A decade of observing Paris becomes Scholar alum’s documentary debut

November 15, 2011

By hammersmith

Ten years ago, when Andrew Shemin (’98) traveled to France for a semester as a Flinn Scholar, one of his independent-study projects involved spending many days in the city parks of Paris, where, notebook in hand, he recorded his observations about how public space contributes to Parisian life.

The project, which at first glance might appear a bit modest in scope, made plenty of sense in the context of Shemin’s academic interests as a double major in French and creative writing at the University of Arizona. People-watching in the parks for hour after hour, he was soaking up French culture and gaining valuable insights about human interaction. What he was learning would soon begin emerging in the plays he wrote–some of which would be produced before he completed his undergraduate degrees.

Today, there’s new evidence that Shemin’s semester in Paris was time well spent. He has lived in Paris for several years now, and while he continues to write for the stage, he has added filmmaking to his repertoire. His newest project is “Postcards from Paris,” an hour-long documentary that seems like the direct descendant of those journals from his undergraduate study abroad experience.

In an interview with My French Life, Shemin explains that “Postcards from Paris” is a film in the tradition of the Lumière brothers, early French filmmakers, “who made fascinating one-shot documentary reels of French life,” and the contemporary American filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, “who makes unobtrusive documentaries that try to capture reality for the audience […] without conforming the subject into the frame of an author’s larger, preconceived argument.”

Link to trailer for "Postcards from Paris"

For viewers whose frame of reference for cinema is standard Hollywood fare, “Postcards from Paris” might be jarring. By design, Shemin’s film has little discernible narrative structure, and within each shot, the camera doesn’t move, as was the case in the films of the Lumière brothers.

“I think that the later development of editing, camera movements, and so on are great,” Shemin explains in an interview with Film Industry Network. “But I feel like filmmaking is so technique-heavy nowadays that you can actually stand out and make yourself heard by doing the opposite: a slow rhythm of images that require the audience to slow their minds down and contemplate in a different way from the fast films we are watching in the theaters and the quick clips on the Internet.

“I want to make an immersive experience in Paris with this film,” he adds, “so I think the slow pace of a video slideshow lets the viewer relax and look all over the screen to absorb information and make connections between shots that you might miss if the editing was too fast. It’s more like the pace of people watching in a given place, and that can be a very imaginative activity, especially somewhere like Paris.”

Shemin has completed shooting footage for “Postcard from Paris,” and is now in the middle of a month-long fundraising drive to support the documentary’s post-production. One substantial remaining cost is adding music for the film, which, he writes, “is necessary to bring the audience deeper into these images and complete the experience of escaping to Paris for an hour.” Shemin’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign closes on December 1.

For more information:

Postcards from Paris,” Kickstarter project page

The romantic Paris documentary you can be a part of,” Film Industry Network, 10/26/2011

Interview: Andrew Shemin — 1,” My French Life, 11/1/2011