Paris-based Cyprien Clément-Delmas has a particular way of seeing the world, and he makes us participants of it through his documentaries. Strikingly beautiful on a visual level, they always have a relevant and powerful message behind them and are formally adapted to our current fast-paced times. Compromised with society’s current situation, which seems to be growing more and more alienated, his pieces won’t leave anyone indifferent.
Author of pieces like Day One and Intrusion, and winner of several awards, he has travelled from a very young age, which has definitely contributed to shape his vision. Before diving into filmmaking, he started out with photography, which has had a big influence in his exquisite taste when composing images. Not afraid to tackle controversial topics, his work mirrors our current times and is also proof that being visually appealing doesn’t have to be a contradiction with presenting meaningful content.

Aiming to raise more consciousness on the public, he is drawn to socially engaged projects, which he will work on following his intuition and always with reality as the starting point. He is a firm believer on reaffirming your beliefs and sticking to your gut feeling, and for him it proves to be working more than fine.
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How did you start getting into filmmaking?
I actually started out with photography, more specifically documentary. When I was around eighteen years old I became very interested in it and I started taking a lot of pictures. From there I started exhibiting my work, and I started to discover how to create an image, I learned about composition, what I wanted to tell with my work, etc. I also did an internship with Magnum agency in Paris, where I worked sorting out copies of the pictures and also handling negatives, so I was immersed into the best of the best of photography and really getting to know this world. And so now my video work is very influenced by photography.
All this time I knew I wanted to study cinema and I also wanted to learn Spanish so I studied four years in ESCAC in Barcelona, which was a very beautiful and interesting experience because we had a lot of practical work. We were filming all the time, and this is a profession you learn by practice and by trying out different things. The theoretical part is important, and you need to know it and have some background, but the practice gives you more ideas. When I went back to France I got into making advertising and music videos. I also started making short projects, videos only three or four minutes long, inspired by reality – so in a documentary type of format but also with an editing style adapted to the Internet. I want them to be pieces appropriate to watch online because the diffusion is super powerful nowadays. A video you’ve made can be seen by hundreds of thousands of people in a few days, while when you go through the festivals maybe ten thousand see it in a whole year. It’s a very interesting medium, and in the end my works are still artistic pieces, but they are also made for the people to see them online. 
I guess that should be one of the main concerns, that people actually see your work.
Exactly, people have to see the projects. You have to make things in order for them to be distributed, especially if they have a message that you strongly believe in. And that’s the beautiful thing about nowadays, that people from all over the world can see it. The Internet allows that, and we have to make the most out of it. Now I’d say my speciality is to work with reality as a base and to take it to another field, a more visual one. 
What topics does your work usually touch on?
My work always revolves around social and historical themes. I think we have to talk about what’s going on in our world. Like my pieces Intrusion and Day One, they talk about what’s going on right now.
And have you always been so compromised and interested in politics and social issues?
Yes, I would say so. I’ve always been really interested in politics and current affairs, and I’ve also always travelled a lot. When I was younger I changed cities quite often because of my dad’s work. I think I lived in about eight cities. I was living in Africa when I was ten, for example. So I’ve always been exposed to different cultures and different issues, and that makes you see the world in a different way, with a little bit more distance. You relativize everything a bit more. And with that point of view I try to make things that make sense and that reflect our society.
So then you try to not be a preacher that imposes a message but rather be like a mirror and let society see itself and identify itself the problem?
Yes, I believe in that a lot because in the end, if we don’t do it, who will? Especially now that everything’s quite worrying, or at least let’s say intense. There are things are going on, and it’s important to showcase them. People need to reflect on things more, there are the raw events and then what they actually mean. Video makers have the responsibility to give people the tools and help them understand and interpret those events. I also think that we live in a world that’s quite artificial. I realize it a lot because I work in advertising, and sometimes I think “What the hell are we looking for here?”. And we are not in a period to be totally artificial, I think people need to clearly position themselves and show their opinions again.
And so, do you take a clear stand on your work?
I think I do position myself quite a lot, but often I don’t give a clear answer in what I do. For example, in Day One, a lot of people told me that they found interesting how I stayed pretty neutral, that I didn’t judge the pro-Trump people, and that pro-Trump and anti-Trump were given the same treatment. I found that observation interesting, and I think it happened during the editing process. In the editing room I saw everything like a circus, an external vision of American society that all of the sudden was condensed there. I really was just astonished by all of them, from one side and the other. In the end though, I do think my position is pretty clear because I show some messages and some signs that show what I think, which is that Trump is a disaster. But well, later everyone will look at it and one sees what s/he wants to see in this piece. But as a creator you always need to have your own point of view and opinion.
How do you see the role of the artist nowadays? There are those who say that art and cultural products should not be political and rather be a tool to disconnect and alleviate the worries that reality brings to our life. And then others say the contrary: that art should make the public reflect on important issues.
I lean more towards this second opinion. With that, I don’t mean that I don’t like the fact that there are movies that are just pure entertainment; I’m not that radical. I don’t want to forbid people from just having fun and comedies from being made. But in a more personal level, I think that as filmmakers we have a responsibility, because if you know how to use images, you have a power. And it’s a good thing to use that power in a useful way. Talking about comedies, for example, if you watch The Dictator by Chaplin – which is one of my favourite movies – it’s a comedy but also an amazing movie, it anticipates and understands many things about Nazism. It’s brilliant. It makes you laugh and at the same time it makes you think. It’s a movie with a brilliant humanitarian message. So it’s not incompatible.
