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Zanzibar Films and the Dandies of May 1968

Between 1968 and 1970, Sylvina Boissonnas, a young French heiress and patroness of the arts, financed the production of some fifteen films that would prove highly influential while remaining largely unknown outside of France. Under the banner of “Zanzibar Films” (a name taken from the Maoist island nation in East Africa), a decidely informal collective of about a dozen artists, writers, and students began to make their first films. While the New Wave filmmakers had been in their late twenties and early thirties when they began filmmaking, the Zanzibar directors were younger (Philippe Garrel, one of the key figures, was just twenty) and were inspired by the heady spirit and times of May 1968. These filmmakers quickly became the darlings of Henri Langlois, who often showed their films at the Cinémathèque Française in late-night screenings. Despite their diversity, the Zanzibar films were marked by minimal scripts, the use of nonactors and improvisation, and strong ties to both the art world and the world of fashion. (Several of the Zanzibar participants spent time in Warhol’s Factory in the mid-1960s.) Their films represented the French equivalent of the American underground, and these young cinéastes quickly became the radical dandies of 
May 1968.

“Zanzibar Films and the Dandies of May 1968” was curated by Sally Shafto and presented in cooperation with the current retrospective of French experimental cinema (“Jeune, dure et pure!”) at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris with the support of Jackie Raynal-Saleh and Joe Saleh.

May 18 (Friday) 7 pm


Directed by Patrick Deval 
France 1968, 35mm, b/w, 65 min. 
With Laurent Condominas, Jackie Raynal, Michael Chapman
French with English subtitles

With its title taken from Georges Bataille’s journal Acéphale (literally, a headless man, but figuratively expressing the need to go beyond rational ways of thinking), Deval’s film is the most literary of the Zanzibar works. The film opens with an illustrative image: a head in the process of being shaved, in close up. This image is accompanied not by the sound of an electric razor but an electric saw, suggesting the need to achieve a tabula rasa by radical means. The story follows the adventures of a young man and his friends as they wander through a barely recognizable post–May 1968 Paris. In documenting the by-gone expressions and gestures of the ’68 generation in France, Acéphale becomes something of an anthropological film that reveals the rites and beliefs of the ideological novitiates.

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May 18 (Friday) 8:30 pm
May 21 (Monday) 7 pm

Deux Fois (Twice Upon a Time)

Directed by Jackie Raynal
France 1968, 35mm, b/w, 70 min.
With Jackie Raynal, Francisco Viader, Oscar
French with English subtitles

While Jackie Raynal is best known as the former programmer of two of New York’s premiere art cinemas—the Carnegie Hall and the Bleecker Street—she began her career in film nearly forty years ago in Paris, where by 1964 she was the youngest film editor in France. Challenged by Zanzibar patroness Boissonnas to stop editing other people’s films and make her own, Raynal traveled to Barcelona, where she completed Deux Fois in a single week. One of the most enigmatic of the Zanzibar films, it is composed of a series of unconnected episodes, some of which are repeated. The film begins with a prologue in which Raynal (carefully made-up and fashionably dressed) is seated, head lowered and hands joined in prayer, before both her dinner and her film. While Deux Fois lays claim to the Surrealist legacy of Buñuel and Cocteau, it gained critical recognition as a pioneering work within the burgeoning feminist cinema.

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May 19 (Saturday) 7 pm
May 21 (Monday) 8:30 pm

La Revolution N'est Qu'un Debut: Continuous
(The Revolution is only a Beginning: Let’s Continue)

Directed by Pierre Clémenti
France 1968, 16mm, color, silent, 30 min. 
With Frédéric Pardo, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Nicole Laguigné

This recently discovered film by actor/filmmaker Pierre Clémenti records the tumultuous period leading up to May 1968 and its aftermath. Clémenti’s psychedelic visual style uses filters and superimposed images to create a manifesto for “permanent revolution,” “spontaneous creation,” and “poetry in the streets.” Like the Warhol Factory, Clémenti and his friends were interested in an expanded notion of art; here we see their band Les Fabuleux Loukoms (later called Les Jeunes rebelles) practicing, together with other activities that form an important document of the period and a portrait of key figures in Zanzibar Films.

screens with La Revolution (see above)

Home Movie: On the Set of Philippe Garrel's "Le Lit de la Vierge"

Directed by Frédéric Pardo
France 1968, 16mm, b/w & color, silent, 30 min. 

