Fifty years ago, Marceline Loridan and Nadine Baillot asked people on the streets of Paris, Are you happy? in a documentary experiment by filmmaker anthropologist Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin.
Half a century later, The Are you happy? project is finding out what happens when we ask the same question in the global environment of the web.
The inspiration for the project, “Chronicle of a Summer” was a ground-breaking documentary, made in 1960 by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, which used the new technology of the day — handheld cameras and sync sound — to looked at the “tribe of people living in Paris”. You can see some of the original “are you happy?” interviews, and Rouch talking about the film in the clip below.
:Chronicle of a Summer” painted a picture of French society at the time — living with the legacy of the Second World War and German Occupation, divided over the independence movement in Algeria, on the cusp of the social changes of the 60s. It also posed questions about the nature, value and meaning of documentary filming which are still debated today. In the clip below Faye Ginsburg discusses the film in relation to its use of the term “cinema verite” — which invokes the Soviet film pioneer Dziga Vertov’s “Kino Pravda”.
One of Rouch’s lasting contributions to documentary was his view of filmmaking as an essentially collaborative undertaking. On the 50th anniversary of Chronique d’un Ete, The Are you happy? Project is taking advantage of today’s new technologies — digital recording technology, the web, social networks — to explore the forms of collaboration enabled within those frameworks.
The Are you happy? Project is produced by Mandy Rose, co-founder and producer of the BBC’s pioneering camcorder project Video Nation, and Executive Producer of award winning participatory projects including Capture Wales and Voices. Mandy met Rouch in 1991 when she interviewed him for BBC 2’s Late Show (see the clip above.)
In February 2013 Mandy joined Rouch scholars to consider his legacy at the Rouch after Rouch Symposium at New York University’s Centre for Media, Culture and History. You can watch the session on Chronicle of a Summer here and see Mandy’s contribution on The Are you happy? Project here (at 7 mins 30).
Chronique d’un Ete is available in new editions through the BFI in the UK and Criterion Collection in the US. A new essay by Sam di Orio provides a fantastic introduction to the film.
The Are you happy? Project is being undertaken within the CollabDocs research project at the Digital Culture Research Centre, University of the West of England, with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Filmmakers around the world have been contributing to the project, asking people; Are you happy?
We are looking for people to get involved — re-staging or re-interpreting the 1960 interviews in their own neighbourhood today.