Originally created 12/16/05

French film about suburban riots draws applause



PARIS - Frustrated with what he says was inaccurate coverage of the riots that shook France for three weeks starting in late October, Alex Chan decided to tell his version of the violence that hit his suburb north of Paris.

But rather than a blog or video diary, he turned to a new computer game that allows players to produce a short film and post it online.

He made it with English subtitles "to correct what was being said in the media, especially in the United States, who linked what was happening, the riots, to terrorism and put the blame on the Muslim community," said Chan, a practicing Buddhist.

The characters move stiffly and the English subtitles are riddled with mistakes, but the 13-minute animated "The French Democracy" is turning the 27-year-old Chan into a poster boy for a budding trend in home moviemaking.

An industrial designer with no previous filmmaking experience, he saw his film as a way to bypass traditional media and send a message of tolerance to young people, using video images they could easily relate to. But even Chan is surprised that his fledgling effort has made such a splash.

Produced in just a week and released Nov. 22, his short film has been hailed as a breakthrough for the obscure technique known as machinima - the use of characters, sets and scenes culled from video games to create an original film.

"There has never been a machinima with such a clear and prominent political message," said Xavier Lardy, founder of the French specialist Web site www.machinima.fr/.

The film tells the story of three black youths who suffer from racial discrimination and end up throwing bombs at cars and buildings.

"They become angry and maybe they have no other way to express themselves, and finally this is the only way they have of getting heard. That's why I picked this title, 'The French Democracy,'" Chan told The Associated Press. "It's a little ironic, in the sense that these youths, for now, have preferred using petrol bombs rather than vote ballots to make themselves heard."

Chan, born in Paris of Chinese parents, said he has also experienced discrimination because of his Asian appearance.

His film is strongly inspired by real-life events, with one character representing Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy calling for a crackdown against the rioters, while another right-wing politician advocates kicking foreigners out of France.

This makes it different from previous machinima efforts, geared mainly at gamers.

This kind of filmmaking previously was confined to skilled programmers, but it has now become accessible to anyone with a computer thanks to the video game "The Movies," in which players run a Hollywood studio and make their own films.

Since it began in October, fans have been posting an average of one film per minute on the Web site of Lionhead Studios, the game's developer. These include traditional comedy, fantasy and horror films - and personal diaries.

"People are beginning to find uses for it that we didn't even think about when we designed the game," Lionhead's chief designer and CEO Peter Molyneux said.

"The French Democracy" struck a chord with a non-specialist audience because it was timely and poignant, he said.

"What is also incredible is that there's a lot of movies that are coming online that have been inspired by 'The French Democracy' that are actually commentaries about society in America, society in the U.K.," he added. "It's almost as if this has opened a floodgate."

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On the Net:

"The French Democracy": http://movies.lionhead.com/studio/koulamata

Lionhead Studios: http://www.lionhead.com/

Specialist Web sites:

http://www.machinima.com

http://www.machinima.fr/pn/index.php

http://blog.machinima.org