The Graduation | Le Concours (2016)

September 12th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Claire Simon | Documentary | France 2016, 115′

The leading film school in the birthplace of the Seventh Art has always come under immense scrutiny: this has not changed since the prestigious IDHEC (Institute des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques), whose famous students include Alain Resnais, Louis Malle and Theo Angelopoulos, was re-constituted and renamed La Femis (Fondation Européenne Pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son) around 1987. Today’s younger generation of filmmakers, who finished the four year course in the old Pathé studios in Montmartre are numerous: François Ozon, Claire Denis, Arnaud Desplechin, Céline Sciamma, Sophie Filliers and Rebecca Zlotowski are just a few of the La Femis’ successes.

The institution is unique in the sense that there are no lecturers: all courses are taught by active members of the film industry. And the over-subscribed entrance examinations (500 applicants competed for just six places of the directing classes), which are the subject of this documentary, are also conducted by these same professionals. Director/DoP Claire Simon (Gare du Nord) has taken time off her teaching duties at La Femis, to chronicle the hazardous process. The contest (the English title Graduation is misleading) starts with part one, when the hopeful students from virtually all walks of life, no qualifications are needed; start with a three hour written test. The panel of professionals fight hard, everyone has favourites, and often, the grades for an applicant (1-20) differ enormously, sometimes into double figures. Simon brings a touch of humour to the proceedings, showing two examiners talking about the wishful outcome of the tests which aim to be politically correct: eight women, seven men, one Asian, one black, one from North Africa and two from a modest background should be included in the selection. And they should come from all over France, not just  Paris.

Stage two of the examination process consists of interviews and practical tests. Screen-writing candidates are given one sentence from which they have to develop a narrative. Afterwards they have to ‘defend’ their script in front of a panel of two. Future directors are given a script, a crew and a studio, and have to justify their work to a panel. At last, the lucky survivors are grilled by a ‘jury’ of six, for the final cut. The main issue arising from the selection process is always the same: how do you select talent?. Because opinions differ so much, discussions are often irrational. After the interview of a particular director’s course applicant, some members of the panel – among them the directors Laetitia Masson (A Vendre) and Olivier Du Castel (Theo & Hugo) – criticised the young male candidate for being uncommunicative and “weird”. Others defended him arguing that Dreyer and Cronenberg must have been certainly weird at the age of eighteen. It should be also mentioned that La Femis does not only run courses for the original filmmaking subjects like directing, set design etc,, but also for Continuity, Distribution and Cinema management.

LE CONCOURS is a fascinating portrait of judging the creative process: the arguments may not always be rational, but the result of the selection process justifies the often chaotic and contradictive proceedings. AS


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