At its most basic, Montrealer Laura Bari's first film can be described as being about a boy who is blind. However, that would be selling it short.
Bari's 82-minute documentary, Antoine, is a journey of the senses and the inner world. The film delves into imaginary spaces that deepen and expand the genre in ways, well, that only an art teacher and an incredibly gifted child could take it.
In Antoine, Bari fuses the real and fantasy life of Antoine, a five-year-old blind boy who has been integrated into Montreal's regular school system. Over 18 months, the Argentinian-born filmmaker -- who has taught art to children for more than two decades -- and Antoine concocted a film which blossoms on screen organically.
The audience is treated to a sound and visual experiment in which Antoine pretends he's a private investigator, or private "I" (yes, the pun is intended) and searches for the missing and fictional "Madam Rouski" with his two little female friends (one of whom was the filmmaker's own three-year-old daughter). We also see Antoine struggle and delight in the day-to-day activities of going to school, fighting with other children and interacting with his teachers.
The immersive film makes you realize just how singular an individual Antoine is -- a little boy possessing an intelligence beyond his years.
The film has been screened at Greece's Thessaloniki documentary festival, Tribeca in New York city and most recently at Hot Docs in Toronto in 2009, where it captured the Lindalee Tracey Award. And in June, it nabbed a Special Jury Prize at Emotions Pictures in Athens.
If you're in Montreal, watch for it in the cinemas this September.
I caught up with the effervescent Bari while she was in Toronto in the spring, when she declared to me: "I want to change the world."
June Chua: You blend Antoine's regular life with his private "eye" world -- how did that evolve?
Laura Bari: I am always trying to get people to experience the magical steps of our thought processes. Up until six-years-old, before we go to school, we have a magical world, an interior world. When I met Antoine, because he's blind, I asked myself, 'How can I represent this interior world -- how does he build his imagination?'
This little line between reality and imagination is point of departure to sanity and insanity. We have to ... stay on this line and make it larger. We have to be comfortable with the idea that something is not real but it's okay.
We are trying to find that part which is our subconscious. It's healthy to express it. I want to enlarge the boundaries of human beings through art.
Antoine has already pretended to be someone else before. I asked him, 'Do you know what is imagination?' He said, 'no.' Well, you can pretend and do whatever you want. You can be confident and powerful -- more strong for yourself. I started to think what could Antoine be? I thought of a detective [because] he's searching for things. It's like a hide-and-seek game. Antoine says this line in the film: 'We can search for everything but we can't find everything in the same place.'
JC: What was the process of collaboration between the two of you?
LB: You cannot be pretentious -- the idea that you are the subject and I am studying you. It's impossible not to be part of the creative process. It's about his life and when you get together, there is a common place and time. I wanted to give him a way of giving back to us. It's a new level of representation.
Cinema is about sound and Antoine likes to hear himself. For him, it's through sound and touch. If he can touch the camera and microphone that was good for him so he was the technical [guy]. He opened the camera, he installed the microphones, he did the tests.
I attempted to put in the film all these parts about a person's life: your relation to yourself, your relationship to others...then, you have the physical level. There's the learning by touching and how to read, write -- which he did in one year -- and then, he started using the computer, chatting on Skype. So I wanted to do that, to show his development -- you can see how he socializes and you see how he can not socialize. You see the relation with one teacher, another teacher and you see his relation with machines.
I also kept the camera moving all the time and I asked Antoine to explore the forms of art. He plays music in the movie, he explores sounds and paintings and sculpture and dance.
JC: What did you learn in the making of the documentary?
LB: I learned that I was pretentious. I thought I knew things about children. No, I am joking!
I learned that I was just observing for the past 20 years. I have learned if you comprehend the different structure of a child, you can understand the archetype of the human being, the collective consciousness. And then, you can be a part of the universe in the most honest way.
You must understand that differences make us unique as human beings but we can not separate ourselves from each other. It's inclusive, it's the integration that makes it possible for us to live in the universe.
JC: What does Antoine think of the film and what's next for him and for you?
LB: He thinks it's a very good film. He doesn't want to talk about it. What's next? We talk every Saturday and he wants to do the radio show. He's got lots of ideas. He's following the movie with me but the movie is over. It's the past for him.
If I have opportunity, I would like to film him every seven years. Around 14, then 21. Because, every seven years, our blood changes and every three years, our social structure changes dramatically.
In Greece, blind people came to the movie and that made me so happy. When the movie opens in new spaces, it's a great feeling. You can never imagine that blind people would come to the movie in Greece.
I am going to make another documentary, taking place in Mendoza [Argentina] where I am from, about delirium as a state of mind and spirit. It's going to have the same reality/fantasy thing to it.
Never be afraid to put reality and imagination in the same place. It brings us to other worlds!
Note: Antoine is headed to The Chungmuro International Film Festival in Seoul in August, the Kos International Health Film Festival in Greece in September, as well as Iceland's Reykjavik International Film Festival in October and then the Mar del Plata International Health Film Festival in Argentina in November.
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