Sunday, January 11, 2015

Creating the cartoons that led to the Charlie Hebdo assassinations

Charlie Hebdo, Before the Massacre from The New York Times on Vimeo.

NINE years ago two Paris-based filmmakers, Jerôme Lambert and Philippe Picard, who have directed many documentaries for French public television, made a controversial documentary, Cabu: Politiquement Incorrect (Cabu: Politically Incorrect), about one of Charlie Hebdo's most famous cartoonists.

The documentary hasn't yet been released in English, but an almost six-minute section of it about the decision-making process around publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad has been edited as a short package and published online on Op-Docs at The New York Times.

Ultimately, the publication of this cartoon - and others – by the satirical magazine led this week to the tragic assassination by two jihadist gunmen of the cartoon creator, the editor and eight other people and two police officers protecting them in a savage raid on the publication’s office.

By the end of three days of blood-letting in Paris, including a double hostage siege, 17 innocent people had been killed plus three extremist gunmen - shot dead by French elite security forces. More than 3.7 million people and global leaders on Sunday marched in rallies across France - including the French Pacific territories - to pay tribute to those who lost their lives.

According to the NYT's website for Op-Docs, it is a "forum for short, opinionated documentaries, produced with creative latitude by independent filmmakers and artists". And there is an open invitation for submissions. Here is the introduction to the video - Charlie Hebdo, Before the Massacre:

Assassinated ... Cabut drawing one of the controversial cartoons:
From Cabu: Politiquement Incorrect
IN FEBRUARY 2006, the editors of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo met to discuss a matter of what turned out to be deadly consequence: Would they publish a satirical image of Muhammad on their cover?

We were making a documentary about Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, one of the most famous cartoonists in France. So we were there, filming his conversation with his colleagues as they chose the cover.

Jean Cabut, known as Cabu of the most famous cartoonists
in France. Image: Le Monde.
The issue that came out of this meeting — with a Cabu cartoon on the cover and the images they discussed here — turned out to be one of the most popular in the magazine’s history.

Almost nine years later, gunmen stormed this very meeting and killed 10 editors and cartoonists, including three of the people in this film: Cabu, Bernard Verlhac (known as Tignous) and Georges Wolinski.

Beyond his talent as an artist, our friend Cabu was a formidable character — his Joan of Arc haircut and John Lennon-style round glasses were inimitable.

A former children’s television host, he was goofy, kind, sweet. We loved him. But what Cabu loved was provocation and bad taste: a very French — political and vulgar, yet sharp — type of irony.

He was right at home at Charlie Hebdo, where he could take uncompromising stands on institutions and leaders of all stripes: politicians, bankers, cops … and men of God.
But the West has by no means a mortgage on anti-establishment satire. There is a long track record of satire in some Middle East countries as well in defiance of censorship.

As Moroccan commentator Nahrain Al-Mousawi writes, "the region on which Islamic State has unleashed its sadistic campaign has responded producing a surprising volume of satire".

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