The documentary film To Be and to Have (Nicolas Philibert) follows the school year of a one room school in rural France, where Georges Lopez teaches 13 children ranging in ages from 4-12. Later in the film it is revealed that it is his last year teaching. The film is shot in an observational style with the film crew seeming to have little to no influence or input into the events being filmed. There is also minimal editing of shots in the film. Although editing the film would have required a lot of time in the editing room due to the amount of footage obtained over a whole year the shots seem relatively untouched asides from the decision of where to start and stop them. Conversations and moments are played out slowly onscreen with the camera often lingering longer then expected, allowing the audience to understand the amount of patience exercised by Mr Lopez.
The first shot of the film visually establishes that it is wintertime in a rural area, with the sound of people talking French off camera telling us the film is most likely set in France. The following shots see people working with the animals and when one of the men is surprised to see a car coming he is surprised, leading the audience to assume there usually isn’t much traffic in the area. We are then introduced to the place that most of the documentary will take place in – the schoolroom followed by the shuttle bus travelling down icy, windy roads to imply the long journey to the schoolroom All of this is shown within the first three minutes of the film, effectively establishing the place and time without overtly stating it.
After watching the film I did a little reading around it and was interested to find out that the teacher, Mr Lopez attempted to sue the filmmakers for a share of the profit. He claimed ‘We were misled. The production company told me and the children’s families that they were making a small documentary about the phenomenon of the one-teacher village school and that the film would be used primarily for educational purposes… We had no idea that it would be in cinemas all over the country, released on DVD or distributed abroad ‘ (Gentleman 2004). The case was not won and raised many discussions about the payment of subjects of documentary film, with the directors lawyer Roland Rappaport commenting ‘By paying the subjects of the film, you change the relationship entirely. The director then gets the right to tell them what to do, to advise them on what to say, to film things over and over again. You leave the sphere of documentary behind and it becomes reality television, or even drama’ (Gentleman 2004).
Gentleman, A 2004, ‘Films fallen hero fights on for his class’, The Guardian 4th October, viewed 8th January 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/oct/03/film.france>
To Be and to Have 2002, Madman Entertainment, Australia. Directed by Nicolas Philibert