Grace Winter’s directorial debut, THE MARQUIS DE WAVRIN: FROM THE MANOR TO JUNGLE, follows the story of Marquis Robert de Wavrin, the aristocratic explorer who spent his life documenting indigenous South American tribes, many of which are now tragically extinct. Student writer Joseph McLauchlan spoke with Grace to find out more.
Joseph McLauchlan: This is your first feature length documentary, what inspired you to choose the Marquis as the subject of your first feature?
Grace Winter: It was actually the reverse. I have worked in film – I used to distribute arthouse films in Belgium – but I am not a filmmaker. I first encountered the Marquis when I was asked to do keywords for one of his films, and I fell in love with it. I researched the Marquis for ten years before I ended up making this film.
JM: In a way then, you’ve gotten closer to the Marquis than anyone else currently alive?
GW: Oh, that’s for sure. I was just speaking to a man outside who is the son of one of the tribesman shown in the film. I have met all sorts of people through this film.
JM: Before the screening, you mentioned the idea of ‘the other’. This is something both you and the Marquis seem to take great interest in. What is it about ‘the other’ you find so intriguing?
GW: It’s like the chicken and the egg. Was it my interest in anthropology that made me become interested in ‘the other’, or my interest in ‘the other’ that made me become interested in anthropology? I had the chance to do some field work in my early twenties, and of course when you do something like that, you compare everyone to people in your own country. You give them minus or plus points depending on how they behave, but over time you realise they are humans. Just humans. Like you but with other customs, other clothes, et cetera. When I realised this it opened my mind. Of course, when I did this in the 70s it was quite normal, but in the time of the Marquis it was not normal at all. He spoke about the Indians as his friends – his brothers. He was extremely unusual, and I was fascinated by that. We always try to put an emphasis on what’s different, but instead the Marquis chose to show what’s common to the whole of mankind. There’s a scene of a man showing his son how to shoot an arrow, and it’s like, that’s you. Our cultures and appearances may be different, but our essence is the same.
JM: So, would you say that understanding is the key theme of the film?
GW: Yes, absolutely.