Walker Art Center
"Le Cinema est un Language Universel"

PV: But if we have to think about the economical side, how does that inform our practice? How do you maintain the heart of your programming?

CB: The heart is no problem as long as it keeps beating. I'm looking for stories, because I believe everyone is interested in stories. Storytelling is a tradition we may be losing, but I believe that people haven't lost interest in good stories. Every curator has a personal touch. I've been curating since the early 1970s, not only film but performing and visual arts as well. My personal concern has always been with what story is important to tell right now. My approach to curating in the 1970s was completely different from how I curate now. The times and politics (in its broadest sense) partly affect my choices.

PV: How so?

CB: At the moment there is a greater need for social and political questioning than in the 1970s for instance. Two strategies in cinema are always guiding me strongly: cinéma modeste and cinéma d'urgence. Modest cinema and urgent cinema both stem from a need that stays close to a recognizable reality. At this time, I think this is more important than abstraction. Certainly when we talk about the moving image or cinema--and I'm not immediately talking about film related to visual arts--it's important that we offer images that the media doesn't show. It's important that we give a forum to artists who try to express their concerns through their films, who reveal their own cultural identity (without propagandistic goals) and try to give voice to the voiceless through cinema. This might be labeled political cinema, but there seems to be a need for such a political cinema these days, certainly in the world as it's turning now. We are living in somewhat desperate times, and it's important to provide questions, to make an effort to look at other cultures, and to listen to other opinions. We aren't living in a world of happy endings any more. Happy endings are what Hollywood is about. I like people to go home with more questions than when they came into the screening room, questions about what an image is, what they saw, what an image represents. Cinéma d'urgence and cinéma modeste are complementary to each other and invite the public to participate rather than to watch passively.

PV: How do you define cinéma d'urgence?

CB: Cinéma d'urgence is a cinema created out of a need, out of a concern. It often comes directly out of a personal conflict the filmmaker has in relation to his local or world experience. Cinéma d'urgence and cinéma modeste are both connected in spirit to a sixties idealism. But times and images change, so the approach to the subject matter changes as well. Cinéma réalité, cinéma d'urgence, and cinéma modeste are all interactive with one another and are experiencing revival at the moment. There is an urgency to give voice to some people, to find "truth." But what is "truth" and what is "reality"? It all depends on where you stand, and in the end film, video, and television will never reveal the absolute truth or show absolute reality because they are, fundamentally, lying machines. This doesn't take away my pleasure and interest in listening to the people who tell stories that are very important to hear right now: stories about forgiveness, tolerance, beauty, sadness, humanity, death, love, hate. It remains crucial, however, to question and reflect on what you see. For instance, these days I hear a lot of people ask, "Why do so many people hate the United States?" It's important to find this out, and through cinema (and visual arts) we can provide hints to possible answers. It's important to put an audience in an awkward and uneasy situation, to disturb them rather than provoke them. Provocation is an easy tool. To disturb is subtler, and it doesn't hurt anybody, whereas provocation is intended to hurt.

PV: And what is cinéma modeste?

CB: What I've been saying is, in fact, true for both. Cinéma modeste is, as I said, complementary to a cinéma d'urgence. It has a sort of fictional reality, as in the films of Abbas Kiarostami for instance. We sometimes also call it cinéma primitif. The elimination of all distraction around the characters and the story leads to a pure cinema focused on the essence of the human soul, of humanity, of being, of beauty. That's why Kiarostami is so revered. This is cinema that is close to the heart and immediately recognizable. It is the kind of cinema that goes back to postwar Italian neo-realism and films by Rossellini, de Sica, and others.