26. September 2017 · Comments Off on Five Questions With Pascal Gélinas, Director of “A Bridge Between Two Worlds” · Categories: Canadian Filmmakers, Documentaries, Five Questions with..., Uncategorised · Tags: , , , , , ,

Pascal Gélinas. Photo by Nicole Giguère

“In our media-charged environment, catastrophe is an everyday occurrence in the visuals that we see of the world. Through my two films, I wanted to show the other side of the world, where miracles become daily events. I wanted everyone to recall that a vast majority of humans are fundamentally good, capable of solidarity, ” director Pascal Gélinas tells Five Questions With during my conversation with him about A Bridge Between Two Worlds his multiple award-winning documentary film about Gilles Raymond and the people of the Islands of Flores, Indonesia and his previous film The Water Bearer which he made ten years earlier on the same subject matter.

A Bridge Between Two Worlds tells the story how Muslim and Catholic farmers, on the Island of Flores, Indonesia, wage a battle to defeat their poverty and to enhance their environment with the support of “honour loans” from North American and European families. This remarkable solution to break the cycle of poverty was initiated by Gilles Raymond, a Canadian volunteer from Québec, who has forged deep bonds in Flores over the last 15 years. Directed by Pascal Gélinas the film, which has its Ottawa premiere at the One World Film Festival on September 30, 2017, captures the power of solidarity across borders and shows how much more is possible when people are provided with opportunities to succeed.

I understand that A Bridge Between Two Worlds is a follow-up film to The Water Bearer, a film that you made 10 years ago. How did you get involved in making two films about Gilles Raymond and the people of the Island of Flores?
The Water Bearer is the first story about Gilles Raymond and people of the Island of Flores which I made in 2006. The film is the beginning of the story where Catholics and Muslims of the island work hand in hand to bring water to their villages. Ten years later, A Bridge Between Two Worlds shows how these communities, after having won the battle for water, now overcome poverty and enhance their environment.

I had been working as a director on Découverte, a television program on French CBC (Radio-Canada) for 20 years. Although it was gratifying work, I had this desire to return to making a documentary film. At that time Gilles Raymond, who I have known since 1980, had become a volunteer worker for CUSO. During his short yearly holiday back in Canada, he used to come to my home for a visit. In the summer of 2004, we discussed the fascinating work he had begun with Flores peasants, uniting Catholics and Muslims to bring water to their villages.

Bridge 07Gilles Raymond meets villagers on the Island of Flores

Thus I had found the subject for my documentary. I tried to get grants for the project and help from Radio-Canada but nothing worked. So I decided to make the film on my own. With a rented DVCam camera from the NFB, I got a ticket with my Aeroplan points and jumped into the unknown.

It was a GREAT experience. Working alone gave me total freedom to shoot whatever I felt useful for the film. After one month of shooting, I returned to Montreal, I bought a Mac and Final Cut software, learned how to use it, and took 2 years of my spare time to make the film. It premiered in Montreal at RIDM in fall 2006. The film went on to screen at over 30 festivals around the world, win five awards as well as air on French CBC, ARTE in Europe, NHK in Japan and TV5 Monde.

Bridge Film 01 - Gilles et tuyau

Gilles Raymond  helped to bring water to the Flores people.

Afterwards I kept in touch with Gilles while working on several other films. Having helped the Flores people bring water to their villages, Gilles’ next goal was to help them escape poverty. To help him out, I got him a radio interview on Radio-Canada in September 2012 where he spoke about his idea to break the cycle of poverty by linking local farmers with “honour loans”. Naturally I brought along my camera and shot the interview. After his radio interview, many got in touch with Gilles offering their support. This became the starting point of A Bridge Between two Worlds.

What were some of the challenges you faced in the making of the film?
The major challenges for me was the commitment of time required to make the film and the scarcity of funding for a film on this subject matter. I knew I would be tied to this project for a good 3 years of my life and I had no job to help me pay for the expenses. I tried to get grants, but it seems that a film based on human solidarity is too hard to fund.

I did get some help from a NFB program (aide au cinéma indépendant canadien) where filmmakers pay 10% of their expenses. Crowdfunding with my friends added up for $11,000. And I also got $10,000 from the Caisse d’Économie solidaire Desjardins bank, and $10,000 from la Fondation canadienne de la vidéo religieuse, since my project reflected authentic Ecumenism in how Gilles and the Catholic clergy of Flores are working hand in hand with the Muslims.

