During the preparation for the shooting of a feature film in Southwestern France, we worked directly in conjunction with the local population in the southern part of France, which has the distinction of being a melding between the ethnic French community and a gypsy community which emigrated from Spain to avoid the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime. For the last fifty years they have been abandoning their former nomadic lifestyle and settling in the towns and villages throughout this area.
Throughout the centuries this race of people has been misunderstood and feared by the residents. For the first time perhaps ever, the Gypsy community opened their homes and their hearts to us and we let them speak in their own voice and tell us what it means to them to be Gypsies and the racism and discrimination that they still face as they try to hold on to their values and their culture while joining modern 21st century Europe. We found the people that we met to be very warm, welcoming, honest and straightforward.
We found that without family, there are no gypsies. Without guitars, there are no gypsies either! Music and flamenco, jazz and festivities are common and natural occurrences among the Gypsies. With flamenco, they shout the sentences and it makes one shudder. When you are Gypsy and you pick up a guitar, you don’t play flamenco, you become flamenco.
We visited Gypsy festivals organized throughout this area of the country, with itinerant groups of gypsy musicians…. We were given access to the lineup of concerts at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the annual pilgrimage of Gypsies from all over Europe.
We realized that the theme of our documentary was very musical, because music is inseparable from the lives of gypsies. It is a substantial subject and includes the inexorable need of an historically illiterate people to transfer their social and cultural traditions to the younger generation of gypsies, if possible while preserving their roots and their traditions.
We discuss with them the themes that reflect principles, traditions and a way of living that is quite different from the precepts of our Western civilization. It gives us food for thought, which is particularly interesting at this crossroads when we are revising our own principles and preparing for the forthcoming global community.
We explore these Gypsies’ concepts of family, money, roles in the community, sharing, the place of young people but also the elderly in family life. We seek to shed light on all these topics.
Gypsies of all ages testify. We meet Baby Nico, a boy of 26 months from Marseille who scratches insolently on the strings of the family guitar while declaiming in an already husky voice the lyrics of Gypsy Kings songs. We were received by Manitas de Plata, the world star of flamenco in the 70s, who at 87 years of age talks about his own youth. We experienced a real Gypsy family feast. We visited the home Gael Garcia, a winner of the French version of “American Idol”, who has just finished recording an album of pop-flamenco. We will hear the incredible Negrita, a guitarist/singer who has been fighting for over fifteen years for the recognition of the genocide of the Gypsies. The Holocaust Museum and members of the U.S. Holocaust Commission in Washington DC estimate that 1.5 – 2 million gypsies died in Nazi concentration camps.
From the Gypsy ghettos in the cities we visited, we drew a better understanding of the aspirations of the Gypsy people and we hope to lay to rest many preconceived ideas about who they really are.