by Sabrina Mathews
The Centre Pompidou in Paris included my film, Lettres d’amour et de guerre (A time of love and war), as part of their programming for Le mois de la documentaire in November 2014. The theme was “war letters” and the films address conflicts from the First World War through WWII, Vietnam, Algeria, Iraq and more. Lettres d’amour et de guerre was produced by Malcolm Guy and Michelle Smith for Productions Multi-Monde. The film offers a look at the struggle in Nicaragua, Central America in the 1980s and onward. I travelled to Paris for the screening with my 13-year-old daughter, Clara.
The Pompidou programming was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. Their focus on letters written during and about conflicts was a choice to explore, not so much the historical facts of war, but the personal struggles to understand and describe the human experience in all its confusion.
As the summary by the distributor, Diffusion Multi-Monde, describes, Lettres d’amour et de guerre (A Time of Love and War) is “a portrait of friendship between two women, a Canadian and a Nicaraguan, forged over a decade of personal correspondence. Set against the backdrop of a crumbling Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, their letters and eventual reunion weave an intimate conversation about politics, affairs of the heart and the changing world around them.”
The world has gone on changing since the film was made, and our conversations have continued. There’s a good deal more email, Facebook and the occasional Skype call! Our exchanges now are in a less permanent format than the steady stream of hand-written letters which were a warm lifeline through very difficult times. So I appreciate the theme of the Pompidou film series, the value they have placed on human voices speaking in the moment (Martha and I mine included) as history with a capital “H” is created around us.
I asked my Parisian friend, Pierrette, what I should wear to the screening, mostly in jest. She replies that the Centre Pompidou is a populist place, very open and accessible. Not the place for a Chanel suit, which I don’t own anyway! All the better…
When we arrive in the evening at the Centre, the place is alive, inside and out. The large outdoor plaza, and the main lobby are full of people. The Centre Pompidou is known for engaging a wide audience, and successfully inviting both Parisians and visitors to participate in its resources and events. We’re glad to be part of the bustle.
The screening is well-attended with interested questions and comments. It is a pleasure to revisit the themes of the film with this thoughtful audience so many years after we first crafted the story together at Productions Multi-Monde. Someone suggests that the film has a feminist perspective, and I’m asked if this is a conscious choice. How to answer? Although the perspective seemed subtle to the audience member, Martha’s strength and dedication is a celebration of the qualities in all women who are fiercely determination to improve their lives and those of their families and communities. So, I say yes, of course, it’s feminist!
Clara and I go to Versailles on the weekend. We listen to the audio guide and read the panels of information as we tour the Palais in a crush of tourists. As our visit unfolds, I notice that there is almost no reference to the French Revolution – that first and historic effort to redirect the opulence agglomerated here and imagine a nation governed by its people. No reference to how the display of wealth around us helped short-circuit the patience of the citizens of France.
My curiosity roused, I read elsewhere that the king and queen are forced to leave the palace by the huge crowds who push past the gates in October of 1789. And these crowds of thousands were led by the market women of Paris who walked six hours from the city, spurred on by food shortages and inflation. The Women’s March on Versailles is the beginning of a great change. Not celebrated at Versailles today, but deeply inspiring nonetheless, as I think of the women all over the world who have taken similar steps each in their own way for the same lofty goals!
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DVD copies of the film can be purchased here: http://diffusionmultimonde.com/blog/2000/01/01/lettres-d%E2%80%99amour-et-de-guerre/
The film will be available shortly for streaming on Vimeo VOD.