POV: Can you tell us about the process of making this film and about your special approach to capturing sound and image independently of each other?
Oliver Meyrou: It took about two and a half years to make this film. I am very slow. Before even introducing a camera or a microphone, I spend a lot of time with the people I am going to film so that we can get used to each other.
I grew up listening to radio documentaries in France, and that’s one of the reasons I became a documentary filmmaker. Those radio documentaries have definitely stayed with me, so that even today I still disassociate sound and image. I approach a film through sound, and I hate it when the camera arrives. The camera is heavy, and when it is used there are two or three additional people needed, and suddenly we become a herd. It kills so much of the atmosphere, and suddenly people say, “Oh, no! That’s not good for the light,” or “Oh, no! We ran out of battery power.” It’s terrible. So when I work I record a lot of sound before the camera even arrives. For me, pleasure comes through sound, and the sound leads to the images. It’s through the sound that I get ideas for video.
So I spent several months with the Chenu family, and then the sound recorder arrived to record sound alone, and that sound quickly became the body of the film well before the camera arrived. In other words, it’s the sound that allows subjects to get used to the idea of being filmed, because the mere experience of being boomed is very traumatizing. But we did hours and hours of sound recording and a closeness developed between the us — the crew and the family. Later the camera arrived, and by that point the work was almost finished. We either shot action, such as the trial, which took place over only three days, or we shot images to support the sounds that we had already recorded, like the long shot in the park for the murder, or the shots of François’s parents sitting in their house or his sister in the shower.
There are also financial reasons to shoot this way. Beyond Hatred was shot on Super 16 film, and film is very expensive. As soon as the camera is rolling, you think to yourself “I am going totally broke.” So we had to reduce shooting time to the minimum. Disassociating the sound from the image allowed us to do that. In the morning I would storyboard most of the shots, though some of the shots we got by chance really enrich the film. Overall, we shot very little. We only had 17 hours of film in total, which is very little for a documentary that’s an hour and a half long.