Filmmakers honor late documentarian Chris Marker

The film world has paid tribute to Chris Marker (pictured), the pioneering film essayist and documentarian behind La Jetée, Sans Soleil and Letter From Siberia, following his death aged 91 in Paris on Sunday.
July 31, 2012

Errol Morris, Terry Gilliam and Costa-Gavras are among the filmmakers that have paid tribute to French film essayist and documentarian Chris Marker (pictured), who died in Paris aged 91 on Sunday (July 29).

Born Christian Francois Bouche-Villeneuve, Marker’s work included the 1962 sci-fi short La Jetée and the 1983 experimental travelogue Sans Soleil. He was notoriously private, refusing interviews, shunning photos and insisting that he was born in Mongolia.

Marker’s first film was the documentary Olympia 52 (1952) about the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He went on to become a member of the Left Bank Cinema movement alongside directors Alain Renais and Agnès Varda and collaborated with Renais on the Holocaust documentary Night and Fog (1955).

His significant works include the film essay on Siberian culture Letter From Siberia (1958); the controversial ¡Cuba Si! (1961), which was banned in the United States for its denunciation of American foreign policy; A Grin Without a Cat (1971), a film about the 1968 uprisings in Paris; his seminal meditation on memory, technology and cats Sans Soleil; and A.K. (1985), a documentary about Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

His best-known film, La jetée, was comprised almost entirely of black-and-white stills, and went on to inspire Terry Gilliam’s acclaimed 1995 film Twelve Monkeys. “The great Chris Marker is no longer amongst us but, his work will long outlast all of us,” Gilliam wrote on Facebook.

As news of his death spread yesterday, French politicians, filmmakers and industry luminaries tweeted and emailed tributes to the controversial director.

In a statement, French president Francois Hollande said Marker “will be remembered by history,” adding that he had “profoundly marked cinema and renewed the art of documentary.”

In a series of tweets, Toronto International Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey said that Marker “gave cinema tools for direct intellectual inquiry,” “kept the left poetic,” “personified the ‘camera-stylo,’” and “thought globally.”

In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Costa-Gavras said: “He was a profoundly honest man, both politically and cinematographically.”

Meanwhile, documentarian Errol Morris tweeted that Marker was “one of my heroes,” adding: “How many truly great filmmakers are there? He was one of them.”

“Curious spirit, tireless filmmaker, poet, cat lover, videographer, secret character, talent,” Cannes Film Festival president Gilles Jacob wrote on Twitter, adding that we are all “orphans of Chris Marker.”

And in an email to Capital New York, experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas lamented the unavailability of Marker’s work outside of France.

“Very few of us… had a chance to see their work in the Sixties, Seventies and even Eighties,” he said. “I had many arguments with them about why they had made [it] so difficult/expensive to show their work outside of France, all to no avail. So… Chris Marker’s work had no affect of any kind on the American avant-garde/independents. But this fact doesn’t diminish his importance as a filmmaker, working in the poetic, personal, formal documentary genre.”

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Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.