“26 Days to Kill de Gaulle”: A Case Study of a French archive-based production that blends facts and speculation

26 Days to Kill de Gaulle” is a unique French production made possible by the discovery of a hidden archive that suggested a dramatic documentary format which blends facts with speculation.

Talweg Productions’ Vincent Gazaigne shared the story of his project from concept to delivery for Sunny Side of the Doc.

The Case Study is sponsored by Footage.net, the world’s premier online video stock footage search platform providing instant access to millions of online screening clips and text records from the world’s top footage collections on a single site.

Elevator Pitch

What if General de Gaulle, President of France, had been assassinated during his provocative official tour of South America in 1964?

The Story

That Autumn, de Gaulle embarked on an unprecedented journey, visiting 10 countries in 26 days:

  • It was supposed to be a triumphal tour
  • An opportunity to inflame people’s spirits
  • To provoke the United States in its own area of influence
  • And by calling for the peoples’ right to self-determination, to appear as the Libertador!

Latin America was then on the brink of revolution: military coups backed by the United States countered Cuban efforts to inspire guerrilla-led revolutions and the rising populist Peronist movement in Argentina.

The General’s speeches and provocations were closely tracked by French and foreign intelligence agencies, whose daily reports became more and more alarmist.

A young cameraman who took part in the trip was filming continuously behind the scenes. His hours of beautiful color rushes, which had never been seen before, were recently found on by chance on an archive shelf.

The footage revealed unexpected insights into de Gaulle’s travels, helping envision a “what might have been” story about his assassination.

Trailer (1’53)

 

Development

Director Cédric Gruat had written about President de Gaulle’s systematic use of foreign languages when he traveled abroad. This was a great communication platform for France, as well as a way of countering the worldwide prevalence of English — and of the United States.

In late 2016, Cédric stumbled upon a shelf at the French Institut National de l’Audiovisuel that was stacked filled with 48 color film reels documenting de Gaulle’s South American trip.

He was immediately intrigued, and shared his discovery with documentary producer Vincent Gazaigne.

It took Vincent many months of research and negotiations to find the rights holders of the reels, organize a viewing, and, eventually, have the film digitized at an outside lab.

In 2019, Cédric and Vincent were finally able to watch all 9 hours of footage: “We found a fascinating and visually-stunning look at the trip’s behind-the-scenes, complete with immersive footage of the everyday life of several of the countries visited.”

Between the reels’ discovery and their eventual digitization, research revealed that the Quai d’Orsay (France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) had sent a young but experienced cameraman to document this trip. The Quai’s idea was to eventually produce a feature-length documentary for a theater release. But only segments of the footage were used — in black and white for the French diplomatic network and TV reports.

Cédric found and met the cameraman who was kind enough to discuss his memories of the trip and, later, to allow the use of his footage.

High Stakes: Assassination

Cédric continued researching the historical context and events of the trip and came to realize how dangerous it had been for de Gaulle.

While French intelligence reports show alarm about instability in South America at the time, now declassified CIA reports from the late 1950’s and early Sixties reveal a tumultuous relationship between the United States administration and the French President. The CIA files even explore de Gaulle’s ideal successor if he were to be assassinated.

The palpable tension in these reports, coupled with the striking footage of de Gaulle standing up in his convertible among anonymous tall buildings among crowds of admirers or protesters — who are sometimes armed — gave Cédric an unusual idea: Why not tell this trip’s story by relating not exactly what happened, but what could very possibly have happened? And how to better convey mounting tensions than by telling the story in the first person, from the perspective of the young cameraman?

About the Producer

  • Vincent Gazaigne founded Talweg, an independent audiovisual production company that specializes in documentaries on social, historical, cultural themes and investigation.
  • Talweg’s priority is its relationship with authors and directors in order to create and accompany new films through ever-changing modes of writing and broadcasting.

Intended Format

  • Single episode (52′)
  • HD

Initial Funding

  • In 2017, Vincent Gazaigne’s Talweg Productions secured development funding from Procirep-Angoa.
  • Cédric Gruat conducted further research and drafted scripts.
  • Talweg digitized the color footage.
  • Production manager Julie Meigniez assisted.

