Filmmaker and artist Vincent Moon first gained notoriety with his verité style performance pieces for French music blog La Blogotheque. Over the past five years his creative output has been prolific, releasing music documentaries that range from impromptu performance Take Away Shows to event-based projects like Temporary Areas to Long Portrait features on rare musicians.
Beyond his distinct and influential aesthetic, a recent decision to release all his works under a CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license piqued our interest and we caught up with Moon to discuss his approach to art and creation in today’s world as well as his decision to release his work under a CC license.
Could you give our readers some background on yourself? How and when did you become interested in filmmaking?
I guess I started by accident. When I was 18 I studied cinema at university – sort of. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand anything. They were just telling me about impossible things to make, huge movies. They were so complicated and I was way too young to imagine that I could do anything like that. Then I started to do photography and it was what I was really excited about. Just going out in the street and basically being, very simply, a creator. I didn’t need any budget or anything there. So I was doing photos but didn’t really know what to do with it until I got more interested in music and wanted to do something with music and musicians.
I started getting closer to musicians when I met a band called The National – they were just starting at the time and they used some photos I did with them for their third album, Alligator. Then I was like, wow OK maybe this is something to do around music. They asked me if I wanted to do a little guest music video for them. It was all pretty lo-fi and it was still what people would call a “music video” – putting images on pre-recorded music. After a few of these, which we did without any money, I realized this wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t a very interesting relationship with the people I was working with. They just send me a song and ask me to do something with it.
Around that time I was always going to see live music – I spent around 6 years in Paris every night going out to see live shows – and I realized I wanted to do something with live music. When I met Chryde, who runs La Blogotheque, he wanted to do something we called at the time a video podcast – I haven’t seen that word in a long time – but he wanted to do something and I wanted to film music differently so that is how we started the “Take Away Shows” project just over four years ago.
Do you consider yourself a documentarian? Where do you see yourself in the general cinematic landscape?
It’s definitely documentary, but I’ve been thinking and talking about it more and [documentary] doesn’t mean much anymore. Now creation is made in a way that putting names on such creation doesn’t really mean anything. Lots of people from our generation, we are inspired and influenced by so many different fields because we have access to so [much] more than before. It’s impossible to just be inspired by cinema – you listen to music all the time and you read stuff and you have access to all those amazing things and so I guess now we are seeing more hybrid creations and they don’t belong to any genre. So I don’t see myself as owed to cinematography – I don’t even call myself a director or anything. I call myself a “filmer” – I don’t know if that would be a word in English – but in a way I’m not really a filmmaker I’m just a “filmer.” I’m just a guy using a tool and that tool is a camera but it could be something else.
My point is not to make movies but to make relationships – basically, to meet people, and I found a good pretext to do that. I pretend I am a filmmaker sometimes but it is really a pretext to travel and meet people and talk with them. It is very interesting to talk with people without using words – some people use instruments to carry their message and I use a camera. I think it is an important point and something I’ve been really interested in more recently, especially talking to some journalists. Most journalists want to put you in a little box, because of course it is easier – it’s easier to put a word on what you do. But it doesn’t mean anything really.
I’m just a guy using a tool today and traveling just doing my little things – I call them “little things” more and more because I feel that I make most of my movies as gifts. I make them for the people I love I don’t really make money on them.
How did you become interested in Creative Commons and the free culture movement in general?
I don’t really remember what the first thing that got me interested was, I just remember I started reading some books by Lawrence Lessig. I was really interested in reading a lot about all the copyfree things. It’s more recent probably than you would expect. After a while [of] doing these videos for [La Blogotheque] we really became a part of the “blog revolution” and I started to understand that there was such a strong link between Creative Commons and my way of working – it seemed so obvious to me.
What grabbed you about CC? What was the resonance between what you were doing for La Blogtheque and Lessig’s Free Culture?
