éric Barbier takes his first trip to the Pacific.

I am a bit of an anachronism, the naive one on this jury’. These are the words with which the chairman of the jury of this 17th FIFO introduced himself during the press conference held on Monday 2nd February, under the paepae a Hiro of the Maison de la Culture. Éric Barbier is unfamiliar with Oceania. And he accepts it. Living in Paris, and originally from Brignoles, a small village in the South of France, his first journey to the heart of the Pacific is a real journey of discovery for him. A discovery that began on Sunday with a visit to Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea. ‘When you go to Moorea, you have a received fantasy from films and books about these heavenly islands in the Pacific. It’s funny because when you see the issues discussed at FIFO, you realise that things are much more complex than they appear’. Éric Barbier is thinking in particular of these young people, who like him originally from a small village, are faced with having to travel far from home in order to learn. Except that here in Oceania, a region of thousands of islands surrounded by water, the process is much more complicated. ‘FIFO highlights this contrast and these issues. In any case, that’s what I took from what I read and saw about the festival before coming here.’ 

Listen and unite

If Éric Barbier, surrounded by members of the jury comprised of directors and regional specialists, is naive, it is in the good sense of the term as he wishes to emphasise.  ‘Being naive, is not having a priori knowledge. It is undoubtedly my sole concern as chairman of the jury. I don’t know much about the culture of Oceania. It is limited to literature, therefore things that have been reported about this world. While here, issues are addressed by people who are embedded in these issues. This makes all the difference.’ For the first time therefore, Éric Barbier will approach the country through the eyes of those who live there. His role as chairman of jury will also be to listen to the points of view of those who form the jury. Members who are knowledgeable and have a strong connection with their country. ‘They have cultures and are permeated by it. I come from far afield and I’m going to listen to them, I’m going to try to unite the ideas of various parties. My work will be to look at the narrative aspect, how the story is told as I don’t know anything about Oceania’.

Tell a story

For this film and fiction specialist, who presented a premiere of his latest film Un petit pays in Tahiti, the most important thing is the narrative: ‘a good narrator is one who interests you and draws you into deep, intimate and complex things’, says the director evaluating that the difference between documentary and fiction is ultimately very small. There is a fine line centred on a certain point, ‘the strength of a film is how it is filmed, how it is narrated. When there is a camera, choices are made like for example the staging or light. Ultimately, the key difference is that in documentary, the camera is there, in fiction it’s all about concealing the third person, in other words the camera’. For this FIFO, Eric Barbier will be able to devote his talent and experience to the festival with this candour that will certainly enable him to gain a clearer view of this region of the Pacific, largely unknown and yet so rich. A wonderful way therefore to discover Oceania. And perhaps inspire his next fiction film. ‘I really hope so’.

Suliane Favennec/ FIFO 2020