Postcards from Paris

When Andrew Shemin, an American filmmaker living in Paris since 2001, contacted me to share the trailer for a new documentary of Paris he recently shot, I was interested not only because I love getting to know more of the creative community in the city, but also because of the way he described the impetus for his film.

“My motivation to make this documentary came out of the fact that I moved here because I was in love with Paris from a very early age, and yet after living here for so many years, I was starting to feel disillusioned in some ways…I made this documentary to get some images that can share the way I feel with an audience.”

You know me; I had to ask more. It’s one of my obsessions, of course: this complicated relationship I think a lot of us have with Paris. Loving it fiercely, but experiencing its flaws. Differentiating between the fantasy and the real City of Light.

When I asked Andrew to elaborate on his feelings about the city, he sent me this:

“My family came to Paris on a family vacation when I was 10 years old and I fell in love with it during that trip. I loved how different it was from where I grew up in Arizona, and the mystery of people speaking a foreign language; I wanted to speak it, too.

I came to feel disillusioned in some ways after living in a very touristy street in Montmartre. It just felt weird to see all these temporary visitors in a place where I was supposed to be living a life. People talk about the “museumification” of a city like Paris…and I was starting to feel like I was one of the museum pieces.

In the documentary I wanted to explore the nature of the city of Paris. With all its history on display and [the] busy tourism industry, how much of Paris is really a city of today, and how much is a museum to be preserved for the world in photographs and postcards? The question of my personal disillusionment became a question of how much of Paris really is intentionally presented as an illusion, whether for the tourism industry or to preserve an image past glory.

Making the film brought me the realization that Paris is a very special and beautiful city, and something the world treasures, but I feel there is a split between the Paris that the world sees and that the world wants to see and the Paris where Parisians live and that tourists either don’t have the time to see, or choose to ignore most of the time. The documentary presents Paris without any commentary and the images alone are presented for the viewer to decide what they think of what they see.”

Andrew has finished shooting his series of “moving postcards” as he calls them (I like the term!) and is now in the stage of production where he’s looking to raise money for an original score to accompany the footage.

If you want to help out with his Kickstarter campaign (ending December 1) to finish the film, you can head over to his Kickstarter page to donate or to find out more. (Also to watch the trailer unencumbered! WordPress doesn’t seem to understand Kickstarter code!)

As for me, I’m liking this run of hearing the thoughts of other Paris-based artists who grapple with the city’s complexity. (See the interview with Alexander Maksik last post for another description of Paris I found very resonant).

Best of luck, Andrew!

6 Responses to “Postcards from Paris”

  1. 1 Franck November 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    This is the same major problem about things saw through artists’ eyes: fantasy can’t be faithfull. Prisms always distort. Even before tourism, first travellers were some artists. Fortunately or not, they wrote books, (novel or other) they felt a real passion for something that did not exist and they transmited it. You are all the Hemingway, Stein, etc, spiritual sons and daughters and their victims too. Sweet victims, n’êtes-vous pas ?


    • 2 paris (im)perfect November 17, 2011 at 12:02 am

      Well, there are worse people to be compared to than Hemingway and Stein – or even their spiritual children 🙂

      No, really. I count myself lucky that I’m not one of those Americans who always dreamed of coming to Paris. I wasn’t looking for the new Lost Generation. Paris was one of the last places I ever thought I’d end up – life just kind of happened. There were far fewer expectations and disappointments that way.

      Still, we live, we have our experiences. We do with them what we can.


  2. 3 Franck November 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Real passion for a place comes when you brake the miror, avoid the clichés, and don’t repeat everywhere you like this city (like that moron Woody Allen who never put a toe outside his palace but for his shooting sessions). Paris is yours when you abandon it to others. It is a gigantic theatre (like Vienna or the centre of Prague). Happiness comes when you see how the wires work behind the red curtain and create your own kaleidoscope of Paname. I did it as soon as I can with my beloved foreign cities. Sometimes, when nobody is watching, I even caress the buildings (Comme si j’étais pour quelque chose à toutes ces merveilles !?). Soupir. And I’ve never been in custody. This must be a gift or something. Or they just guessed I was different.


  3. 4 Adam November 17, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    I can’t help feeling that in some ways this is more of an American thing. Why can’t Paris be just a city like any other? Does anyone go to London and think they’ll be living like Dickens?


    • 5 paris (im)perfect November 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm

      I agree that it’s more an American thing for sure, Adam. They were even talking about this last night at the American Library (ha!) on a panel about “writing the City of Light.” I’m not sure I can elucidate the theories as to why that is in this comment, but your point is well taken. As I think I’ve said many times, I’m thankful I didn’t come here with a lot of baggage in that way. I hadn’t ever dreamt of living in Paris. I wasn’t a Francophile. I didn’t have as much of an iconic image to dispel. That being said, there really is a palpable “fantasy Paris” image that’s sold in many ways. I feel that way, anyway. So it can be disconcerting at times to live the reality when a completely different image is held up. It’s not at all the same, but a lot of people think they “know” what New York will be like (all the films!), but the stereotypical image is not at all what I lived.


      • 6 Adam November 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

        Good point. Paris is equally responsible for packaging itself this way!

        To be honest, I’ve been here so long now that I’ve almost forgotten what image I originally had of the place. Like you though, I didn’t come here to live a dream, but purely for practical and professional reasons. For me now it’s just a great place to live, and I don’t get angry with it for not being exactly what was promised on the box.


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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