In her latest film, 24 Davids, Céline Baril takes us across three continents on a quest driven by a single, original idea: giving a voice to the Davids of this world. David, Davide, Dawud, Daouda: derived from the Hebrew dawid, meaning “beloved,” this name—shared by so many different cultures—becomes here the shifting embodiment of the most thoughtful and dynamic aspects of humanity. As in her previous work, Baril uses intuition and imagination to steer her narrative between the infinitely great and the infinitesimally small, probing the mysteries of the universe and of coexistence, taking part in a vital “re-enchantment” of the world.
For the filmmaker, the current century belongs to philosophy and the sciences. Her deeply humanist film is a sprawling poetic and political laboratory in which the power of ideas and collective intelligence thrive. In giving a voice to multiple Davids clear across the social spectrum, Baril creates a playful “ecosystem” of compelling ideas that touches on every sphere of knowledge. Her geographically far-flung Davids come together through a clever montage that unites a range of subjects, from quantum physics to urban planning by way of social innovation, a passion for birds, and the speed of snails.
What is our place in the universe? What do our individual and collective journeys signify? One David—a cosmologist—evokes the mysterious dark matter that “glues” the galaxies together. Another, a philosopher, reflects on the forces underpinning the privatization of planetary and community resources. Through the eyes and actions of each of its namesakes, 24 Davids minutely maps humanity in motion as it points up new networks of solidarity.
This extraordinary adventure takes us from North America (Canada, the United States) to Latin America (Mexico, Colombia), Europe (England, France) and Africa (Ghana, Togo). We meet a DJ/David who makes the b-boys spin in the streets of Bogotá; a Fab Lab trainer/David who views Africa as fertile ground for innovation; a recycler/David who sees garbage as mankind’s salvation; a migrant/David in the jungle, hoping to get to paradise; and a romantic/David living on a houseboat in overpriced London. From these diverse, inspiring encounters emerges a community of ideas focused on sharing and bearing the seeds of transformation.
Written and directed as part of the NFB French Program’s filmmaker-in-residence initiative, 24 Davids is a generous, profoundly joyous work that invites the viewer to join a global conversation where the mysteries of the universe brush up against the many challenges of living together. A thought-provoking journey in a refreshingly freewheeling cinematic format.
1) I know you love to read. How has your reading influenced this project?
I read a lot about science. The work physicists do is amazing to me. When you read about the workings of the universe, it’s like pure poetry. We humans are just a tiny speck in the universe, and that brings you a kind of humility.
At the start of the film, I speculate whether the 21st century will be about philosophy and science, because everything is changing, especially when it comes to work. Technology is advancing everything rapidly. We will need both the humanities and pure sciences like physics to understand where we live. And I don’t mean just the environment. It’s much broader than that: it’s what we have, what we have broken, what will become of us…
2) Were these concerns, which you raise in an interview with David Bollier, the premise of the film, or did it come out of your research?
It emerged out of the creative process. I was reading David Bollier when I learned by chance that he was coming to Montreal. We arranged to meet, and this became the first piece of footage we shot for the film. Bollier is an American activist in a global movement to protect common goods such as water, air, and land. He wrote a book called Silent Theft about how corporations are stealing our resources. I spoke to him a lot about philosophy, and he agreed that the 21st century would be one of science and philosophy because with so much change happening, we are all asking what it means to be human today—what it means to live in the world.
3) There’s this notion of the encounter in your films, especially in this one.
Yes, my films are about encounters. I never know where they’ll take me. That’s my process, my way of doing things. I like the notion of chance, of going on the road and seeing what happens. I love to have discussions, to talk to people and just let the encounter unfold. You have to take the measure of the other person. In general, the discussion meanders. It’s like when you’re on a plane or a street corner, and you meet someone, and suddenly you’re in this totally intimate situation: some very deep things get said. I love that process. I had one “David” in David Bollier, and I sought others. It’s as if I were gradually collecting material for a sculpture. All my Davids are equal. What interests me is that all these individuals that I meet have found a way to live; they’re engaged in their lives. Each David—and there are 24 of them—has something unique. They all have a quality we should all possess: empathy. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
4) Why “David”? Did you have a lover with that name who made such an impression that you wanted to make a film based on that name [laughter]?
