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Inside the Icebergclub

When Jean Pascal Princiaux's film, Icebergclub, screened at the 2002 International Animated Film Festival at Annecy, the crowd went wild. Find out why in this interview with the filmmaker by Annick Teninge.

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See a slice of Icebergclub. All images courtesy of Jean Pascal Princiaux.

While Jean Pascal Princiaux contends his film Icebergclub is not meant to be a controversial film, it indeed was when it screened at the 26th International Animated Film Festival at Annecy. For thirty-two minutes, one takes the iceberg's point of view and watches the Titanic slowly approach on that fateful night in the north Atlantic Ocean. The photo-realistic, CGI film moves tremendously slowly as the iceberg drifts along in the ocean, taking in the stars and sea, prior to the crash. Some people sat captivated, others walked out in disgust and still others reveled in the film, hooting and hollering their derision. Animation World decided to find out what was behind this film that caused all the hubbub late one night and was the talk of the festival the next day. "What did you think?" "What did it mean?" "Well, I heard" "Well, that's not quite what I heard"

If the purpose of art is indeed to lead us into discussion and to question previously held beliefs and opinionsthen Icebergclub succeeds on all levels.

Annick Teninge: Over the entire course of the Annecy Festival, your film Icebergclub caused the greatest reaction from the audience. There was some clapping of support but a lot of hollering, whistles, etc. Did you expect this? Did it upset you? The Annecy crowd is known to be brutal

Jean Pascal Princiaux: I must say I was surprised to be in the competition at Annecy. I had thought the film might be shown in panorama, or in an informational program as an experimental film. Having Icebergclub screened in the official competition program was a breathtaking, scary experience. But it was a great test, because the Annecy audience is so reactive. I was able to analyze almost in a mechanical way how people were positioning themselves. There were three categories of people in the audience: people who didnt like the format of the film and didnt want to get into it; people who thought they would have a bit of peace while watching it; and people who were switching from one feeling to another. Those were the noisiest, the ones going back and forth during the entire film. When the collision was coming, they seemed to be ready for it and encourage the impact.

AT: Was this how the film was intended to be screened? I had heard that it was an art installation or was supposed to play on multiple screens; is this true? What is your background?

JPP: I come from the contemporary art scene where I have been presenting my films and installations at personal and collective exhibitions for about ten years. I am facing the same reserve in this contemporary art world, where I cannot be categorized.

This film is part of a three movie pack, Icebergclub, Casinoclub and Fourrésclub. The three of them are intended to be shown simultaneously, thus allowing viewers to make connections between more or less heterogeneous elements. In Casinoclub, the subject absorbs substances that make him mix up extrasensory perceptions with internal ones. And in Fourrésclub, the subject finds himself in a square of scrub and cannot find his way. This three movie pack is part of an art installation where the viewer wears a movement-detector helmet and can simultaneously watch any of the three movies on multiple screens.

AT: I must say that after one gets used to the idea of just sitting and watching...without the expectation of things happening...the film becomes a very relaxing experience, even though the subject matter is of an immense human tragedy. I also felt as if you were making a point that the elements, earth and all her mighty forces, remains unchanged by man's tragedies and unharnessed by his triumphs. It is a very powerful film without having a typical story structure. What was the point of the film? What were you trying to show or prove?

Icebergclub is one part of a film trilogy and was originally intended to screen as an art installation. Here we see the iceberg's view of the starry sky.

JPP: My goal was to set up a highly symbolic mechanism that could also be Machiavellian. In popular imagery, the iceberg is evil but one can be led to change ones position and my point was to bring the audience to change its viewpoint on the event. Watching the film is also a very relaxing and exotic experience, insofar as one can move (travel) from thinking evil to good, or from evil to victim in the same way as the human beings on the boat.

I didnt want to have a moral point of view, or to represent human beings with feelings and deal with character psychology. It seemed more interesting to me to keep a neutral position and to present a very shorn environment. I also wanted to avoid having causal linking in order to highlight the deep-rooted mysterious aspect of the notion of an event. Usually, we deal with events in a causal way, with explicative sequences of events. I wanted to reduce this to its minimum in order to get closer to the substance of the phenomena that becomes an event, not the event itself.

AT: You are claiming a neutral position as the filmmaker. Is this contradictory with your Machiavellian intentions?

JPP: No. Again, I dont have a moral point of view. Im taking a stand as far as I bring into play a specific type of proposal: offering to decode the event from the icebergs point of view and to look at it outside of its causal logic, focusing on its conceptual substance. This is an artistic proposal. I am not taking sides.

Viewers are lulled into tranquility while watching the sea, but once the ship appears, there is a creeping sense of tension. Here we see the aftermath of the collision.

AT: There is a risk of detachment with such a minimalist environment. Was it a concern of yours?

JPP: I used cinema tricks such as constant variation in the lighting, textures and movement, even if the variations are very subtle. I tried to make the film captivating, not because of its subject matter but because of its form. Icebergclub is made to be seen as an art piece, certainly not as a polemical film, or a provocative one.

AT: How did you evaluate the duration of the film?

JPP: I figured it was the time needed to allow people to switch their point of view. It was a very intuitive process. I approached the film as an abstract expressionist sculpture, where you manipulate a block of material until it takes shape.

To learn more about Icebergclub, Casinoclub and Fourrésclub, visit Jean Pascal Princiaux's Website at www.jppclub.com.

After five years as AWN's general manager Annick Teninge returned to France, where she is now in charge of production and distribution at La Poudrière in Valence, an animation school offering a 2-year program where students study the process of filmmaking and develop their own film projects. She is also heading AWN's marketing and public relations efforts in Europe. Annick began her animation career as assistant director at the Annecy International Animation Festival, a post she held for six years.

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