interview Hannah Rosselin /// lejournaldebord.fr

One of the first work I've seen from Hannah was more than a year ago, maybe less. It was a video clip she made when she spent time in Los Angeles. I immediately fell in love with her aesthetic. I had the opportunity to sat with her at the Mistral Gagnant, one of her favorite places to have a coffee while discussing her travels, aspirations and passion for video.

à Paris : une discussion avec Hannah Rosselin.

Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas


French version

Could you introduce yourself?
I was born in Paris, I'm a director. I grew up in between two very different cultures. In fact, my mother is Indian Muslim and my father is French & Polish with Russian & English origins ... They always encouraged me to develop a deep interest in many things.

From your youngest age?
In a way, it was important to them that I was culturally open-minded, especially if I wanted to do something concrete while growing up. I had to develop my own critic sense. My father is a journalist, he is the founder of Courrier International and my mother works in tourism and spends her time on airplanes. Actually, I may have unknowingly combined their two professions in one. I started music lessons at the age of 4 and then joined the Erik Satie Conservatory. At 14, I stopped just to continue the piano. Moreover, after years of non-practice, I recently got one.

Do I have the impression that everything went well for you, they did a good job, right?
Yes, I do not know, you're the only one who can say it! They just wanted me to be aware of my surrounding at a very young age.

After graduated from high school I made the decision not to continue my studies. I was supposed to do an art prep that was very expensive. I did not really know what I wanted to do and the prospect of spending so much money for something so uncertain was not worth it. I wanted to undertake trips. I worked hard to save money for 4 months and I took off for Cambodia where I interned at the Bophana archive center OF Rithy Panh, IN Phnom Penh.

How long did you stay there?
One year. But not only in Cambodia, I lived in Vietnam as well.

What were you doing in the archives, what happened there?
When I arrived, I only had to deal with exhibitions, but I met Guillaume Suon, a Franco-Cambodian director. There was a small editing room in the center and I saw, each morning a guy that came out from there, it was kind of odd. So basically, he spent the night there and was working on a documentary on forced weddings during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Shortly after, I asked if I could assist him, he said okay but provided that I had to continue to organize the exhibition for Bophana in the daytime.

I guess it was a nice place to do an internship...
Yes, I will not complain. I learned a lot. Also, and thanks to them, I decided to follow the same path when I came back to Paris. 

It was not an internship where you only served coffee.
Not at all, I was doing the listing, sending emails to journalists to invite them to our events but I do not hide that I was just looking forward to working in the editing room! Guillaume really had a role of mentor, he pushed me to work harder. 

When did you realize it was something you really wanted to develop?
Making documentaries or movies was not something I seriously thought about, I thought it was an unachievable goal for me at that point, especially because I didn't really study it.

At that moment did you become aware of certain shortcomings, due to not having made specific studies?
Later, especially when it comes to writing, which becomes an automatism when you're in school and practice every day. I mostly lacked methodology but the idea of going through the back door excited me. Coming back from Cambodia I had in mind to become a journalist, today it's quite strange to hear me say it.

Once back in France, you worked on personal projects?
I did a lot of internship requests. I was able to quickly joined the mayor of Paris to be an Images reporter, it was fabulous, I had a lot of freedom especially about the subjects I wanted to treat. Then, I worked for a digital communication agency, LaNetscouade, to whom I proposed a web-documentary idea about self-service pianos in the Parisian streets. I was really excited about the documentary. The feedbacks were very positive. Rue89 and Télérama spoke about our work. Not too bad for a 22-year-old team. Then came the meeting of producer Christine Camdessus, who launched Alegria in 2001. I became her production assistant on a lot of geo-political documentaries. The experience lasted 1 year. 

These experiences allowed you to know what you wanted to do and not to do...
Yes, that's right, I made decisions that allowed me to understand where I wanted to go. Still, in the same dynamic, I get a call from Publicis who had seen my web-doc on pianos. I am asked to produce ten videos for l'Oréal. I left Alegria with a twinge of

heart, and I began to focus on the realization process. The desire to go to Los Angeles has become more and more present. I went there a few times to collaborate with the artist Jimmy Whoo and make two clips. When I come back, I meet Mathieu Tonetti, director of clips for Air and Sébastien Tellier, we talk a lot then, without too much to see him coming, he gave me carte blanche to produce in his agency, Trinita Films. With the profits I could make, I invested in the production of my first feature film in Palestine.