I have never focused on one subject in particular. I move with the times, as if I were always in shooting mode. I wanted to cast a really wide net, but I also needed some sort of framework. I wanted something a little crazy and whimsical and thought of using a name, and I came up with “David.” I was reading David Bollier at that time, and David is a common name in many cultures. The idea of travelling the world and meeting a bevy of different Davids appealed to me. We went to Mexico, Africa, Colombia, and England. I also wanted to include some physicists, and at the Perimeter Institute alone—an excellent physics research centre in Waterloo, Ontario— there were five of them. And there were four others at Université de Sherbrooke! We wanted to go to Africa, where David takes the form of Daoud or Daouda. So my researcher, Pascale Bilodeau, and I started on a quest for all these Davids. The film got rolling and, in the end, it’s as if all these Davids were one, forming a sort of ecosystem of Davids. Without much financial means, all these people just kind of organized, without any organization.
We finished the film in Calais with a small Sudanese man, an anonymous David who wouldn’t give us his last name. The Calais Jungle [which has since been cleared] is emblematic of what’s happening in the world today, with all these people displaced by war, and the millions of climate refugees to come.
This young David in Calais just wanted to live his life, but he had absolutely nothing, could do nothing. His appearance at the end brings us back around to the questions asked at the beginning of the film: the 21st century must be the century of science and philosophy, because with all these great changes, we must ask what it means to be human today—what it means to live in the world.
5) It seems to me that your film and your approach in general do not fall into the category of activism.
No, the film doesn’t take that tone. What connects all these Davids is my perspective, my outlook on life, the kind of music I want to compose with all that. It was a risky undertaking, but I was confident. The project was a little crazy, and we were worried a few times: some Davids weren’t there or backed out, so we had to find others. The project never stopped evolving. I was the backbone of the whole adventure. I conducted the conversations, trying to get a glimpse of each person’s soul. We filmed the interviews for about an hour, an hour-and-a-half. As we gathered people’s experiences, it became a living thing, very poetic. To be honest, the tone is more poetic than activist. We go from David Dewhurst, a cyberneticist and housing activist from London, to a young man seeking his way in the world by offering hugs to passersby.
6) You reveal many different realities. At what point in the process did you feel you had a film on your hands?
I had great confidence in the people I had chosen, but I didn’t know how it would come together. I knew I had a film there, a wonderful, generous, poetic, whimsical ecosystem. Sometimes you can see the crew, you can tell that I’m filming, that we’re having this experience together, a collective adventure. When I got back, I watched the footage without doing any editing. You approach the editing process so triumphantly [laughter]… Then you watch it all for the first time …
There are many steps in the editing process. At some point you find something and you know the film is there. I had about 33 hours of material, which isn’t much. I don’t shoot in “surveillance camera” mode. Once I have what I want, I leave. So I did a first pass, keeping the Davids separate. Then I watched it all with the editor, Michel Giroux. We worked a lot together; I love editing. We sent each other timelines and we met in person. It was a dynamic and fun process, and I was fortunate because not all editors like to work this way. But ultimately, Michel was the lead editor. It was hard work, and as with every editing process, there was both much regret and much joy.
Sometimes you just don’t know anymore, so you stop and come back the next day. It took us 30 weeks to edit the film—twice as long as usual. But it was a wonderful adventure.
7) This is no talking-heads documentary. How are things connected? How did the editing process work?
You just have to let the ball roll. These are living people you’re dealing with. You go from one person to the next, and the film gradually builds up. That’s why I talk about a whimsical and contagious ecosystem.
I also love working on the soundtrack. I didn’t really want what you’d call “movie music,” so after we finished shooting, we found the right composer (Marie-Hélène L. Delorme) to work together with the sound designer (Marie-Pierre Grenier). Marie-Hélène and Marie-Pierre created a delicate soundtrack in which the music connects things together by playing with ambient sounds; it’s a fabric of sound that creates tension and an underlying sense of the dangers that surround us.
