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For this edition of MoMA’s Carte Blanche series, and in conjunction with her exhibition Artist’s Choice: Yto Barrada—A Raft, artist Yto Barrada has selected films connected to the ideas and work of French social work pioneer and writer Fernand Deligny (1913–1996). A filmmaker in her own right, Barrada is the founding director of the nonprofit Cinémathèque de Tanger, North Africa’s first and only repertory cinema and film archive. Together with Deligny’s publishers Sandra Alvarez de Toledo and Anaïs Masson, Barrada has gathered titles associated with Deligny’s independent project based in the rural Cévennes region of France, where he lived with other volunteers and children with autism in an informal network that Deligny referred to as a “raft.”
Cinema is always present in Deligny’s work. In the 1950s he came to see the camera as a teaching tool, putting it into the hands of adolescents who had been diagnosed as psychotic or deemed delinquent. In their hands, the camera could be used like a “weapon,” allowing them to reclaim their existence, as he described in his visionary 1955 text “La Caméra, outil pédagogique” (“The Camera, Pedagogical Tool”). He also brought the camera to the community he founded after the war, La grande cordée (its name taken from the term for a shared rock-climbing rope), with the intention of keeping these young people out of abusive state-run psychiatric hospitals. Deligny’s experiment inspired another, the project Fais un fils et jette-le à la mer (Bear a son and throw him into the sea) (2001–04)—led by Yto Barrada with Anaïs Masson and Maxence Rifflet in Tangier and Marseille—in which they entrusted still film cameras to children living on the streets to document their own lives and perspectives.
In 1958, François Truffaut visited Deligny to show him the script for Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows). Deligny provided the now-famous ending: the escape of Jean-Pierre Léaud to the beaches of northern France. A few years later, at the beginning of the 1960s, Deligny, together with Josée Manenti and a few other non-professionals, shot Le moindre geste (The Slightest Gesture), a brilliant cinematic oddity, with Yves G., a radiant burlesque performer diagnosed as “psychotic,” in the lead role. The film’s post-production was supported by a filmmaking cooperative created by Chris Marker.
After founding the network for children with autism in the Cévennes in 1967, Deligny systematically integrated cinema. Several films were shot there, including Ce gamin, là (That Kid There) (1975), directed by self-taught filmmaker Renaud Victor and produced by Truffaut. The film is a response to Truffaut’s L’enfant sauvage (The Wild Child) (1970), in which Professor Itard (played by Truffaut) seeks to re-educate the titular child. Deligny, on the contrary, proposed observing and learning from the “mode of being” of Janmari, an adolescent with autism. And in 1978, Alain Cazuc, one of the members of the network, directed Projet N (Project N), which offers insight into the silent and ritualized exchanges between the adults and the children.
At the end of the 1970s, Deligny invented the word camérer (which filmmaker Robert Kramer translated as “camera-ing”). This alternative to “filming” turns the noun into a verb and emphasizes working with the camera as a tool rather than producing a finished object—to be camera-ing without any intention, “for nothing,” to camera the real, that which is “in the head” of the children. In his final essays, Deligny continued to address the image—an image that, he said, “is not seen” and “cannot be taken,” a “wild” image that may well be “of animal origin.”
These films, many of which appear with newly translated English subtitles by Robin Mackay, will be featured alongside others, including recent titles inspired by Deligny and shown here for the first time in the United States.
Organized by Yto Barrada with Lucy Gallun, Associate Curator, and River Encalada Bullock, Beaumont & Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography.