Les gens d'à bord
"We, we are called the people on board, on the boat while those who are on the ground are those who are on the floor of the cows, that makes the difference. "
Daniel Wattiau's family of super 8 archives takes us back to that bygone era when inland water transport evoked a free and itinerant way of life, a popular culture rooted in the collective imagination. Jean-Claude, a young sailor in activity offers a contemporary counterpoint relayed by the testimonies of couples of retired sailors from Longueil-Annel. Village which still keeps the traces and living stories of these people of water perpetuating its heritage through the festival of the Skippers.
Main dish, macaroon, ecouart, tinker, scull, boulard, marquise? so many words which in my ears had very little resonance. And yet all this strange jargon became familiar to me when I got in touch with the elders of Longueil Annel when in 2008, instructed by the museum of inland waterways, I carried out a dozen interviews with couples of former boatmen. It was the discovery of Daniel Wattiau's Super 8 archives that convinced me to continue my work with this documentary project. They evoke the timelessness and poetry of Jean Vigo's "Atalante" and allow me to anchor the world of inland shipping in the collective imagination in a cinematic way.
Longueil Annel, a city of boatmasters memory
Longueil-Annel is a commune located in the department of Oise in Picardy region. The inhabitants have for the most part a bond with the inland waterways. They are a part of history, of boat memory and it is not for nothing that on the day of disembarking they choose to settle here, near the canal. Here, the Oise side canal, built in 1835, allowed more traffic for barges.
Between 1900 and 1950, the abundant activity of river transport still gave the village a particular color. Thus, the village and its thirty cafes and breweries could count in the evening up to 400 more inhabitants and a hundred boats waiting. The story of the "people on board", which I want to tell, is rooted in this village, an essential crossroads of waterways. The natural decoration of the quays crossing this village is today so calm, almost deserted, whereas yesterday still it abounded with life, passages, and trade.
Daniel Wattiau's super 8 family archives: "Happy who like Ulysses had a great trip"
Daniel Wattiau is an 88-year-old retired sailor who lived in Conflans St Honorine. In the seventies, he filmed on his boat "Le Rove", his family and his travels for ten years. His images take us to the Haute Seine, Belgium, Amsterdam, Rouen, Zeeland etc. By the eye of his camera we navigate on all types of canals, at sea, we pass lying dams, we cross cities, small corners of wild countryside.
La qualité technique et artistique des films super 8 est remarquable. Le spectateur est véritablement plongé dans l?intimité de la famille,du bateau, de la vie de marinier. Le père filme avec brio des moments de joie du quotidien, des instants récréatifs et ludiques desquels émanent un sentiment de liberté, une impression de mouvement continuel.
The old boatmen-guides, the living pieces of the museum
They are passers of knowledge, know-how? They take a guided tour of their own life, the last concrete link that allows them to express their passion, their way of life, their freedom of yesteryear. The association of Longueuil boatmen is, for them, the last outlet of a new sedentary life. They enlighten visitors on an unknown world, a profession whose reputation has long been blackened by illiteracy and alcohol.
In activity, they found their balance in movement. Retired, they are from a certain point of view unsuited to this new life, that of "people on the ground". To understand them, we must think of the emotion of travelers who, discouraged by the shipping crisis of the 70s, made the decision to disembark with their wife; this means giving up the profession of water transport, and especially life on board which they have practically never left since their birth.
This emotional shock made them want to make this profession known, through oral expression. They have experienced the whole evolution of inland waterway transport, from hauling to modern self-propelled vessels. The history of their successive boats is an example of the evolution of boatmen. More than "guides" of the boat city, they are the soul. They participate in the cultural life on board, and share their experience with the visitors.
Jean-Claude Biencourt is 26 years old, he is the 7th generation of boatman in the family. He sails between La Fère in the Aisne and Gennevilliers in the Paris region. He chose to be an employee at Cemex, a company that manufactures and transports gravel for public works, preferring job security and getting closer to his son. Each transport of gravel takes 2 days, and when it has unloaded, it goes back empty in 1 and a half days to La Fère to start again.
His Freycinet-type boat is nothing modern, no radar, no autopilot, not even a propellant, just a good old-fashioned "old-fashioned" badge as he himself says. Jean-Claude apprehends the visit of the expert who comes to check its compliance with navigation standards.
He now lives alone on his boat since his fiancée who tried to live on board disembarked. Once a week, he arrives in Beautor and goes to see his 2.5 year old son who lives with his mother in Tergnier. Two days before the forgiveness of the inland waterways, he sanded, repainted and paved his boat. After having embellished it with beautiful colors, he meticulously attaches, one by one, around thirty flags? This is the first time that he has participated in "forgiveness". His grandparents before him had participated, so he ensures "the succession" with pride. But the difficulties accumulate and Jean-Claude thinks of stopping everything.