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Belgium / France

Eve Duchemin • Director of Time Out

"The emotions we feel watching fiction films are roused differently to when we watch documentaries"

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- We met with the Belgian director who won the Magritte for Best Documentary in 2018 and who is now trying her hand at fiction by way of her new feature film

Eve Duchemin • Director of Time Out
(© Aurore Engelen)

We met with director Eve Duchemin, who was awarded the Magritte for Best Documentary in 2018 thanks to her medium-length film En bataille, portrait d’une directrice de prison, and who is now trying her hand at fiction by way of Time Out [+see also:
film review
interview: Eve Duchemin
film profile
]
, which was screened in a premiere at the Ramdam Festival.

Cineuropa: Can we talk about the career path you’ve taken, why you chose film and how you transitioned from documentaries to fiction?
Eve Duchemin:
I’d already started making home movies on VHS when I was small. All kinds of coincidences led me to study at INSAS, in the cinematography department. I was incredibly shy, so it was really hard for me to share my thoughts with a team. So I started filming a few old people I knew. Filming people very close up, getting inside their personal spaces, talking to them through the camera… it was something I did from the very beginning. And I haven’t stopped painting portraits since. At a certain point, I felt mature enough, or at least more in control of my relationship with words, to start inventing characters. This process of making fiction films isn’t so different to the documentary process, but I needed to understand that the emotions we feel watching fiction films are roused differently to when we watch documentaries.

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What’s the difference?
Fiction viewers are hardened by thousands of stories, they won’t be moved by overly simple things. With documentary films, reality is so powerful that people can be moved by very basic things. With fiction, you have to agree to play along, respect emotional peaks; you can take viewers to more shameless places, push boundaries in order to shake viewers up a little bit more.

Time has a particular significance in the film. What’s surprising is that the characters return before their time’s up, as if they’re struggling with too much freedom. It’s totally counter-intuitive for people who aren’t familiar with prison life.
One of the characters is so hungry for life that once he’s outside, he panics: he feels safer in prison. The spark which made me want to tell this story was when I was filming my documentary in prison. I came across the case of a young guy who didn’t return from leave when he only had 6 months left to serve, even though it would result in a considerable amount of time being added to his sentence. One prisoner around thirty years old, who’d been in prison for 10 years, then told me that he’d refused every offer of leave because the return journey, coming back to prison, seemed an impossible one to make. That was the starting point for Time Out, helping viewers to put themselves in these guys’ shoes. We essentialise them, we gather them all up under a generic term, "delinquents", which distances them from us. But if we step inside of their shoes and get inside their heads, we might see them differently.

Their minds remain in prison but their bodies are free. The three of them experience this very differently.
As I see it, prison can annihilate language and silence people. But you can’t silence bodies. They express our traumas, our frustrations, sometimes against our will. They’re an exceptional vector for travelling alongside someone, experiencing the world as they do. This leaves room for vulnerability, for things which can’t be said, either out of modesty or because we don’t have the words.

How do you go about humanising prisoners in your film, helping viewers forget their crimes in order to reveal the men beneath?
It takes time, that’s why the film lasts almost two hours. You have to let them make their way in the world and go looking for the men they were before, and feel their humanity in other people’s eyes, the kind they had before they committed those crimes which saw them removed from society. I feel like prison becomes almost secondary in the film, even though it hangs over their heads like a lead balloon. The idea, with this film, was that we learn to look at them as something other than inmates, give them back their humanity, and avoid making a thesis film. It’s not a film that’s going to decide whether they still have a place in society. We have to hide theoretical questions within stories. It took me a long time to move away from discourse and from my point of view.

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(Translated from French)

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