Jacques Vernaudon, member of the jury: ‘Disseminating knowledge is one of the challenges of documentary’

Jacques Vernaudon, lecturer in linguistics at the University of French Polynesia, specialising in Oceanic languages, is a member of the FIFO jury for the first time. Audiovisual media was his first choice in terms of profession before changing direction to linguistics. He has always remained attached to this sector and marvelled at documentaries.   

Did you study filming before studying linguistics?

Yes, I studied filming and I have accompanied several camera crews. I didn’t pursue it as then I had a calling as such for linguistics and therefore I switched to study languages, Tahitian first of all, then Oceanic languages in general. I’ve still got a soft spot for the audiovisual world.

Do you like to watch documentaries?

When I was studying in Paris, every year I went to  the Cinéma du Réel, an international documentary film festival that takes place at the Centre Pompidou. I was filled with wonder each time. What was interesting was the attitude of film directors, how they treat a subject. I am very fascinated by a director called Frederick Wiseman. For his documentary called ‘Titicut Follies’ about a psychiatric state prison, he shot 300 hours of footage and made a one-hour film from it. There is no commentary. You watch and see. The editing and soundtrack convey powerful emotions. This documentary left its mark on me. He has worked in a zoo and a department store, in systematic institutions, revealing the system through images and sound. Screenwriting in order to reveal reality really fascinates me.

This is the first time that you are a member of the FIFO jury. How did you respond to this proposal?

I hesitated to begin with for professional reasons and then I found an organisation that enabled me to fulfil my role as a member of the jury at FIFO and my university work. What I liked about this idea was the opportunity to see all the competition films and a selection of the non-competition films. To be able to give the time to it. And discussion with the other members of the jury will be interesting. I know that I will learn things, find out about countries and islands. I’m also going there out of intellectual curiosity. I’ll also discover what the authors are attracted to, what is coherent for Oceanic societies today and what the prevailing themes are.

How do you see your responsibility as part of the jury?

I haven’t really thought about it. Having studied Oceanic languages and cultures, I think I have a sharp eye regarding what has meaning in local societies. My role will perhaps be to bring a form of academic expertise to the way in which subjects are treated. I don’t mean the cinematographically but the way in which the empirical reality of societies is addressed. Is it distorted or rather rendered in a meaningful way, even if the directors look at it in  particular way? Disseminating knowledge is one of the challenges of documentary. In a way, documentaries are meant to inform. There is an emotional dimension, a certain outlook and a certain style, but these films must keep an informative dimension rooted in reality. I believe I know a little about sociological, linguistic and cultural realities that will allow me to evaluate if the documentaries distort or reflect reality whilst at the same time provide a certain degree of sensitivity, a certain outlook.

Have you looked at the competition films? What subjects, countries and themes were addressed?

I have read the synopses. I’m waiting to see them. I know that whatever the subject, it is the treatment that makes the difference. A good film is not made because a good subject has been chosen, a good film is made because the treatment of the subject is intelligent. The work is creative even if it is a documentary.

What do you think about the festival?

I think that this festival is an amazing opportunity, that it is held here in Polynesia. It’s an opening, a window on the Pacific. Every year, we have this opportunity to access, through the eyes of film directors, the reality of Oceania and the themes on which the directors have worked and which are significant to the local population.

I can’t wait to see the films and to discuss them with my fellow members of the jury.

Lucie Rabréaud/ FIFO 2020