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PoetryFilm Archive: Érik Bullot (interview article)

Faux Amis by Érik Bullot was shown at PoetryFilm Equinox in September 2014. Another of his films, Tongue Twisters, is also in the PoetryFilm Archive. Below is an insightful interview with Érik Bullot* about language, sound and cinema.

In your artistic research, language and voice seem to be central themes. When and how did this interest start?

I have been always interested by the issue of language, especially the topic of imaginary languages. As you know, the medium of film was originally imagined as an universal language or esperanto. It was a political dream. When I began making films, I made many silent films with the purpose to get a visual language. During my first film made in video, I was very struck by the relationships between video and writing. I think there is a continuity between these different mediums. Video is a kind of writing machine. I made a first film, Speaking in Tongues (2005), based on imaginary languages. It was the first step of a series of films about translation, misunderstandings and puns: Tongue Twisters (2011), about tongue twisters, shot in Berkeley; Faux amis(2012), a film about false friends between French and English, shot in Buffalo; Geographical Fugue (2013), based on a musical piece by Ernst Toch; The Alphabet Revolution (2014), a documentary about the change of alphabet in Turkey. There are always many languages in my film. I like to use linguistic elements as plastic material likely to be deformed, transformed, translated. My dream is making slapstick films with language.

You mainly work with visual media, such as video, photographs, texts and performances. What are your artistic references for what regards sound?

I am interested by artists which work is located between visual and sound fields. I was very impressed for example by the blind avantgarde film made by the German artist and filmmaker Walther Ruttmann, Weekend: a black screen with just a sound piece on the soundtrack. I like very much the works of Cage (Roaratorio) and Kagel (his film Ludwig van) and the experimental filmmakers who work on multilingualism as Peter Rose, Werner Nekes or Michael Snow. I have also a strong interest for the linguistic dimension of slapstick tradition, especially the films of Marx Brothers where you can see a ventriloguist situation between the three brothers.

Can you say a few words about Scioglilingua, the work you will present at Helicotrema 2014?

During my stay in Berkeley in 2007, I made a film, Tongue Twisters. As you know, a tongue twister is a sentence with much alliterations and is complicated to pronounce. A tongue twister must be spoken quickly and repeated a few times. This film is a linguistic game between sound and meaning and a portrait of the linguistic academic reality of Berkeley. Many American people recite tongue twisters in different languages and/or in English as second language: German, Englsih, Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Mandarin, Korean, Croatian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Japonese, Farsi, Portuguese, Tagalog, Vietnamese.
But it is very exciting for me to explore the possibility of a radio extension of a film. I made a few years ago a radio program based on my film, Speaking in Tongues, using unedited materials. It was a double object: a deformed reflection of the film but also an independent sound piece. I am very interested by the hypothesis of cinema by other means. A film is not only a film strip screened in a movie theater, it could be also a paper film, a lecture, a performance or a sound piece. It is the same purpose with Scioglilingua, a kind of expanded film as sound piece. You can hear in Scioglilingua Arabic, Hebrew, French, Polish, Spanish, English, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean and, last but not least, Italian.

*Interview conducted by and first published by

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