Netflix made headlines at Cannes for buying Todd Haynes’ “May December” for $11 million, but it’s also spending money on cinematic history. The streamer is one of several entities entering Agnes Varda’s business this year by investing in a new project to restore the late French New Wave filmmaker’s work.
Varda’s daughter, producer Rosalie Varda, announced in Cannes this week that she has secured funding for “Education in Images: ‘The Gleaners and I’,” an ambitious legacy project for film students built with restored dailies from the seminal documentary by Varda from 1999. The digital platform will be made available to film schools around the world and will collect 60 hours of episodes taken from Varda’s poetic documentary from 2000 “The Gleaners and I”, which explores the unique lives and challenges of gleaners throughout French society. Students will be able to use the platform to create their own versions of “The Gleaners and I” and upload them to the platform.
“My mission is the transmission of his legacy,” Rosalie, who is Agnes’ daughter and fellow director Jacques Demy, said in an interview at Cannes. “But it’s not just about Agnes and Jacques films. It’s the legacy of cinema and how to intrigue the younger generation.”
In addition to Netflix, the project has received financial backing from a flurry of other investors: the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA), Chanel, the Cinémathèque française, the Lumiere Institute, the Margaret Herrick Library, the Academy of motion picture arts and sciences, the Criterion Collection, Janus Films and mk2 Films. Varda is also developing a separate archival project, ‘Memories of Images’, which focuses on the restoration of Varda’s cinematic materials in addition to her completed feature films. That venture, which is expected to begin next year, will create an online database for Varda’s film materials in addition to her feature films.
“It’s been a long journey,” Rosalie said. “She made me realize how much Agnes is loved.” Rosalie, who runs her mother’s old production company Ciné-Tamaris with her brother Mathieu Demy, has spent the last few years pooling resources for the two projects. “I think it’s really important to find ways to interest students,” Rosalie said. “You can’t tell them to go see these films only in the film library. This will be a real program that teachers can bring to their students and work with.
The platform will launch in September at the Paris film school La Fémis with further plans in the works to bring it to American universities. The INA has used artificial intelligence to catalog the images during the rushes which will allow them to build their own material from it. For example, students can search for the word “cat” and extract all footage featuring cats, or incorporate unused interviews to change the original context of the film. “The ‘Gleaners’ topic is still very topical,” Rosalie said. “It’s about homelessness, recycling, all of that. It is a perfect subject for students to explore.”
After her mother’s death in 2019, Rosalie discovered countless boxes in the basement of Agnes’ Paris home containing film snippets that had never been fully explored. However, she did not immediately consider the restoration needs for Varda’s digital work, which began with the production of “The Gleamers and I” in 1999 and continued until her death. Instead, she Rosalie had been looking for a way to extend Varda’s involvement with the younger generation, as she does in the film school classes at the core of “Varda By Agnes.” That documentary, completed when Varda was 90, followed her around the world as she gave master classes on filmmaking to younger generations.
Rosalie attended the Telluride Film Festival with the film in 2019, six months after her mother’s death. She was joined there by Martin Scorsese, a longtime Agnes Varda fan, who moderated a festival conversation about the director with Rosalie and Demy. During the conversation, he recalled Rosalie, a butterfly flew across the room from outside. “I told Martin, ‘This is Agnes, I know,'” Rosalie said.
At the time, Scorsese was preparing for the fall release of the Netflix production “The Irishman” and Rosalie found herself having dinner with director and Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos that evening.
“Scorsese asked, ‘What are you going to do with the digital images Agnes takes with her digital cameras?'” Rosalie said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know!’ We had restored all of his films and some have been restored by the Film Foundation. Others from France. But I never thought about the newspapers, about the rest of the images. I thought my job was done. At dinner, Martin told Ted, ‘You need to talk to Rosalie.’” The two later met that fall at the Lumiere Festival in Lyon and again in Los Angeles. “I was very excited when Ted Sarandos showed that he is so interested in the transmission of my mother’s work,” Rosalie said.
Netflix declined to specify the full size of its investment, but Varda said the overall project was budgeted at €1.5m. “Agnes Varda was a true pioneer in cinema,” Sarandos told IndieWire in a statement. “Her extraordinary work inspired the filmmakers who created the French New Wave and, in turn, influenced generations of artists around the world. She has been a creative bridge between cultures, generations and cinematic movements. She leaves behind a remarkable body of work that will serve as the foundation of this exciting student program that will keep her timeless legacy alive.
The financing of the “Gleaners” project will last five years. Subsequently, Rosalie said she might try incorporating more movies into the platform from her mother’s archives. Meanwhile, she is still working on the process of archiving Agnes’ film materials, much of which she discovered in her mother’s basement after her death. “We discovered boxes of film prints that we didn’t even know she had,” she said, listing material such as her mother’s footage of her with Pier Paolo Pasolini in New York in the 1960s. She “she was always turning outside of her projects of her. She was like Jonas Mekas or Andy Warhol, she always photographed little things. I didn’t even think about what it would mean to carry out this project”.
Rosalie has become an influential figure on the global film scene following her mother’s death. She joined sales company mk2 as a consultant for the more than 800 films in her classic film library, she became a member of the Academy and recently joined the board of directors of Cannes. Last year, she helped the Academy museum launch its popular exhibit about her mother’s work. In Cannes, Rosalie is also present to support the Cannes Classics documentary “Viva Varda!”, About her mother, and “Room 999”, a documentary featuring interviews with contemporary filmmakers on the future of cinema.
“Suddenly, I realized that I’ve been working a lot,” she said. “People are very receptive to the fact that my designs can change the way we view archives.”