About the importance of the role of the artist in society I always think of a very simple thing: how many bankers shaped the history of humanity? It’s something I like to ask people and nobody ever can say a name. And then I ask them how many artists did, and then they do know some. It illustrates very well the difference between the economic and the artistic; artists help to create change and make an impact.
And how do you see society and the public in general?
I think people are more clever than we give them credit for. We hear all the time how people just want to be entertained and have fun, but I think it all depends on what we as content creators provide them. If you give them shitty content, they will ask for shitty content. If you give them quality, they will ask for quality and things that make them think. The role of society is also educating people, work on some values and give the tools to analyse and understand what we are being shown. Because people receive a lot of information constantly and are unable to distinguish what’s real and what not. It’s incredible the amount of people that share information and videos without comparing sources. It’s about what type of society we want to create and live in.
I compare France and Spain quite a lot. In France, culture is very well appreciated and taken care of, but in the end it is also a political decision. Here we promote the cultural industry, which is seven times more important than the automotive. Imagine! You’ll always hear that culture doesn’t give money, that people don’t consume it. But in reality if you chose to promote it, it’s an industry that generates a lot more money than other traditional industries. I think that a country without culture is a country without a soul, and Spain’s case is very sad to me. A good Spanish movie works as an ambassador; it sends a message of your culture to the outside. It’s what French directors do; they are the best ones to show the French way of doing and seeing things.
You recently founded your own production company. What made you decide to do that?
Yes, I just started it. It’s called Intrusion, like the project. I’m represented by a couple of production companies in different countries, but mostly for just advertising and music videos. The other projects that are more documentary style or fiction I do with other production companies. Sometimes I also invest my own money in projects that are more personal to me and for that I needed a legal entity. And so here is where my new production company comes top lay.
For now I’m focusing on my work with the other companies because it’s still more convenient, they have more experience and contacts, and they work for you. But slowly I want to give more life to it and develop its concept, and for projects like Intrusion or Day One, which touch very much political topics, maybe an established production company wouldn’t dare to go through with it. And if it’s just you, you decide if you want to take the risk and it’s nice to have the space of total creative freedom. In the future I would also like to help produce projects by other people. I enjoy helping others out as well.
“I think that as filmmakers we have a responsibility, because if you know how to use images, you have a power. And it’s a good thing to use that power in a useful way.”
You started out your career in Barcelona after leaving ESCAC, why did you go back to Paris?
I really liked Barcelona but it’s terrible how little money there is in the industry. There are a lot of creative people, but there’s a lack of respect and money. So many producers will try to scam you and thinks like that. And when I went back to France, it was like a shock: they make you contracts, they pay you well, they treat you well, etc., which is how it should be.
Your body of work is very characteristic, what would you say are the most important things for you when creating a piece?
At a formal level, there are two very important things in my work. First one is the editing process. For me, that’s really where my works are created. Since I work with reality, I don’t always know what I’m going to film. I can have an idea for some shots, but then it’s always about improvising. Also the relationship with the images and the music is very important, and I try to make both things work together. The other important part of my work is that it mixes a documentary style with more directed and poetical sequences. More playful camera movements, almost creating or showing a different reality that could only be captured with the camera, probably influenced by my photography roots. I think appearance and the message can go hand in hand.
Nowadays it’s changing, but some time ago documentaries were seen as reportage, something that was a super interesting story but badly filmed. Bad camera, bad sound; and now I’m part of this movement that has been uniting the formal and meaning aspects for quite some time already. And in the end all these things make people watch the piece until the end.
When you make your films, do you have yourself and your perspective as the main focus, or the public that will see it?
I think about the people that will see it and the impact that the piece will have quite a lot. I try to guess it, at least, although there is always a personal starting point. It’s always going to be a topic that I’m interested in, I think you have to be personally involved and invested with the topic to give it the right treatment. But at the same time you shouldn’t forget that people will see it, and you have to be aware of the power of the montage, the image and the sound and have an intuition that every decision you are taking will have an impact on the people that will watch it. Depending on what effect you are looking for, you activate some things or some others.
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How do you approach taking on new projects, how do you choose what you are going to talk about next?
Sometimes I will be proposed themes that I like, and some other times I choose or find them. I always have a filter, and every time I get more selective. With time and experience you figure out what you like and where you want to position yourself. It’s important to say no to things that you know are not meant for you, so that in the end only projects that fit well with you will come your way. I think you have to trust your intuition a lot in this sense, when you feel like something is off with a project, then you shouldn’t go through with it. You have to be true to your own style, even if in the beginning it means losing a bit of money, and stick to what you defend and want to show, and eventually similar projects will come your way.
You were talking about intuition. Is it also an important part of the way you work?
Yes, I believe in my intuition a lot, I think that shootings in general are not very organic nowadays. People have a storyboard, the whole script ready, every word and comma, and that is something I try to avoid. I think that when it comes to shooting you have to leave some space for improvisation. It’s not about repeating what’s written in the script but about a human experience. You have the actors, you have a camera, something is going on, there are feelings and emotions and you have to hear that. I also always think in musicians who play live, they have a direct connection with their audience and they convey something directly. I try to have something like that in my shootings too, have them be like a performance. That’s why documentaries are so special, because they capture certain moments with certain people, and nobody ever could do the same thing because the circumstances of each shot are unique.
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