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Filming diplomats : the making of a web documentary on diplomacy

Pierre Tringale - 20 mai 2015

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If I’d been told before arriving at the Quai d’Orsay (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development) that I would find myself in the official motorcade of the Chinese President, rolling up the empty Champs-Élysées and tempted to wave like the Queen of England at all the gawkers taking photos of my car, I wouldn’t have believed it. If I’d also been told that, one day, I would follow French and Ethiopian diplomats right into the corridors of the Palace of Nations in Geneva, or that I would hear Chinese students singing Marie Laforêt in a Shanghai restaurant, I’d have called for the men in white coats...

It has to be said that I’m not the typical member of Ministry staff : as a former contract worker in show-business, I was light years away from the world of diplomacy. When I became a producer for the Ministry, I discovered a world that shattered most of my stereotypes about diplomats.

The aim of this web documentary was to share the daily work of these people who work behind the scenes for France’s external action. We had to choose people with varied professions and profiles, not ambassadors. We chose a negotiator at the Geneva Human Rights Council, an academic cooperation attaché in Shanghai, a social affairs attaché in Brasilia and two protocol officers in Paris.

In the weeks we spent travelling around the world to film these diplomats, I learnt :
• that UN negotiators walk very fast. We followed ours for several days, like ducklings straggling behind their mother, from meeting rooms to plenaries, and from telephone call to telephone call, as he juggled subjects and interlocutors, discussing the Arms Trade Treaty or a resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria ;
• that yes, Céline Dion and Marie Laforêt can be great educational tools for teaching French to the Chinese ;
• that France’s social support knows no borders : in Brazil, for example, I saw diplomats going out of their way to assist incarcerated French nationals ;
• that you should never leave a presidential cortege : during the Chinese

President’s visit, I had the bright idea of going back to my office for a camera battery. I naively thought it would be easy to get back in for the next bit. That was a big mistake, as the police officers guarding the security cordons weren’t letting anyone through, and even less someone with a camera. As stress rose, and a dozen telephone calls later, a senior army officer came to let me in, hurrying me along as the motorcade was already at the Alexandre III bridge. I will never forget my sprint, with my camera and tripod under my arm, up towards the courtyard of the Hôtel des Invalides with the pressure of hearing the hoofs of the Republican Guard horses galloping along behind me. And then arriving, out of breath, a little dishevelled from carrying my equipment, in front of the Invalides, coming almost nose-to-nose with French President François Hollande who was awaiting the Chinese President. After a friendly, slightly mocking look from the French President, a soldier bundled me quickly into the area reserved for cameramen and I resumed my filming.

These are mere anecdotes, as I understood above all that the “Ferrero Rocher” image of diplomacy is a world away from the work carried out by the 15,000 staff of the Quai d’Orsay. And, even if diplomats remain real specimens, this web documentary reflects the vision I (now) have of diplomacy, far from the stereotypes, in the field and in action.

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