Director Cyprien Clément-Delmas’ grainy newsreel footage shows a Disunited States, writes Laura Swinton
On January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States. And on that day, director and photographer Cyprien Clément-Delmas took a 16mm camera onto the streets of Washington DC. DAY ONE is a short snapshot of a country divided, in the grainy monochrome of mid-century newsreel, an improvised and non-judgemental attempt to capture the atmosphere of the inauguration crowds.
The decision to shoot on 16mm film gives the short a timeless quality – it’s easy to imagine future generations watching the footage as a historical document just as we do with newsreel footage of Vietnam protests or Nazi rallies. However, this unusual format was also something of an accident; Cyprien and his team were in the US to shoot another project, INTRUSION, and had brought a 16mm camera along for that. As Cyprien explains, it allowed him and his cinematographer Igor Kasenko to create the film’s distinctive look.
“It's like how they filmed news footage in the past. It gives to the images a strange unreal atmosphere and it connects also with the historical footages,” explains Cyprien. “We also only used one lens: a wide-angle lens. It gives also a more burlesque point of view, deforming the faces.”
DAY ONE from Cyprien Clément-Delmas on Vimeo.
In the age of smartphone cameras and citizen journalism, Cyprien’s set up certainly stood out. “I think we were probably the only ones shooting in film that day. It was a way for us to show a different perspective and contrast with the thousands of reporters there that day,” he adds.
When Cyprien decided to head to Washington he wasn’t sure what to expect – he describes the scenes that he witnessed as ‘an American circus’. The strange mix of people (protestors, Trump supporters, reporters, soldiers, hawkers, secret service operatives) represented, for Cyprien, a strange concentrated snapshot of US society. As did the fact that, while each side was shouting loudly, none were really listening.
Thankfully, everyone was happy enough to be filmed. “It was quite easy to film the people because I think the people going to the inauguration assume there will be a lot of cameras and press present. The Trump supporters were happy to show their joy. They were celebrating. The anti-Trump people wanted also to be filmed to show the world that in America not everybody is supporting Trump.”
Having said that, given the fraught and frenzied environment, the shoot was not trouble-free. The team had to improvise, follow the events, the people and the news. They were pepper sprayed and Cyprien has the distinct memory of a stone whizzing by, right past his eyes. He’s surprisingly sanguine about the danger he faced, the one thing that has stayed with him is the fate of several reporters.
“I know some reporters were arrested that day,” he says. “I can't believe it! I'm thinking about them a lot because they are facing problems just because they were documenting the reality. Like we were.”
Though highly charged, the finished film is fairly neutral. Though Cyprien is no fan of Trump himself, he didn’t want to pass judgement on the supporters or take sides. It’s not a film about pointed questioning but about capturing the mood of America on that day.
However, Cyprien did have an inkling that the final film would end up portraying a deeply disunited country. “When I prepared myself for the shoot, I was expecting to find "happy faces" from the Trump supporters and "Angry faces" from the Anti-Trump. So, I had in mind to work on the contrast of emotions. It's the DAY ONE of Joy for some of them, the DAY ONE of resistance for many others. I think the American society is highly divided and it is what I wanted to show through this contrast in the editing.”
As a photographer and filmmaker who studied in Barcelona and is based in France, Cyprien is intrigued by the current situation in the US. DAY ONE may very well mark the first in an ongoing series of projects documenting these turbulent times; he’s already published DAY TWO, a photographic essay of the Women’s March, which took place, of course, on January 21 and he’s currently thinking about new ways of covering this most unusual of presidencies.