8) You started with the constraint of a man’s name. Would you say that you take a particularly female look at these 24 Davids? What is feminine in your approach?
I’ve never really thought about it. Of course I have a woman’s approach in how I talk, how I like to be with people, and how I want to be in a position of equality. My Davids are all equal. There is never a hierarchy among the people in my films. Maybe that’s my feminine side. There are 24 Davids, but at the core of the film is a woman. I also have my own poetry, my way of filming and editing. My team was mostly women, with the exception of Julien Fontaine, who was the director of photography. But Katerine Giguère was behind the camera in London and Calais. The producer was Colette Loumède, and the production director was Virginie Léger. Pascale Bilodeau did the research. Marie-Pierre Grenier was both my sound technician and sound designer. Marie-Hélène L. Delorme composed the music. So, yes, it was a female team.
9) The film goes from micro to macro, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large, from the snail to the galaxy. And yet you find a rhythm all your own that lets the film breathe as it moves forward.
Yes, when I’m on a shoot, I notice everything. I look at people, lizards… the little snail that appeared one morning at Julien Fontaine’s door. We were in Lomé, in Togo. Julien went to get his camera, and he filmed the snail, which is how it ended up in my toolbox. Physicists still don’t really know how to explain the phenomenon of gravity. But here is this snail, sitting firmly on the ground with its little antennas, creeping forward. And that’s sort of how the film advances, gathering material like a snowball. After that, you have to set it aside and come back to it later. Time does its thing. In editing, time does a lot of work. You become more objective, you let things go, you pare things down, and at some point, you get to a running time. But you have to go with the flow because the film has its own aesthetic, logic, and spirit. I’m the one who gets things moving, who deals with all the material, the interviews and conversations. But the film doesn’t defend a thesis; it doesn’t really have a subject, except to say that it’s a film about humanity, the universe, man in the universe; it’s a film about what life is like, based on situations taken from today’s world.
10) What state of mind do you hope the moviegoer will be in after seeing your film?
You’re bathed in the emotion of all these human beings on different continents. It’s a very basic experience. The people have a radiant and specific identity. It’s all in front of you, and the editing weaves it together. If you let the film draw you in, I think you will get a sense of my process, which is to take an interest in people. Ultimately, you have all these Davids, who display both human values and also practical values stemming from their individual realities. The goal isn’t to elicit awareness, but rather to get closer to poetry and life; to just live and be attentive to what’s around you; and to get a little lesson in humility from the physicists studying the universe and the earth, which is just a tiny speck in the entire system. I’m not defending a subject or a cause. I want people to float in it—in the beauty of the world.
The film 24 Davids was produced as part of the Cinéastes en résidence program of the NFB’s French Program.
This interview with the director was conducted by NFB Publicist Marie-Claude Lamoureux.
A film by
Written and Directed by
Marie-Hélène L. Delorme
Tania Claudia Castillo
Mario Esteban Castaño Solano
Omar Agudelo Roman
Daniel Antonio Castaño
Mario Rojas Jimenez
Technical Coordinator – Shooting Equipment
Technical Support – Editing
Aimée Abra Tenu
Ping Pong Ping
Wolf Koenig & Roman Kroitor
National Film Board of Canada, 1966
I Am Bogotá
Composed by DJ Fresh
Faluma (Menasa Remix)
Written and composed by Agi, R.R. Rillen
Performed by Yakki Famirie
I Feel Love
Pete Bellotte, Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer
Published by WARNER/CHAPPELL MUSIC CANADA obo WB MUSIC CORP/WARNER-TAMERLANE PUBLISHING CORP. and RICK’S MUSIC, INC. and by SWEET SUMMER NIGHT MUSIC
Performed by Donna Summer
Courtesy of UNIVERSAL Records, a division of UMG Recordings Inc.
Composed by DJ Fresh
Larissa Estevam Christoforo
Filmed as part of the
French Program Documentary Studio
A National Film Board of Canada production