[The following is a translation of an essay by Nicole Brenez titled ‘René Vautier: droits, devoirs et passion des images‘, originally published in Afrique 50 de René Vautier (2013, Les mutins de Pangée). The translation has been published as part of an anthology of Brenez’s writings assembled by Sabzian on the occasion of the film historian’s State of Cinema address, to be delivered on 23 December 2021.]

“…even when committed to a cause with all his heart and soul, René Vautier subordinates his images to nothing or no one, not in a proprietary sense (on the contrary, they are offered to anyone who needs them; we find them in numerous activist films and this sometimes results in the loss of precious copies too, as was the case with Algeria, a Nation), but in the name of an inalienable liberty. Emerging from the conception of cinema developed by René Vautier is the principle of an autonomy of images, whose existence, meaning and freedom, established in their own right, must be protected with the most vigilant intransigence: a symbolic and inalienable territory organized in time, from which history can be established. This autonomy (in the literal sense of a singular law) belongs to no one, not to filmmakers, not to cinema and not even to the people whose oppression and struggles these images document; everyone has the right to enjoy them and none the right to own them. This autonomy is in no way a counter-history, it establishes the possibility of an exact history.

[…]

One must point out that an autonomy of images has nothing to do with the fetishization of a shot, a motif or a medium (film, video, digital), so common among filmmakers. Rather, it has to do first and foremost with a symbolic operation, the responsibility of images in face of history, which subordinates and reconfigures other authorities: participants, author, signatories, context, intertext. René Vautier’s work deploys a precise and broad conception of the functions and uses of images: to document, to tell the truth, to do justice, to testify, to offer proof at a trial, to converse with other images, pieces of information, instructions and signals, to contradict, to counterattack, to convince… René Vautier explicitly invested images with all these duties: but in order for them to accomplish these, he had to also implicitly conceive of a right of images, which makes them irreducible to the host of uses and instrumentalizations they can be subjected to.”

 

[Full text here at Sabzian]

[Posters at film screenings at Cinépop in Bab El Oued, Algiers, following Algeria’s independence – from Peuple en Marche (1963) by René Vautier and co. Cinépop was a dance bar converted to a movie theatre, later converted to a mosque.]