Citizen Fan: An Interview with Filmmaker Emmanuelle Wielezynski-Debats (Part Two)

What surprised you the most about fandom? 

What surprised me the most about fandom is the fact that it is so big and yet so unknown, here in France. It is a bit like no one would notice the Eiffel tower! This is why I like Lev Grossman’s definition of fanfiction, as “dark matter of culture”. But I like also the resemblance with what I suppose was a folk culture. This liberty, this carnival atmosphere. It is so surprising.

When people write fanfiction , they don’t do it as part of the “culture”, they do it as part of their own every day life, as they drink and eat, they write or read, or draw etc… I thought I was part of the creative class of our society but I was wrong : they create more than I do, more than most people, do.

What do you think other media-makers get wrong when they try to capture the experience of being a fan?

For what I ‘ve seen,  and there are not so many examples, I think that some media-makers, here in France, have an aggressive point of view. Some of them are very nasty. I was sad for some kids that were mocked badly. There was one video made by a famous newspaper, about bronys, that was really terrible. I observe that journalist often talk about fans’ sexuality but never about their creativity.

Here,  there is a link to the French brony’s community’s reaction when some private French TV channel tried to interviewed them. The bronys refused to have anything to do with this channel, but there was a debate inside the fandom.

http://perso.silouatien.fr/explications_silou/

 

A part of my work has probably been to let those kids express themselves and have some sort of revenge. Why is it that creativity is not a bonus ?

More generally, the media makers just don’t think about the fans as the interesting element, but rather remain focused upon the Canon. This ends up in something very cliché. We do not need people in journalism or documentaries to tell us what is going on in Castle or Harry Potter, or in any series or manga…They are easily available on the net, so we can make our opinion ourselves. I find more depth and more beauty in searching and discussing fandom’s creativity. There, you might find new interpretations, new development for the story. There you might see the real use of this canon, in people’s life.

To capture what it is to be a fan, I think, is to capture an intimate part of the individual. This private part expresses itself through fanfiction or vidding or cosplay but it is not easy to read, when you are not a fan yourself. If you stand outside the fandom, most of the creativity is hidden and when it is visible, it is not always understood.

For those of us in the Anglo-American world, one of the things you film provides is a glimpse into French speaking fan cultures. What can you tell us about the status of fandom in France?

The status of fandom in France?  Well, I guess there is not yet any status.

We discussed this question with Sebastien François,  Lionel Maurel, Alixe and several fans. We all agreed : Transformative works are as numerous as anywhere else in the world, and technology has developed as much as anywhere else, but, because these practices take place on the web and also because the canons belong to the industrial culture, or Mass culture, the landlords of culture, those who vouch for culture, here in France, totally ignore them. This is a pity because such practices involve so many people in this country and so many young people.

I asked Emilie Flament, what she thinks about this Fan status. She is a specialist of fandom in France and belonged to  France Televisions’ team that produced Citizen Fan.  Here is what she answered :

Fanish spirit is very much stereotyped in France. Most of people think fans are at best a bit “illuminated people” but they do not even realize that they are themselves fans in a way. Beyond legal issues, fans creations are not even considered, either by the public, (who ignores their existence) or the professional (who when they know them, tend to denigrate them). This is a French cultural problem that doesn’t affect only fans communities : we judge by the title, the diploma, and hardly by the skills.

The same limitations apply to fans creations : they are not screenwriters, artists, directors, so what they do is necessarily bad. I think that in order to avoid these stereotypes, fans communities tend to hide. Media has, until now, never helped. They’d rather contribute in the stereotypes.

Citizen Fan is, in that sense, a real premiere and it is because of its friendly approach that fans certainly accepted to reveal themselves and their works in order to change the ideas people might have about them, including people the closest to them.”

When I started pitching Call Me Kate!, (Citizen Fan’s WIP title), I had to go over the whole story, every time. I had to say that fanfiction really existed. When 50 Shades of Gray came out, very, very few French journalist investigated fanfiction through this shining example. I was hoping the book would inspire real debates about money, about genre,  but nothing happened. One magazine, specialized in literature, which had the honesty to say something about fanfiction, said that there was none in France, because we had no sense of storytelling ! When at that moment, 35 000 fanfiction in French, were on FFNET, in Harry Potter fandom only !

