Thirty-nine contemporary filmmakers were asked to make a film with the original camera used by the Lumière brothers: that means black and white, fifty-two seconds at hand-cranked speed, and one continuous take (with only four attempts allowed).
There is one compensatory cheat for the benefit of a modern audience: a non-sync soundtrack can be added afterwards.
The most fascinating aspect of the project is how these very diverse filmmakers respond to the Lumière legacy.
Many (such as Spike Lee and Raymond Depardon) offer playful vignettes about small children. Others (James Ivory, Nadine Trintignant) make modern actuality films in the streets.
A few (David Lynch, Andrei Konchalovsky, Abbas Kiarostami) devise stunningly condensed, expressive film-poems. And a surprising number (including Claude Lelouch and Liv Ullmann) take the opportunity to compare the simple cinematic apparatus of the Lumière era to the complicated machinery of today.
The gender balance in this project is conspicuously skewed – only three women filmmakers, none of them interviewed – and the ponderous questions of the interviewer produce some predictably silly replies from the filmmakers.
Only Jacques Rivette answers the beauty "why do you film?" with dignity: "I can only respond with a long, questioning silence".
© Adrian Martin August 1996