• International Competition

7 promenades avec Mark Brown

7 walks with Mark Brown

Pierre Creton, Vincent Barré

Mark Brown is a paleobotanist. He has devoted his life to a crazy project: recreating a primary forest in his own garden in Normandy. Viewers of Pierre Creton’s previous film, A Prince, already know him: he is the man giving a lecture on the origin of flowers to the class of Alberto, played by Vincent Barré. Those who are familiar with Creton’s work will recognize the members of his usual band, all gathered here. Because his films, whether made alone or with Vincent Barré, always come from a place between curiosity and friendship, adventure and loyalty. This time, the adventure involves letting Mark Brown guide us, walk after walk, in search of the endemic plants of the Pays-de-Caux. In 2006, Barré and Creton made a wonderful film-herbarium in the high-altitude valley of the Spiti River, in the Himalayas: The Arch of the Iris (FID 2006), a film vibrant with beauty, the handheld DV camera collecting each specimen in situ. By replaying this gesture in more familiar landscapes, between the Seine and the cliffs, the directors give it a whole new dimension. First, there is “The Shooting,” filmed digitally: the little band joyfully strolls, from meadow to peat-bog, following in their guide’s wake. One takes notes, another records sounds, a few chat along the way, and Mark gushes over each and every flower. Meanwhile, the last one bustles about, focused on his task: checking the light, choosing the focal length, triggering the shot that will capture on film the singular beauty of each plant. The collection of these shots forms the second part of the film: “The Herbarium”. After the wide shots and landscapes, after the digital image, the sudden appearance of flowers in close-ups, transfigured by 16mm, is a wonder for the eyes. Flower after flower, in a low voice, as if intimidated by so much beauty, Mark Brown improvises a commentary, between science and poetry. Too modest to say it aloud, he shares another lesson by example: getting closer to plants, sharing their lives, is a condition for poetic survival in the midst of disaster.

Cyril Neyrat

What was the starting point for the 7 walks with Mark Brown and was it linked to your meeting with this botanist?

We met Mark some fifteen years ago at a seminar on “the journey of plants” at the Moutiers Woods in Varengeville-sur-Mer, where we were screening L’Arc d’Iris (souvenir d’un jardin). Mark said to us, “You have to do that here!” By which he meant film the plants of the Pays-de-Caux region as we had done in the Himalayas. Two years ago, we visited him with two requests: to give a lecture on the origin of flowers for our feature-length film Un prince and, finally (the idea had matured) to help us make a filmed herbarium on the Cauchois coastline as he had suggested.

Was the route from Aizier to Sainte-Marguerite-sur-Mer decided in advance?

The itinerary was, of course, well thought-out and based on a selection of botanically rich and contrasting sites. Aizier in the Eure region, a place where Vincent and I might have met thirty years ago, would be the starting point. Tracing a big loop from the Seine, we headed up the coast, passing through Le Havre, Vattetot-sur-Mer and the coastal valleys, ending up at Mark’s home in Sainte-Marguerite-sur-Mer. We see the film as a phytocentric road movie.

Why is the film divided into two parts, “The Filming” and “The Herbarium”?

This form became evident quite early on during filming because of the two forms of time, or rather two speeds: digital and film. These two coexist in the same movement, however, with Mark always as the only guide. But one part had to help reveal the other: the flowers, as much as the images. Mark’s voice (which we literally followed on set) links the two parts.

Did you establish a kind of cinematographic protocol for the filming of each part?

What’s special about the film is that you can see and hear the protocols adopted for each part, both in terms of filming and editing, image and sound: making the image, making the herbarium, naming the plants. “The Filming” has a freer form than “The Herbarium”, for which we imposed a few simple rules: fixed shot, wide shot, close-up.

The practice of free cinema, made among friends and where everyone contributes to the film, seems to be accomplished in the first part, in which virtually the entire team appears, even the producer.

Friendship is what we make films for and with. This is the sixth film we’ve made together, but the first really as a “team”. This little community developed around each person’s contribution. There was Mark of course, as a paleobotanist, and Antoine Pirotte, still a student at the Femis, trained in analogue filmmaking, with whom we could simultaneously go back to the origins of both cinema and flowers.
Sophie Roger, a childhood friend, assisted Antoine and then composed the music. Arnaud Dommerc, the producer with whom we have been working since Petit Traité de la marche en plaine (2014), was present for all seven days of filming. Without forgetting our friends and the people we met on the journey that we call “the inhabitants”, with whom we explore each site: Christelle Dutilleul (custodian and director of the Marais Vernier nature reserve), Catherine Sauvage (botanist) and finally Pierre Barray (farmer). The seven-day shoot was an experience as well as a way of life, which we were happily able to continue during the post-production with Joseph Squire, Matthieu Deniau (sound), and Pierre Sudre (image).

The second part revisits the locations of the walks, revealing the flowers filmed and generating a real sense of wonder. Is asking Mark Brown to name these plants part of a scientific approach, to complete this herbarium?

We aimed for a sense of wonder by retaining the somewhat raw aspect of the filming, without embellishing it too much, in order to accentuate the beauty of the images of the herbarium that come afterwards. There’s a sort of frustration in the first part at not really seeing these flowers, which only reveal themselves in the second part: “seeing the soul of plants” as Mark says. As for the sound, we wanted both to preserve the silence of “The Herbarium”, shot in 16mm silent film, and to hear Mark’s voice in the edited sound. We recorded Mark twice. Once commenting on the plants and images as he views the edited film, and once naming the plants. There’s a poetic voice and a scientific voice, and the two are linked.

The botanist’s words also express a relationship with plants, the ecosystem and life. How important were they to you?

Looking at plants is like looking at life. It’s staggering to think how much societies have distanced themselves from plants, and the extent to which it is leading us to disaster.

Mark Brown’s project to recreate a primary forest in his garden in Normandy has a utopic aspect to it which is salutary in today’s world.

Mark’s attention to life is indeed salutary. His project is scientific as well as artistic. But how can we remain in wonder today? Is it still possible to live poetically? Mark refuses everything that would prevent him from doing so, which is a lesson for us all.

Dedicating a film to this project is a cinematic gesture and an ecological and political act.

We were able to film the Ophioglossus (adder’s-tongue fern) which has survived four hundred million years, like a sister or a close and very distant friend. Cinema is the tool we use to try to rediscover a sensory world, to make images that are not hijacked by capitalism.

Interview by Olivier Pierre

  • International Competition
21:1528 June 2024Artplexe 1
14:0029 June 2024Artplexe 1
09:1530 June 2024Variétés 2

Technical sheet

France / 2024 / Colour / 104'

Original version: French
Subtitles: English
Script: Vincent Barré, Pierre Creton
Photography: Antoine Pirotte, Sophie Roger, Pierre Creton
Editing: Pierre Creton, Vincent Barré
Sound: Joseph Squire, Matthieu Deniau
Cast: Mark Brown

Production: Arnaud Dommerc (ANDOLFI)
Contact: Arnaud DOMMERC (ANDOLFI)

– A Prince / 2023 / 82′
– House of Love / 2021 / 21’
– A Beautiful Summer / 2019 / 80’
– Go, Toto! / 2017 / 92’
– Maniquerville / 2009 / 84’