Vincent Moon: How can we use computers, cameras, microphones to represent the world in an alternative way, as much as possible? How, maybe, is it possible to use the Internet to create a new form of cinema? And actually, why do we record?
Well, it is with such simple questions in mind that I started to make films 10 years ago, first with a friend, Christophe Abric. He had a website, La Blogothèque, dedicated to independent music. We were crazy about music. We wanted to represent music in a different way, to film the music we love, the musicians we admired, as much as possible, far from the music industry and far from the cliches attached to it. We started to publish every week sessions on the Internet. We are going to see a few extracts now.
From Grizzly Bear in the shower to Sigur Ros playing in a Parisian cafe. From Phoenix playing by the Eiffel Tower to Tom Jones in his hotel room in New York. From Arcade Fire in an elevator in the Olympia to Beirut going down a staircase in Brooklyn. From R.E.M. in a car to The National around a table at night in the south of France. From Bon Iver playing with some friends in an apartment in Montmartre to Yeasayer having a long night, and many, many, many more unknown or very famous bands.
We published all those films for free on the Internet, and we wanted to share all those films and represent music in a different way. We wanted to create another type of intimacy using all those new technologies. At the time, 10 years ago actually, there was no such project on the Internet, and I guess that's why the project we were making, the Take Away Shows, got quite successful, reaching millions of viewers.
After a while, I got a bit — I wanted to go somewhere else. I felt the need to travel and to discover some other music, to explore the world, going to other corners, and actually it was also this idea of nomadic cinema, sort of, that I had in mind. How could the use of new technologies and the road fit together? How could I edit my films in a bus crossing the Andes? So I went on five-year travels around the globe. I started at the time in the digital film and music label collection Petites Planètes, which was also an homage to French filmmaker Chris Marker. We're going to see now a few more extracts of those new films.
From the tecno brega diva of northern Brazil, Gaby Amarantos to a female ensemble in Chechnya. From experimental electronic music in Singapore with One Man Nation to Brazilian icon Tom Zé singing on his rooftop in São Paolo. From The Bambir, the great rock band from Armenia to some traditional songs in a restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia. From White Shoes, a great retro pop band from Jakarta, Indonesia to DakhaBrakha, the revolutionary band from Kiev, Ukraine. From Tomi Lebrero and his bandoneon and his friends in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to many other places and musicians around the world.
My desire was to make it as a trek. To do all those films, it would have been impossible with a big company behind me, with a structure or anything. I was traveling alone with a backpack — computer, camera, microphones in it. Alone, actually, but just with local people, meeting my team, which was absolutely not professional people, on the spot there, going from one place to another and to make cinema as a trek. I really believed that cinema could be this very simple thing: I want to make a film and you're going to give me a place to stay for the night. I give you a moment of cinema and you offer me a capirinha. Well, or other drinks, depending on where you are.
In Peru, they drink pisco sour. Well, when I arrived in Peru, actually, I had no idea about what I would do there. And I just had one phone number, actually, of one person. Three months later, after traveling all around the country, I had recorded 33 films, only with the help of local people, only with the help of people that I was asking all the time the same question: What is important to record here today? By living in such a way, by working without any structure, I was able to react to the moment and to decide, oh, this is important to make now. This is important to record that whole person. This is important to create this exchange. When I went to Chechnya, the first person I met looked at me and was like, "What are you doing here? Are you a journalist? NGO? Politics? What kind of problems are you going to study?" Well, I was there to research on Sufi rituals in Chechnya, actually — incredible culture of Sufism in Chechnya, which is absolutely unknown outside of the region. As soon as people understood that I would give them those films — I would publish them online for free under a Creative Commons license, but I would also really give them to the people and I would let them do what they want with it. I just want to represent them in a beautiful light. I just want to portray them in a way that their grandchildren are going to look at their grandfather, and they're going to be like, "Whoa, my grandfather is as cool as Beyoncé." (Laughter) It's a really important thing. (Applause)
It's really important, because that's the way people are going to look differently at their own culture, at their own land. They're going to think about it differently. It may be a way to maintain a certain diversity. Why you will record? Hmm. There's a really good quote by American thinker Hakim Bey which says, "Every recording is a tombstone of a live performance." It's a really good sentence to keep in mind nowadays in an era saturated by images. What's the point of that? Where do we go with it? I was researching. I was still keeping this idea in mind: What's the point? I was researching on music, trying to pull, trying to get closer to a certain origin of it. Where is this all coming from? I am French. I had no idea about what I would discover, which is a very simple thing: Everything was sacred, at first, and music was spiritual healing. How could I use my camera, my little tool, to get closer and maybe not only capture the trance but find an equivalent, a cine-trance, maybe, something in complete harmony with the people?