Bridge 04 - Gilles Raymond devant un megalithe

Gilles Raymond on the Island of Flores

Gilles Raymond is depicted in the film as someone who truly cares about the work that he is doing on the Island of Flores. Do we need more people like Gilles to make a difference in the world?
The amazing thing with Gilles is that his life is centered on helping others. At the same time, he smokes cigarettes, and likes to drink arak (an alcoholic drink typically produced in South Asia and Southeast Asia) at night, when the work is over. He is definitely a charismatic person and a leader. He learned a lot working with the people of Opération Dignité in Quebec, and tries to be useful in his own way. Yes, we need more people like him. But I think that many people do their best to help and care for others. They do it more simply and discretely then Gilles but they do the same.

In your voice-over narration we can feel your presence and your empathy for the film’s subjects. At one point in the film, a village priest jokes about you making another film and your persistence in doing so. During the making of the film did you ever consider allowing yourself to have a more on-camera presence in the film?
You know, Ed, I confess that I am very humble about this aspect. I have been making films for 50 years, and I know that a good documentary has to tell a vibrant story to be appealing. Some friends told me that this film is not only about solidarity, but also about friendship.

Yes I give great importance to the commentary of the film. That’s why I decided to slightly show my presence. I am the observer of what I am filming, I am there to transmit it to others. The message is central. The priest’s remark came as a gift. It’s the same thing with the last interview with Gilles at the end of the film. He replies for 2 sentences, and then jumps into a car with passing friends that offer him a lift. What a great way to end a film on a solidarity backpacker.

Pascal Gélinas and villagers on the Island of Flores

What do you want the viewer to take away after viewing your film?
In our media-charged environment, catastrophe is an everyday occurrence in the visuals that we see of the world. Through my two films, I wanted to show the other side of the world, where miracles become daily events. I wanted everyone to recall that a vast majority of humans are fundamentally good, capable of solidarity. That is our only way out. I once heard about a French association called Les reporters de l’espoir. I feel a bit like them. I want to be useful, and this is my way to do it.

If I may add, I would also like the viewer to know what working on my two films taught me. They taught me of the importance of ancestors. All Asia, all Africa and all South America (at least before Christopher Columbus) strongly believe in the worship of ancestors. Only us, white occidental people, too rational, don’t consider this reality.

I was struck by the fact that the Flores people would before starting any action first thank their ancestors for their past help and then ask them for their support for the work they are about to do.

Who are your ancestors? Your friends and family members that died in the past! Having to make two films on a shoestring budget, I tried it.  And maybe by doing it, I am just talking to myself? But the result was great. The answers are not the ones you expect, but they are good ones. A bit like in the Rolling Stones’ song. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime…”

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Pascal Gélinas is currently busy submitting his film into as many film festivals as possible. He has made both English and Spanish subtitled versions of the film in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. So far the result has been phenomenal. “A Bridge Between Two Worlds” has been selected at 42 film festivals and has won nine awards.

He has accompanied his film to Cuba, Chicago, Lorraine, Burgundy, Normandy, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Armenia. In October, he will be attending United Nation’s Association Film Festival in San Francisco, and from there he will fly to Malaysia for the Kuala Lumpur Environment Film Festival.

He tells me that he would love to jump into his 2007 Ford and drive to Ottawa for the film’s screening at the One World Film Festival but unfortunately he is committed to speak at the Le Festival du film de Saint-Séverin on the same day.

As we end our conversation about his film and its success on the festival circuit, he says that “It is a great experience. I am 71 years old, and the possibility of encountering people, discovering foreign cultures, discussing about my work is A GREAT REWARD. I love it. It is a great privilege.”

Join One World Film Festival and Ottawa Indie Fest for the Ottawa Premiere of this multiple award-winning film, winner of the Best Canadian Documentary Award at the 2017 Canada Independent Film Festival in Montreal and recipient of People’s Choice Awards at the International Festival Caméras des Champs in France and at the iChill Manila International Film Fest, Manila, Philippines. It screens on Saturday September 30 at 12:00pm at Saint Paul university

 

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