Filmmaker Philippe Garrel has always discussed the importance of painting for his cinema and, specifically, the painting of his longtime friend Frédéric Pardo. In this film, Pardo documents the Garrel inner circle in Morocco in 1968 on the set of Le Lit de la Vierge. While the stars of the Garrel film were Pierre Clémenti and Zouzou, here in Pardo’s behind-the-scenes view it is Garrel’s peripheral actors who take center stage: Pierre-Richard Bré, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Babette Lamy, and above all, the luminous Tina Aumont. The Zanzibar equivalent of The Chelsea Girls, Pardo’s home movie is a mystical, life-affirming celebration.

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screens with La Revolution (see above)

Le Lit de la Vierge (The Virgin's Bed)

Directed by Philippe Garrel
France 1969, 35mm, b/w, 114 min.
With Pierre Clémenti, Zouzou, Tina Aumont
French with English subtitles

Born in 1948, Philippe Garrel was the wunderkind of French cinema in the 1960s. His fifth feature, Le Lit de la Vierge, is a parable about Jesus set in modern times. Shot in the aftermath of the uprisings of May 1968, the film reverberates with the rebellious spirit of that period. Pierre Clémenti plays a Christ reluctant to assume his earthly mission, while the Virgin Mary (Zouzou, doubly cast as Mary Magdalene) attempts to reconcile him with his duty. Garrel invokes the Christian narrative only to reject a strict retelling in a chronicle that is episodic and nonlinear. In naming his characters Mary and Jesus, Garrel reminds us of the contestatory attitude of the ’68 generation, for whom Jesus was a hippie avant la lettre. Made without a script and under the influence of LSD, Le Lit de la Vierge is minimally concerned with traditional religion. It does, however, suggest the ways in which Garrel and his friends saw themselves as belonging to a kind of religious sect, engaging in ritual behavior.

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Sally Shafto in Person
May 20 (Sunday) 7 pm

Lecture: "Zanzibar Films and the Dandies of May 1968"

Film scholar and writer Sally Shafto, a research associate at Princeton University, will discuss the little-known chapter in French film history that witnessed the emergence of an informal association of young filmmakers and the production of a unique cycle of experimental films. Originally at work on her doctoral thesis at the University of Iowa on the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Shafto became fascinated with the virtually unknown films produced under the banner of “Zanzibar” and has worked over the past two years on researching and assembling this retrospective series.






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Screens with Lecture (see above)


Director by Daniel Pommereulle
France 1969, 35mm on video, color, 37 min.
With Daniel Pommereulle, Mustapha, Charlie Urvois.
With minimal French dialogue 

In 1969, the painter-sculptor Daniel Pommereulle made his third film, this one financed by Sylvina Boissonnas. Although only a short, Vite was one of the most costly of all the Zanzibar productions. It features, for instance, shots of the moon taken by a state-of-the-art telescope, the Questar, that Pommereulle first saw while visiting Marlon Brando in southern California in 1968. In Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse, Pommereulle and his friend Adrien philosophize on how best to achieve le vide (emptiness) during their summer holidays. Three years later, Pommereulle would transform the word “vide” to “vite” (quickly), signifying his profound disenchantment with the aftermath of the revolution of May ’68.

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screens with La Revolution (see above)

Detruisez-Vous (Destroy Yourselves)

Directed by Serge Bard 
France 1968, 35mm, b/w & color, 75 min.
With Caroline de Bendern, Oliver Mosset, Juliet Berto
In French

The first of the Zanzibar films, Détruisez-vous was also the debut work of Serge Bard, a student of ethnology at the University of Nanterre who had become disenchanted with the university system and abandoned his studies. Like Godard’s La Chinoise, which featured Anne Wiazemsky (herself a student at Nanterre at the time), the film is set in Nanterre where, just weeks before the student uprising in May 1968, Bard returned to shoot. Prefiguring the mounting militancy, Bard casts Alain Jouffroy as a professor and has him lecture in a nearly empty classroom on the necessity of revolution.

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