Anti-censorship film-maker Vautier dies | News | DW | 04.01.2015
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Anti-censorship film-maker Vautier dies

French film-maker René Vautier, who often defied censors to condemn French colonialism, has died aged 86. As a young man, his work cost him a year in jail, while in 1972 he won the Cannes international critics' prize.

The anti-colonialist's wife and fellow film director Soazig Chappedelaine Vautier told the news agency AFP on Sunday that Vautier had died in hospital in his native Brittany region.

During his career, Vautier made more than 150 films, focused initially on the war in Algeria that led to independence in 1962, as well as racism in apartheid-era South Africa, far-right extremism in France, equal opportunities for women, and pollution. Many of his works were banned or condemned.

During World War II and aged only 15, he joined the French Resistance.

Vautier then studied film-making in Paris' Advanced Institute for Cinemagraphic Studies, where various noteables began their careers, including Germany's Volker Schlöndorff.

His early film "Afrique 50" began as an educational assignment to show the day-to-day life of West African villagers. Vautier turned it into anti-colonial critique of French rule over the country at the time.

Vautier cited as his motives a "lack of teachers and doctors, the crimes committed by the French Army in the name of France, the instrumentalization of the colonized peoples."

French authorities seized Vautier's film material and, in 1950, he was jailed on various charges - including filming without permission in French colonial Upper Volta, the region that later became Burkina Faso.

Film banned for 40 years

Vautier ended up making the 17-minute "Afrique 50" from a few salvaged film spools. The film remained banned until 1990.

His various works on Algeria's war for independence from France included the 1958 film Algeria in Flames. His later film on Algeria and its war aftermath 20 Years in Aures won the international film critics' award at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.

It documented how young French conscripts were turned into brutal killers

After independence in 1962, Vautier directed audiovisual studies in Algiers and trained the first generation of Algerian film-makers.

The enemies of pictures?

Europe's French-German cultural television channel ARTE said Vautier often posed the cinematic questions: Why film this? Who are the enemies of our pictures?

In the latter 60s and 70s, Vautier compiled film exposes of racism in then Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] and South Africa by juxaposing official statements with documentary footage of repression and oppressed African voices.

In 1973 he went on hunger strike to demand that French film censors cease interference on political grounds. French censure law was amended. Vautier once claimed he was the "most censored director in France."

In the following year, he was co-director alongside Louis Malle in film Human, Too Human, a documentary - almost without words - about the production of Citroen cars in northern France.

In 1998 he compiled a book in which he documented his 50 years of film-making and what he saw as persistent censorship.

Gilles Jacob, the former president of the Cannes festival, told AFP on Sunday that "Rene Vautier was a politically engaged film-maker when censorship reigned. He was one of the just."

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