Did you already spend time there?
Yes once, just after coming back from Los Angeles.

Then, what happened, you had some opportunities to achieve something?
A few things yes. I wanted to produce something concrete about what I saw. Not to establish a vulgar statement about the war. I am not a journalist. I wanted to focus on my relationship with those people, there are humans before everything, I tried to think about what kind of protagonists I needed. I left in August 2016 to do the first part and went back last December to shoot the last images.

This growing interest that you seemed to develop for the Documentary art form, do you think it grew when you were in Cambodia?
I think it has always been there but surely emerged at that precise moment. When I was working as a reporter, I realized that it was not something I wanted to do in the long run, it wasn't deep enough. I needed to create strong bonds with people, in a perhaps more artistic setting.

Are there topics that affect you more than others?
Yes, I am inhabited by injustice I think, it helps me find my subjects. I am interested in colonization and the post-colonial attitude of the Western world, sexism, discrimination. It is difficult for me to remain inert in the face of inequalities.

What is your documentary about?
It's a chronicle of life in a Christian village punctuated by the exchange of two men, one Christian, the other Muslim. Their disagreements reflect all the energy you can find by going there. The film is currently editing, I work with Hugo Lemant, who is a very great editor. I met him through Cesar Decharme, my fiance.

Did you already spend time there?
Yes once, just after coming back from Los Angeles.

Then, what happened, you had some opportunities to achieve something?
A few things yes. I wanted to produce something concrete about what I saw. Not to establish a vulgar statement about the war. I am not a journalist. I wanted to focus on my relationship with those people, there are humans before everything, I tried to think about what kind of protagonists I needed. I left in August 2016 to do the first part and went back last December to shoot the last images.

This growing interest that you seemed to develop for the Documentary art form, do you think it grew when you were in Cambodia?
I think it has always been there but surely emerged at that precise moment. When I was working as a reporter, I realized that it was not something I wanted to do in the long run, it wasn't deep enough. I needed to create strong bonds with people, in a perhaps more artistic setting.

Are there topics that affect you more than others?
Yes, I am inhabited by injustice I think, it helps me find my subjects. I am interested in colonization and the post-colonial attitude of the Western world, sexism, discrimination. It is difficult for me to remain inert in the face of inequalities.

What is your documentary about?
It's a chronicle of life in a Christian village punctuated by the exchange of two men, one Christian, the other Muslim. Their disagreements reflect all the energy you can find by going there. The film is currently editing, I work with Hugo Lemant, who is a very great editor. I met him through Cesar Decharme, my fiance.

César is working with you on a lot of projects.
 Yes, and for the record, I have never worked with another chief operator than him, he is one of the few people to whom I could entrust the camera without flinching, he understands my vision. And, in addition to the professional osmosis that reigns between us, he is extremely talented and very resourceful!

It must be very stimulating to share your life with someone who works daily in the same environment but, is not it too hard to manage work and couple life?
At the beginning it's true, there can be complications, you have to be able to separate things from the rest. Just find a good balance. We try not to do everything together, we select the projects. But for sure, there is nothing better, you share something unique, a common taste.

I have an impression that you have worked on a lot of projects, but these contents are not all available.
No, it's true, I prefer to highlight the works that reflect my aesthetic, somehow. It's always difficult to build your portfolio and take a step back, looking at what you have done and choose what to showcase at the end.

How do you go from a documentary on Palestine to making two videos for Christophe Willem?
I sometimes feel like a little schizophrenic! I love all video formats. I think being self-taught somehow convinced me not to lock myself into a style. I have always loved doing, learning & testing everything. I had to make the distinction in between jobs that give something on the plate and those who sharpen your career is the most complicated thing for me at the moment. I always try to put my signature, even on less exciting projects. I think deep down I'm just in love with my job. When I did the videos for Christophe Willem, I did not see it as a burden, I found the challenge very appealing because it is not music that I am used to listening.

I guess it's not a name that was unfamiliar to you.
Yes, we all heard Double Jeu.

Has the experience been beneficial at all levels?
Totally, Christophe really appreciated the work we had done on the first clip with Leo Gotainer (my great friend and co-director of the project). It was a big team, many sequences to shoot in two days, it was enriching because precisely, it is very notably different from what I am used to doing.