But, things are changing thanks to academics,  who initiate research on series or video games, including their fan communities. They organize seminars, conferences. There are many fans conventions too. Fans themselves do “come out” as fans of both industrial and classical culture. That’s what I did. The next generation will not ignore anything anymore.

Lionel Maurel explained the limitation of French law in Citizen Fan : “in France, we do not have the Fair Use  tradition.  Fair use might not be perfect but at least it offers a shelter. From a legal angle, we can tell that Transformative Fan’s status doesn’t exist, here in France.  It can hardly be covered by our two very tiny legal “exceptions to the right of the author” :  « Parody » or « Quotation »  exceptions that is. These two particular cases do not apply to digital use  ! And even if they did,  they do not fit with most transformative works that are not either funny or simply quoting. French people have  to handle the weight of what is called the Author’s  “moral  right”. This “moral right” forbids any action modifying « the integrity of the work ». That means the shape of the work is supposed to be fixed by its author, forever. That means it is forbidden to add sequels, prequels, new chapters… Even if the transformative work is not a commercial one !

There was an experts’ Mission launched by the Ministry of Culture, a year ago. This Mission is supposed  to address these transformative works and to ask our deputies to change that part of our law. I am not sure it is going to happen. The Mission didn’t even published any report at all! This is not a very good sign. For the moment, everything is still forbidden here, and a very large number of French citizens are conducting illegal activities.

You are a country which takes its artistic heritage and the concept of the moral rights of artists very seriously, so I can imagine that fans are seen as a bit heretical in their relationship to culture. So, how much resistance has emerged around your efforts to get French audiences to rethink the status of the fan?

Silence is the main resistance. Access to French media is really difficult. It might take several years.

Another resistance is to denigrate.  I just read some recent articles about how “fanfiction writers do not have any sexual life”…
I wonder where we are going. In which world do these French journalists live?

I’ve been told that Citizen Fan is doing well online for now. It has 3 good partners, such as France Televisions –nouvelles écritures, Rue89, which is a well known digital newspaper, and Culture Box, an online journal focused on cultural events. I sincerely hope this might be the beginning for the change. However, no “traditional” press has written anything about Citizen Fan. No TV channel has shown any sequences. I am sad to say not even on France Television.

Personally, I encountered a lot of resistance, from friends or colleagues. I was told : “why are they doing that ? they don’t have anything else to do ? ” or “They do not have the right to do what they do”.  And also things like “When my nephew read Harry Potter, he was 9 years old. He didn’t open it since. Those people have a problem.” I often encountered people full of spite and digust. As if it was not tolerate to interfere with culture.

But, again, here in France, the main resistance to this subject is to ignore that the subject is the audience’s creation and not the canon by itself.

Being a fan is a journey, it is a way of life but it is not an objective per se. The objective is to share with others and enlarge the original universe.  This I always found difficult to get understood. Some people think culture is something they already know, it goes from here to there and anything outside this box doesn’t exist. It is not part of our culture.

On the other side, inside fandom, I was slowed down as well. There was some resistance there too. Some people closed their doors on me, because they were afraid I would make a fool of them or because their activity is a secret.

Emmanuelle Wielezynski Debats was born in 1970 , she is married and mother of  one. Emmanuelle grew up in Algeria, Ivory Coast and France. She was always interested in films and originally wanted to be a scenario writer. She graduated from a Business School in France and attended Film Studies, aside from an MBA program, in Montreal. In 1993, she registered in Anthropology, in Paris VII (Jussieu) with a major in Visual Anthropology. In 1995, she directed a short film, La Voie Blanche. For 12 years, Emmanuelle has worked at various film production companies, as an assistant to directors and to an editor as well. She now lives in Normandy with her husband, Michel Debats, a film director ( Oscar nominated  Winged Migration). In 2007, together they launched their own production company, La Gaptière Production, focused on documentaries. (www.lagaptiere.com)

La Gaptière Production has produced 5 films, starting with School on the Move, in 2008, a feature film released in theaters, that was selected by 50 festivals around the World and won 14 awards, as anthropological documentary, in several countries such as China, Russia, as well as the US (Columbus, Ohio and in Missoula, Montana).  Then came out  three TV films, Femmes en campagne (about women in rural world), Une jeunesse en jachère (about being young in rural world) and Qu’allez-vous faire de vos vingt ans ? (about Jean Jaurès’ s legacy). Emmanuelle has worked during 3 years on a more personal project : Citizen Fan, just released as a webdoc.