|'Both richly authentic in insight and frustratingly narrow in scope'.|
Being able to attend a Q&A session with Thomas Lallier immediately after watching Paris Tower 13 was illuminating, especially regarding a number of decisions the director makes throughout his film and the context in which he made them. Perhaps the most important piece of information revealed during the event was that Lallier views the documentary as a companion piece to the website he built at the same time as shooting and editing the film.
If the site celebrates the destination arrived at by the hundred odd street artists who took over the abandoned Paris apartment block destined for demolition, then Paris Tower 13 is a document of both the journey and the people making it. Lallier opts to focus his film primarily on the artists who worked throughout 2013 to transform the building from a vacant former living space to a truly unique public art gallery which showcased street art in a way that had never been achieved before.
In taking this approach, the director essentially creates a film which is both richly authentic in insight and frustratingly narrow in scope. The interviews recorded with the various artists capture the passion and motivation behind their reasons for working as they do, tapping into the psyche of street artists as a collective and providing intimate insight into their usually illicit craft. Through these conversations, Lallier also broaches wider ideas such as cultural identity and the contemporary political climate in Paris and beyond.
Lallier chooses not to tell a story for much of the running time, opting instead for a loosely edited guerrilla style which offers authenticity but also makes his film feel a bit too one-note at times. There are undeniable missteps here too: I initially presumed the director's choice not to include captions introducing each of the artists might have been made to protect their identities in some way (one participant's face is never shown for exactly this reason), but as Lallier includes all the interviewees' names in the end credits I ultimately had to chalk this up to a somewhat amateurish error.
The director's decision not to showcase the finished artwork, whilst based on sound reasoning, ultimately hurts Paris Tower 13 as a standalone film more than anything else. The month during which the block was open to the public (October 2013 to be precise) gets remarkably short shrift, making it almost feel as if part of the film is missing at this point. The destruction of both the tower block and the art contained within it at the end of 2013 - an act that led to a public outcry but which the artists, who had always created their work to exist in a state of ephemerality, were happy to see - means there is literally no way anyone can document the same topic in the same way as Lallier ever again; a fact which helps Paris Tower 13 to overcome both the director's self-imposed constraints and occasionally imperfect execution.
The 30th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 3rd-17th November 2016 at thirty venues across the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.