The working flow was excellent?
I had the chance to work in excellent conditions. Christophe Willem is a very human person, very respectful. Everything was very simple with him and his label (Sony France). The dialogue has gone very naturally and I think this aspect is very important. I like to laugh and create, it is important for me to produce something of the intimate order, that the atmosphere and the working environment are harmonious.

How did your meeting with Sabrina Bellaouel take place?
Sabrina contacted me with the desire to make a video. We saw each other and we became close very quickly, there was an osmosis between her music and my images. Sabrina wanted to go to Algeria. It was a great opportunity for her to come back to her roots and for me, to be able to see her family, to familiarize myself with her world, her life, her intimacy. We had several interests in mind and fifteen days to produce something. In the end, two videos came out and a short documentary.

It allowed you to discover the region and to be constantly inspired ... Is it not hard to be in some way forced to have to focus on specific things while the desire and the possibility of producing many things appear to you? How are you handling this sort of stuff?
I do not manage at all! I do a lot of things at once. At the moment I'm trying to find the time to organize myself better. To tell you everything and you are one of the first to have the scoop, I just signed in a production agency called Bandits. It's exciting to know that my vision has been understood and heard. They know where I want to go, and that's the most significant thing.

Congratulations! Did you stop production completely?
 Thank you! Yes, I am now a full-time director and I have two agents / DA, Farah Benguigui, and Sarah Makharine. Who are clear-headed and ambitious women! It's very inspiring to work with them.

 

Did you have periods, perhaps more difficult moments when you thought of quitting?
No, I never really wanted to stop. I asked myself sometimes, I wondered what's the point to invest in my projects if nothing succeeds as I wish. There were more difficult moments. Nevertheless, I am lucky to be surrounded by people who motivate me and encourage me. I think of Mel Massadian, my childhood friend who is Director of photography et Post-production manager. And César obviously who in those moments, when I'm afraid, knows exactly how to deal with it.

What is your leitmotiv?
My brothers and sisters, no doubt. Being the eldest, I very often have the desire and the need to be the best and also to be there for them, help them in any way, and inspire them. The look that your family has on you is something unique, there is nothing stronger. And of course, being a woman, knowing that things are moving forward, is also a great source of motivation.

This is something that has been a problem for you?
Yes, I think it always causes complications. Nevertheless, I took it as a challenge, a challenge that I had to face. So being able to highlight topics about women or colonization is a kind of revenge I suppose.

Does it affect you?
Not really because I'm not just focusing on these topics. It's not a football match, I'm not pro-Palestinian. I do not just talk about Palestine, and most importantly, I think that if you focus on all that people think of you, you do not focus on the good things.

Do you have a special attachment to this place?
It's true that my documentary could have been about something else. But when my cousin Léo told me about his trip to Nablus, I went through a lot of documentation and I just wanted to go. I just think it aroused my curiosity. My agent told me the other day "The more dangerous it is and the more you want to go there! I do not think she's wrong!

Are not you afraid of facing subjects that can be very sensitive to public opinion?
Totally. When I talked about my documentary and the trip made to Palestine, a lot of people told me that I was taking a big risk, that I was going to be cataloged, that I would not find a job. But if that's the case, it's because these people have not understood anything about my film. He talks about humans relationships without pointing fingers at anyone. 

Your father, journalist, what did he think of your strong commitment, your desire to go there and face real dangers?
To be honest with you, I was expecting him to tell me not to go, but he found my initiative good and supported me. My mother was very scared and called me every day. She calls me her "kamikaze". My father pushes me in my entrenchments, he makes sure never to agree with me on this subject just to see my reactions. He sends me almost weekly articles to read, books...

 

Ah yes?
We have regular debates, discussions that I do not have with anyone else.

Which personalities inspired you? 
I am obsessed with the work of Jean Rouch, the genius of Strauss, the voice of Maria Callas, and the commitment of Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Have you ever had the opportunity to meet someone you respect?
I met an incredible woman, Leila Khaled. She was the first woman to hijack a plane in the 1970s. I wrote a script about her and I did everything to meet her. I went to Amman, Jordan. We were able to exchange for two hours on the place of women in terrorism. It was incredible. I am currently preparing a documentary on revolutionary women that would talk in part about Leila's life.

Are you planning to stay here in Paris?
Yes, I think it's essential to have a home. Being here does not stop me from traveling and I personally need it. I'm lucky to have a job that allows me to!

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