François Chalais, from war to cinema, great master of reportage

Before Cannes reflections and Cinépanorama, the journalist made exceptional documentaries on the Castro regime and the conflicts in Indochina. Modern day adventurer, a film gathering its archives, will be broadcast on December 18 on Public Senate.

In the history of television, François Chalais remains the one who, with Cannes reflections and Cinépanorama was, in the Sixties, the first to realize long interviews of Delon, Belmondo, Bardot and many others. This highlighting of now legendary stars overshadowed the career of the journalist who, in the post-war years, was the pioneer of small screen war reporters.

Accompanied by cameraman Jean-Pierre Janssen, future documentary master, he produced reports that made him the privileged witness of events that have now entered the history books. The reels of his films, which he had carefully preserved, were found by Mei-Chen Chalais, his wife, who entrusted them to Nicolas Henry, his nephew. After spending several months choosing images from miles of film, he realized Modern day adventurer, film aired on December 18 on Public Senate.

The projection of these unpublished or forgotten images will be followed by a debate on a time that today’s JRIs (journalists, image reporters) cannot know. In the 1950s, communication by satellite, the Internet and cell phones was a fiction. We had to manage as best we could! From Saigon to New York via Tel Aviv and Hong Kong, Chalais will deal with and ensure, in his own way, the succession of Albert Londres.

He was then the first non-Communist journalist to independently film Fidel Castro’s regime in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution, but also to cover the Vietnam War. In 1961, while his colleagues from all over the world stood behind three barbed wire barriers protecting the Gia Long Palace in Saigon, he signed his first world scoop by interviewing Madame Nhu, President Diem’s ​​unofficial adviser, considered to be “the”first lady“, the “CleopatraFrom South Vietnam.

With eyes that flash fire at her, she compares the bonzes who have just set themselves to fire to barbecues. She then unleashes herself against the “international conspiracyWho reproaches him for these words. Chalais listens to him without adding the slightest comment. If the buzz had existed, there would not have been sacrificed so far. “The role of the journalist is not to be a prosecutor, he explained about this interview. It’s up to the public to form an opinion. I could have glued it to the wall, I preferred to let it trap itself ”.

In 1966, he went to Djakarta where he managed to get an appointment with President Sukarno, officially in office, but locked up in his palace following a revolution. “You’ve been here a week. Did you see anything that could make it look like I’m a prisoner of the armed forces? “, launches the Head of State, a smile on his face. This will be his last interview before his dismissal and disappearance, four years later. “In the life of a journalist, there is a chance, sometimes only one, and you have to know how to seize it”, Chalais assured, evoking the journeys essential to learning his profession.

“Could I really have said that I exercised it if I hadn’t gone to see what these countries looked like?”. He regularly took risks and assumed them. “I happened to be on a plane one day, one wing of which was burnt, he confides in this film. We crashed in the snow and there were no injuries. Throughout the descent, I was not afraid. I told myself I couldn’t die. I was not of the age “.

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