François Busnel

“Jim Harrison teaches us how to live”



François Busnel, host of “La Grande Librairie” on France 5, shifts gears from literature to the cinema today with an exceptional documentary that expresses his admiration for Jim Harrison, a friend of the festival Lumière, who left us in 2016.

It is to a Sioux proverb that the film owes its title: Seule la terre est éternelle. A fabulous portrait that the festival discovered yesterday as a premiere. Jim Harrison (1937-2016) is the main protagonist. A fabulous presence. Harrison, however, did not "play" at being someone, he simply was. A huge heart, a poet, a real one, the kind we rarely meet, with his fly fisherman battered gear and cigarette invariably dangling from his mouth. François Busnel understood Harrison like no one else before him, travelling with him across the United States from Montana for a road movie that will remain engraved in the memory of those who filled the theater of the Institut last night. By encouraging Harrison to talk, in his raspy voice, just before his passing, the host of La Grande Librairie also opened the doors to an America of those left behind, also including scenes of open spaces as far as the eye can see. They all had their place in the pages of Jim Harrison's novels. Busnel's film is a hymn to literary creation, set to the harmonies of country music.


Actuzen BusnelCopyright Institut Lumière / Romane Reigneaud, Jean-Luc Mege

Your friendship with Jim Harrison dates back to 1999, when you were not yet a journalist.

My admiration for him was immense; reading Harrison's Dalva "saved my life." A cliché, but sincere. I first met him at the “Etonnants Voyageurs” Festival at a time when it was not yet this big production. We drank beer on the street, it was unreal. A real love at first sight of friendship. Then we met again in Paris in 2001. Later on, I was also his driver! In Lyon in particular.

When did your idea of making him the "protagonist" of a movie come about?

For ten years I tried to convince him. It was useless. I remember once, in Montana, he took me fishing. Adrien was with me and we brought along a camera, because, like idiots, we wanted to film him. He stiffened, saying, "Do you know the difference between living and living? Follow my lead." -and we put away the camera. And then in 2015, I received a concise email from his assistant, Joyce Harrington Bahle, it read "If you’re still interested, come – now’s the time."

How do Harrison and his work represent cinematic material?

In my opinion, he teaches us how to live. His vision of the world is precious. He had written: "only the earth is eternal.” With him, there was an awareness that there was nothing more precious than being one with nature, especially after having brushed against the bad conscience of American society through its description of the miserable, the homeless, alcoholics, whores...

You produced the film using your own funds. Why not make it for television?

Because television, even if it’s a national public channel, is based on formats. I proposed the project to Arte, who imposed a set of conditions. Same thing when I went to see my channel, France 5. But I did not want to limit the film to the allotted "52 minutes." Jim Harrison was an out-of-the-box personality, whose destiny merges with that of America. Our film, in its cinematic version, is 1 hour and 52 minutes. I think the big screen will do justice to the man and his work. Adrien Soland, who has been producing La Grande Librairie for twelve years, and I, we told ourselves that we could "try something;" we started to produce the film with own funds. And in doing so, Americans joined the co-production team: William Randolph Hearst 3, grandson of the man who had inspired Citizen Kane. A character. Mathematician, philanthropist, Harrison fan. And then Mario Batali, who is the “Alain Ducasse” of New York, who was part owner of the restaurant Babbo. Now we just have to find a distributor. In Lyon, perhaps?

You are listed as co-director in the credits.

Je n’ai jamais manifesté le souhait d’écrire de roman, ça ne m’intéresse pas, en revanche l’idée d’écrire un film m’a galvanisé, a fortiori au service de  Jim Harrison. C’est Adrien Soland, encore lui, qui m’a dit “assez tourné autour du pot, tu t’y mets ! Tu écris le synopsis, tu feras le cadre, puis tu seras au montage et je serai juste derrière toi pour “backer””.

Jim Harrison passed away before the end of the shoot.

We had an appointment in Michigan when we learned of it. Adrien and I wondered if we should continue. We had eleven rushes. We were reaching the end. So in May 2016 we left to shoot the complementary scenes that we had planned to do with Jim in Michigan, focusing on some of the places he loved to escape to.

The prospect of his imminent death did not seem to frighten him.

Jim Harrison had been up against it many times. And that's also how he taught us to live.

How did you develop a love of the cinema?

Ah ... First thanks to Eddy Mitchell and his TV show on the cinema, La Dernière séance (he begins to imitate Eddy it in a way that would inspire the greatest respect from Laurent Gerra). Aside from that, having grown up in the Paris suburbs between Pontoise and Argenteuil, our movie theaters showed commercial blockbusters and little else! Top Gun was great, but I wanted something more. And this "more" I found in the films of Jerry Schatzberg and Sydney Lumet: Scarecrow, The Panic at Needle Park and Dog Day Afternoon. They all showcase America on the margins. I had the pleasure here in Lyon of telling Jerry Schatzberg how much his work had meant to me growing up.

Then you started to hit all the movie theaters of Paris’s Latin Quarter.

Oh yes. The Champollion, L’Action Christine, etc. That’s where I developed my cultivation of classics. Then I had my 1970's French cinema period, Bertrand Tavernier, Philippe de Broca... During the festival, I hope to find the time to discover a film or two more. The enjoyment cinema gives us is never-ending!

interviewd by Carlos Gomez

Categories: Lecture Zen