My way of doing things is that I don’t really respect many of the things you should respect when you work with labels. With the blog in a way we never signed anything with all the labels and that is how we’ve been able to do our project, do all the Take Away shows. And because we didn’t really deal with any labels or manager, we’re always talking directly straight to the artists. My way of doing things is that I don’t care much about the intermediaries, those people between the two extreme points you know, maybe even two creators talking together or creators talking to an audience. My way of doing things has been always to avoid the steps in the middle and talk straight to the people. And that is how I felt the obvious link with Creative Commons. Now each time I get an email from a manager to work with an artist, I tell them to put me in touch with them and we will talk together. It’s more of a direct relationship.
How are you using CC licenses on your projects?
As soon as I started to do things on my blog I started using CC. Now though I put all my original work under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license – all of it. This is a really important thing to me and I want to be clear with the people I work with that I’m not going to work with a label that doesn’t allow me to use CC on a video with an artist. That’s it.
That is basically the only way I can move things and convince people from the inside. With lots of labels, their attitude to all this has been really complicated and it’s getting really impossible to work with them. I’m in a lucky position in that I can convince people to move towards Creative Commons and this sort of view on how people create and share.
Beyond just believing in CC theoretically in a broader cultural sense, what do you see as the main purpose for using CC licenses on your work? Is it to allow people to share them? To give them a sense of ownership?
I don’t think people are going to use CC with my work in a way that is useful to remix, I just want people to think about my work more and share my work as they want. Creative Commons is a way for creators to share their work just because they want to create, not because they want to make money – I’m not getting a lot of money for what I’m doing, I just want to be able to continue doing this. I really try basically to make movies for no money and I don’t want to have money involved – I tend to refuse working with someone when they come in with a large budget. I like to keep it on that simple level. I don’t want people to make money off these projects as no one is paid. It’s all for free so I like to keep it that way.
Now all my work is under a Creative Commons license, not because I think it will particularly help but because it is a way of thinking, it is a way of life, and it is something to fight for. I work with lots of musicians – I use CC to push the people I am working with to be involved in that movement. It is about how people create – I’m just amazed by how little time we spend thinking about how people create compared to how people make money from creations. It’s crazy, it’s scary.
Talk a little bit about projects you are working on right now. I know you are working on the Temporary Areas project right now and that you recently won the Sound and Vision Award for Faute des Fleurs at the CPH DOX Film Festival.
I have tons of different projects that are mostly based around music – I’m going to make a movie about the Primavera Sound Festival, a festival in Barcelona, and continue to do long portraits that are dedicated to rare musicians. My life is on the road, and I don’t have a home anymore – I’m sort of experimenting with my own life and how you are able to live as a nomad. To use your camera as a tool to interact and meet people.
I organize events more and more, I see myself as an organizer more than a filmmaker. I did this thing in Copenhagen last May where I gathered nine bands in one space and we did what I called Temporary Copenhagen. It is a long piece where I pushed these bands to play their music differently. It’s not always about bands playing their music acoustically, the idea is – how can you push a band in another situation and see what happens? I think that can bring them something and of course that brings me a lot because I’m putting myself in a situation where I don’t know what will happen.
We don’t plan anything anymore. When I was in Copenhagen there was a very strong reaction between all the different musicians – there was something in the air. Thirty minutes, one take, and just one try – you can’t miss it. There was this tension and I just realized that it is exactly what I want to do more of – to gather different groups and live something very strong with them, even for like an hour. I did the same thing in Athens, Greece in October – 15 bands in one space. It is just a way to discover the world, and create some little experiments in everyday life.
Now I am finishing a project in Cambodia, a web-film project about a urban displaced community, where I am trying a new technique that we could call ‘hyper-image’ – I can’t say much about it now, but it’s a special way to document and use interactive tools while including these people in a very specific, collaborative process. It’s somewhere between a rip off of Jia Zhang-Ke films and an integration of new technologies in images. There’s so much to explore!
Basically the big question for me in the 21st century, where you have access to all this information everywhere, where you have access to all these technological tools, is – how do you continue to explore the world? How do you put yourself in a position where you still have things to explore? What is your own way to learn? The link to CC here is obvious to me – its all part of the same movement and desire to experience and access information.