We recently began a dialogue with Tony Coco-Viloin, filmmaker and director of a new school based in Guadeloupe : ÉPICES, a structure for training, education, research and sharing in film and audiovisual arts. This conversation developed after our encounter last autumn on this French Caribbean island from which our families – who have a few ancestors in common – hail. We’re sharing here the beginning of a questioning about what Caribbean cinema could be, not only produced locally by auteurs and autrices from the area itself, but also a cinema invented using elements of particular language, anchored in the baroque tradition of Caribbean speech, in its ruses and images, its re-framings and cacophonies. A cinema that rooted itself, long before the industry that bears this name, in a “pan-iconic” and de-speaking speech.
After diglossia…” by T. Coco-Viloin
First of all, thank you for this collegial understanding of the fact that there is a nuance between filming a thing to represent it, and filming a thing to see what it looks like when it is filmed.
Understanding film as a metaphor of life could lead us to harness in an alternative way the fact that each angle of a shot implies the adoption of an emotional, intellectual and cultural position.
Ideas can be works of art, they emerge and are sometimes materialized, but all ideas do not need to be materialized. And the development of one of our socio-structural components: L’ATTENTE (WAITING, passivity that in fact leads to a state of attention) allows us to capture, as a group or alone, a sense of (the) real, a trembling of life, to transform vision into gaze. It is a model of thought and social practice that will without a doubt reflect the state of flux in which our Caribbean arts could merge.
But this idea of shaping or reshaping has no other ambition than a desire to interweave our arts, to make better use of this avant-garde that inhabits us, whether artistic or political, and which should make life livable, and thus death “confrontable”.
These necessary encounters are as many living organs and their veritable complexity stems from the fact that we all more or less stake our own lives on them, sometimes within the invisible imagination over which time has no power.
And so the sign is no longer systematically condemnation of the other. We each have our own singularity, our way of being in the world and it is in this diversity that university, not to say universality, hides, in no case the center of the world. What stakes?
How can we reach the reserve of the unknown in this world? How do we realize it? How do we articulate it without being limited by our own ego? How do we make objects into subjects?
Perhaps by describing them, by questioning other modes of representation, notably filmic, from the perspective of a rare and dear matter of expression, speech.
Creole speech presupposes the notion of an acoustic aesthetic (sensation/sensibility), or an acoustic image (system of representation):
Each sound, each auditory object that emanates from a voice refers us to one or several acoustic images that are also sometimes evocations of the real world.
Each evocation, in a given context, influences the meaning of this transcribed, transmitted world. The duo “evocation-context” generates types of speech that refer to the conditions of their utterance.
In Guadeloupe alone, we can count 22 types of speech (according to Dany Bebel-Gisler in “le défi culturel guadeloupéen – devenir ce que nous sommes”). This emergence of a classification of our manners of speaking constitutes a new starting point for the illumination of our matters of Caribbean expression, of our paradigms, including the filmic. This classification does not exist, as far as I know, anywhere else. In this, the aficionados of structuralist linguistics might see a helping hand extended for the renewal or experimentation of other modes of representation, other discursive practices at the heart of a world in mutation. Remember that “cinema” means “art of movement”, s.he who best understands movement, could only be thrilled by the classification proposed by Bebel-Gisler, as it so ably permits the examination of film-making all over the world, whether in terms of methods of writing or viewing.
It is precisely this manner of recognizing the university of Guadeloupe, particularly of the “pan-iconic” (all image) Creole speech that we can today scientifically interpret a sound, and thus a word, in a different way, and this on 4 levels:
. Acoustic (physical identity of sound – example, the sound of an alarm: abrupt attack, stationary state with rapid modulation of amplitude, 85db, frequency…)
. Psycho-acoustic: How are the sounds perceived? (ringing, sudden alert, continuous, high-pitched, powerful shivering, auditory fatigue…)
. Semantic: What are the sounds meant to express (alarm signal)
. Aesthetic: Are they pleasing or displeasing? (ringing, frightening, disagreeable, ugly…)
By way of these stimili the system of Creole values can be examined, this system that regulates emotions, molecules of cinema and current systems of representation.
As Creole sometimes resides within the arrogance of the French language, it often adds a baroque touch to an image, giving it its vibrancy. It is not always in the area of speech, it frequently occurs in gestures, in language. Creole speech, this verbal (but also visual, auditory, and gestural) language authorizes a fertilization of classic cinematic grammar, based on the existence of 9 basic shots, or the manner of delineating filmic space, in accordance with a (signifying) frame in the service of a (signified) field.
Practically, in each of these types of identified speech can be found notions of movement, speed, time, matter, and characters (dyab, koko, makak, dlo,…). By associating this typology, I should say typography, with cinematic language, we redefine the very manner of describing the range of shots.
We see this more and more; the fixed shot is on the wane, increasingly the camera is freed up. Slight movements, sometimes barely perceptible, more frequently accompany each frame, each shot, in film. And thus, Creole speech, so very inhabited by movement, can blend into the classic grammar and enrich it. Take the case of words spoken “pawol an ba fèy”, namely “words uttered far from indiscreet ears” indicating a descending movement that seeks out information buried in an invisible that the French (or English) expression, for example, cannot relay. We could hear of “a close-up shot an ba fèy”, for example. This expression reveals much more about the intentions of the image maker. Experimenting with this, in accordance with different sorts of Creole and different expressions from the Caribbean zone, represents an as yet unsuspected reservoir of possibilities for the system of representation. If this part of the world is truly a crossroads of civilizations, then on our doorsteps, we have all the socio-cultural codes that allow us to find another place in the world.