That is now my new research I'm doing on spirituality, on new spirits around the world. Maybe a few more extracts now. From the Tana Toraja funeral ritual in Indonesia to an Easter ceremony in the north of Ethiopia. From jathilan, a popular trance ritual on the island of Java, to Umbanda in the north of Brazil. The Sufi rituals of Chechnya to a mass in the holiest church of Armenia. Some Sufi songs in Harar, the holy city of Ethiopia, to an ayahuasca ceremony deep in the Amazon of Peru with the Shipibo. Then to my new project, the one I'm doing now here in Brazil, named "Híbridos." I'm doing it with Priscilla Telmon. It's research on the new spiritualities all around the country. This is my quest, my own little quest of what I call experimental ethnography, trying to hybrid all those different genres, trying to regain a certain complexity.
Why do we record? I was still there. I really believe cinema teaches us to see. The way we show the world is going to change the way we see this world, and we live in a moment where the mass media are doing a terrible, terrible job at representing the world: violence, extremists, only spectacular events, only simplifications of everyday life. I think we are recording to regain a certain complexity. To reinvent life today, we have to make new forms of images. And it's very simple.
Bruno Giussani: Vincent, Vincent, Vincent. Merci. We have to prepare for the following performance, and I have a question for you, and the question is this: You show up in places like the ones you just have shown us, and you are carrying a camera and I assume that you are welcome but you are not always absolutely welcome. You walk into sacred rituals, private moments in a village, a town, a group of people. How do you break the barrier when you show up with a lens?
VM: I think you break it with your body, more than with your knowledge. That's what it taught me to travel, to trust the memory of the body more than the memory of the brain. The respect is stepping forward, not stepping backward, and I really think that by engaging your body in the moment, in the ceremony, in the places, people welcome you and understand your energy.
BG: You told me that most of the videos you have made are actually one single shot. You don't do much editing. I mean, you edited the ones for us at the beginning of the sessions because of the length, etc. Otherwise, you just go in and capture whatever happens in front of your eyes without much planning, and so is that the case? It's correct?
VM: My idea is that I think that as long as we don't cut, in a way, as long as we let the viewer watch, more and more viewers are going to feel closer, are going to get closer to the moment, to that moment and to that place. I really think of that as a matter of respecting the viewer, to not cut all the time from one place to another, to just let the time go.
BG: Tell me in a few words about your new project, "Híbridos," here in Brazil. Just before coming to TEDGlobal, you have actually been traveling around the country for that. Tell us a couple of things.
VM: "Híbridos" is — I really believe Brazil, far from the cliches, is the greatest religious country in the world, the greatest country in terms of spirituality and in experimentations in spiritualities. And it's a big project I'm doing over this year, which is researching in very different regions of Brazil, in very different forms of cults, and trying to understand how people live together with spirituality nowadays.
BG: The man who is going to appear onstage momentarily, and Vincent's going to introduce him, is one of the subjects of one of his past videos. When did you do a video with him?
VM: I guess four years ago, four years in my first travel.
BG: So it was one of your first ones in Brazil. VM: It was amongst the first ones in Brazil, yeah. I shot the film in Recife, in the place where he is from.
BG: So let's introduce him. Who are we waiting for?
VM: I'll just make it very short. It's a very great honor for me to welcome onstage one of the greatest Brazilian musicians of all time. Please welcome Naná Vasconcelos.
BG: Naná Vasconcelos!
Naná Vasconcelos: Let's go to the jungle.