A street artist and a filmmaker
When Antoine Page and Bilal Berreni first met, neither was familiar with the other’s work. They were both solitary characters who weren’t looking for collaborators, but they hit it off from the start: they shared the same passion for their work, the same belief in a popular form of art and the same thirst for independence.
Before long they were dreaming of traveling through Russia together, with Antoine filming and Bilal drawing and creating in situ frescoes and installations (on the frozen Lake Baikal, on the huge Potemkin staircase, aboard the Trans-Siberian…). They wanted their journey to be rich in artistic experiences, and they intended to use their complementarity skills in drawing and video to record the various stages of the trip.
A major artistic project was taking shape: the film It’s quite good being crazy.
Bilal Berreni, alias Zoo Project
“I started out by painting on the city walls, the walls of my neighborhood. The art I stand up for is in direct contact with people, it’s a living art that can be unsettling and make you think… I get the feeling that art in France has lost its “popular” character and is reserved for a minority. I think an artist should make the effort to reach out to people, not the other way round. That’s what I’ve tried to do with my paintings: create a dialogue with passers-by, get them to react.
Why this project for a journey and a film? At first, the idea was to get away – away from my everyday life, the things I know. To go anywhere really, to venture into the unknown. I’m 20 years old, I have the whole world to see and explore. I want to get away from things that are starting to weigh me down – routine, uniformity, the little world of Paris street art, a “hip” side that I’ve always resisted. I’m as afraid of officialdom as I am of marginality and the “underground.” By leaving I can get away from all that and stimulate my creativity, breathe a different air. It’ll be a way of getting a different take on my work. Why should street art be reserved for city people? I want to go into country areas, places that have never been exposed to this culture. Above all, I want to demonstrate that it’s possible to paint, to express yourself on walls – I want to show that art can be accessible to everyone.”
Bilal was always drawing. He drew everywhere and on everything. His drawings soon spilled out of his sketchbook and onto the street, which became his playground. At the age of eighteen he created the name “Zoo Project,” and within a year Paris was covered with his gigantic murals: white forms with expressive, thick black outlines in a style that was simultaneously raw and poetic, simple and evocative. The quotes that sometimes featured on these works were never didactic or Manichaean, but added a bittersweet touch, an absurd counterpoint. The approach was deeply political, but never lost its poetic quality.
Bilal soon gained recognition among the street artist community. Art galleries courted him, but he was already far away. In Tunisia during the revolution, he painted the martyrs before moving on to a refugee camp on the Libyan border where he painted life-size canvas portraits of the refugees.
These artistic installations in conflict zones, made with and for the people he painted, attracted the interest of the French national press (Le Monde, Libération)… but Bilal had gone again. Living alone in an isolated shack in the heart of Lapland in the middle of winter, he was at work on a graphic novel that he intended to recount his experience…
He then set out on a new adventure: the movie It’s Quite Good Being Crazy, with French filmmaker Antoine Page. Their road trip through Russia was interspersed with in-situ interventions (murals, installations, portraits, etc.) by Bilal, whose drawings would become an integral part of the narration of the movie.
Bilal went on to follow the hobo trail through the United States, jumping from train to train, getting arrested, ending up in jail, writing a short story about his experiences…
That was his life: a life full of ideas, projects and achievements, a life full of daring, with no time for fear or compromise.
Bilal’s story ended in Detroit, when he was 23 years old.
Antoine Page - Filmmaker
“When Bilal and I first met, we got straight down to work – or rather, to dream. We agreed that there would be ‘no limits’ and that we’d do whatever we could to bring our ideas into being.
Apart from the fact that we shared the same outlook, what interested me from the start was that working with Bilal meant working with an artist who had a different skill than mine. Drawing was a different way of expressing things, suggesting things, sparking emotions. By combining our media, we could experiment in lots of different ways.
So we were away! We had no idea where we’d go, but wherever it was we’d take our passion and conviction with us.”
After beginning a course in art history, Antoine Page produced his first experimental films (De la politique, Cap Esterel…) in the framework of film classes taught by Nicole Brenez at the Sorbonne. His films were screened at the Cinémathèque Française and brought him his first critical success (at the Locarno Festival, the St. Denis Festival, the FID festival in Marseille, etc.). He continued his research in the creative documentary genre, and went on to make the films Cheminement and Largo do Machado.
He met Bilal Berreni (Zoo Project) in 2009, and together they worked for four years on the film C’est assez bien d’être fou. Antoine then bought a house in the Jura region – the former Maison du Directeur (“director’s house”) of a cardboard factory – and founded the production company of the same name with two associates, Jeanne Thibord and Sidonie Garnier. He made three films with the company (Yolande, Maria, Berthe et les autres; Chalap, une utopie cévenole; C’est assez bien d’être fou) but, although it allowed him artistic freedom, it didn’t take on the rebellious and activist role he’d been hoping for. The experience came to an end five years later, with mixed results. The Maison du Directeur is now an association and is once again dedicated to creation and to the development of independent projects of all kinds.
Tired of the dispiriting production process, Antoine decided to try something new. No more screenplays, no more imposed formats or specific expectations.
He picked a random destination – the town of Aniche, in the north of France – and went to live there, meaning to make films but with no specific subject in mind. Allowing himself time, he began to film people and places, waiting for a subject to emerge.
One day he met a group of teenagers in a square and they agreed to be filmed. He spent time with them, building a relationship of mutual trust. The result, Wesh Gros, is a project encompassing several films of various genres and formats that represent an important milestone in Antoine’s work as a filmmaker. He’s still following the group of young people; Wesh Gros is an adventure to be continued…
The deontological approach has become increasingly important to Antoine. He works on long-term projects and sees independence as both a moral duty and a creative necessity. He no longer believes in written documentaries or “major” subjects and no longer wants to make films “about” subjects but “around” them, finding ways to suggest rather than say.