Now we need to examine more closely extra-verbal rather than verbal language. Like cinema, language can make visible things that have as yet remained invisible. For example, we could look to other visual arts to find resonance with the “bigidi” convoked through dance by Léna Blou. “Bigidi” is vacillation, playing with the permanent oscillation between balance and imbalance provoked by chance and the unexpected. Chance allows for choices of syntax (movements), temporality (immobility is transformed into latency), space (which either retracts or dilates).
The practice and development of poetry are life-saving in our culture. Quite simply because for the most part it is a question of associating two words or two worlds that have never before come into contact. The poetic effect is born of this meeting, this renaissance of the verb, this dance of paradigms, this manner of renewing the real as a way to render or find life livable.
Creole proverbs, like other proverbs, always have a universal value; without a doubt they should be given more resonance. Each of them represents a theory of a scenario (or a promise for the spectator), foundation of the empathy of any spectator or consumer of emotions.
I hope to see you soon!
A Caribbean place by Olivier Marboeuf
Thank you so much for these words that touch and inspire me. This separation that you place between verbal and extra-verbal language makes me think of things I’m currently working on and that are working on me and in particular this question: how can we create a Caribbean place? If we start with the principle that the Caribbean place is in its essence in movement, diasporic, that it is a place that invents itself without (putting down) roots, that extends itself horizontally in a mangrove, then this place is first and foremost produced by the beginning of a language that permits speech. It is a place that takes on a form of bareness. And similarly to the old story-teller, still a slave, who launches himself into the wake, with a tongue that is not quite stable and an ever-growing store of invented, self-generating stories, in the Caribbean there is this necessity of speaking to be able to speak, speaking as a way of liberating a primary space, to offer a first ground for speech, a first place. It is on this ground for speech that the place begins and with it its cinema, in the sense of fantasies and images that will cause speech to rise up. Hallucinations.
The other thing I think of when I read your words is also linked to this cinema of speech, for which I believe we can extend its grammar even further when we move from singular speech – the figure of the author – to collective speech – the community that creates its cinema and that dislocates the heroism of the politics of the author, preferring instead what I would call a politics of frequencies, of polyphony. I have the impression that Creole speech is conversational rather than discursive. It proceeds by means of accumulation until it reaches a point of saturation that we know well, when tempers grow hot between friends or family, and conversation becomes an intense and illegible mass, from the outside. There are two things that interest me here. First, a form of collective contribution united in an attempt to “raise the place” of speech, giving it a certain speed and intensity. What I mean is that this should lead us to a Caribbean place that explodes the novelistic structure of French cinematic grammar – the screenplay, alternating dialogue… A place for cinema that proposes a montage of multiplied and simultaneous time frames, polyrhythms, with overlays, echo and saturation effects. Again, something that suggests musicality. But this still only occurs rarely in Caribbean cinema. Something still seems contained, held back, stifled, as if French imposed a form of decorum – as a normative language and one of authority, like a gaze that observes the Caribbean scene and regulates it. And then there is also what remains of shame vis-à-vis Creole noise. I’d like to know how to liberate this noise without complex(es), a noise that is angry and joyful at the same time.
The other thing about the intensity of collective speech is that it also serves as camouflage, as refuge. It is a place of speech that hides, in its intensity, a number of intimate frequencies, secrets, fragments of “pawol an ba fèy”, as you say. Yet another element of grammar that must be part of an aesthetic of Caribbean cinema: a “parlé déparlé” (despeaking speech) that hides and protects things. Because this is the deep heritage, in voices and bodies, of a life lived in occupied countries and imagination(s).
And finally, drawing on these motifs of a place for a Caribbean cinema that is yet to come – since in French (and English) cinema (the place) and cinema (the art form) are homonyms – my question, which I know is important to you also, is to wonder how to invent, engage, transmit, teach, and perhaps even to make attractive to Caribbean peoples this other manner of envisioning the cinema, from a path, a detour that would be our own.
Voilà, a bit of the music that resonates in me when I read your words.
See you soon.
Notes and comments by Tony Coco-Viloin
 It is precisely this which seems exciting to me… I’m working on the notion of “Creole fragment”, particularly for the needs of the creative role that montage must include in this process of emergence of works inhabited by this “new” créolité. The students have been sensitized to this by adjoining the question of conflicts and counterpoint as structural form.
 It would be interesting to find and analyze the few works that have taken this direction…
 The knowledge of the 22 types of speech is an interesting starting point for this… dozens of other parameters accompany them in a system that I have been able to study and which demands to be pursued … I’ve reached the arrogance of the French…
 So… a framework…
 And sometimes “pawol tchololo” (words with no meaning).
 Pawol palé, pawol dépalé (one of the 22 types).
 Yes, with the school, that is the mission. A return to the history of cinema, and even of pre-cinema, makes this detour possible.
conversation translated from French by Liz Young
Tony Coco-Viloin is a filmmaker and director of Epices in Guadeloupe
« La représentation de la parole de l’homme noir dans le cinéma mondial contemporain » B.U Aix-en-Provence (1990)
« Lettre à Irène » revue Derades – Guadeloupe (2007)
Diverse articles in the following reviews:
Sonovision, Ecran Total, Le film français, Africultures…