Pitches

  • The project was first submitted to French public TV network France Télévisions, who found the official trip angle was an interesting way to re-explore de Gaulle’s legacy and the 60’s, but said they could not commission a film that blended facts and fiction.
  • Histoire TV, with which Talweg has built a strong partnership over the years, rapidly understood the originality and the challenges that such a film offers to their public.
  • “I pitched the project to the broadcasters with text and stills because at that time the audiovisual material had not been digitized yet.” Vincent Gazaigne

About the Buyer, Histoire TV

  • Histoire TV is a French history channel owned by TF1 and led by Christophe Sommet.
  • It covers a wide range of subjects, from world wars to ancient civilizations, from geopolitics to cinema and art history… but always with an ambition to offer a new angle of events. (Histoire’s home page below).
  • Pipeline in 2020:
    • Acquisitions: 250 hours
    • Pre-buys: 50 hours
    • Coproductions: 15 hours
  • Histoire’s trend towards pre-buys and co-pro’s is driven by “the need to access original, modern, quality content.”
  • Partners include British, Japanese, Danish, German and Italian companies.
  • “Investments vary, depending on the production value, of course, but also on the degree of editorial fit and communication potential: as a small pay-tv channel, we need to get the word out there.”
  • Apart from a large number of independent producers, Histoire works closely with the archives Gaumont Pathe and INA.
  • Recent program deals include “Enslaved” with Fremantle, “Pius, the Vatican and Hitler” with Looks Film, and “Seven Wonders” with Sequana Media.

Additional Archive 

  • Additional footage was mainly found at INA. De Gaulle’s trip was extensively covered in news footage and radio programs, which are kept there. INA also provided news footage from various key events before and after the trip that are discussed in the documentary; they help explain why this trip was so important for French diplomacy and de Gaulle himself, and the risks the President consciously took.
  • Very interesting footage was also found at Gaumont-Pathé Archives, most notably including a 1964 interview with Fidel Castro in which he discusses his admiration for de Gaulle.
  • Other footage was found at Archivio DiFilm in Buenos Aires. Very interesting clips show unrest in Argentina in the days leading up to De Gaulle’s arrival.
  • Researchers: Cédric Gruat and Julie Meigniez

Key Challenges & Resolution

“The key challenge with archive was finding the color footage’s rightsholders, in order to be able to discover it thoroughly and to digitize it. A note from the Quai d’Orsay found at the French National Archives showed the Quai had ordered a feature film about De Gaulle’s trip to South America. This allowed us to find the footage’s right holder.

“The second biggest challenge was for director Cédric Gruat to write a film in a way he never had before: it was about telling a story from a fictional point of view, about putting himself in the shoes of this cameraman who lives through this trip with emotion, and witnesses the mounting tensions surrounding de Gaulle.

“Last but not least, as the reels didn’t have any sound, we had to lead an extensive global research to find in other archival footage and radio programs, the most important sounds of this trip — above all de Gaulle’s speeches.” Vincent Gazaigne

Field Production

  • The documentary only contains archival footage.

Post-production

Post-production took place in early January 2020, with three key elements:

  • Sound design by Baptiste Guichot — the sound reels for the color footage had never been found, which means sound design was crucial to give it a sense of reality.
  • Color grading by Guillermo Fernandez, which gave unity to previously untreated color footage and black and white newsreels excerpts;
  • Voice over by Nicolas Bouchaud, who gave our fictional narrator, his voice.
  • Music: Cédric Gruat continued his successful collaboration with Alice Guerlot-Kourouklis.

Deliverables

  • French, English, International versions

Timeline

    • Development from 2016 to 2019
    • Production 2019-2020
    • Premiere: 2020

Production Budget

  • Original Estimate: 150,000 euros
  • Final Estimate: 120,000 euros

Poster

Key Takeaway

  • “This film proves once again that some discoveries of forgotten archives can give birth to original and innovative projects, and push us to recount historical events from a new point of view.” Vincent Gazaigne

List of Archives

  • INA, Gaumont-Pathé archives
  • Nara, Archivio DiFilm
  • CNC Bois d’Arcy

About the Producer

  • Born in 1980, Vincent Gazaigne graduated from Toulouse’s Ecole supérieure de commerce and quickly turned to audiovisual production.
  • In 2004, he joined KUIV (a company renowned for producing historical documentaries, and recipient of the Procirep’s Best producer award in 2006), where he worked as production manager and collaborated with Patrick Rotman, Yves Jeuland, Michaël Prazan and Jean-Christophe Rosé, among others.
  • In 2008, he joined the Générale de production as a producer in order to develop the Documentary department. There, he produced documentaries about social, historical and cultural issues.
  • Vincent founded Talweg in 2012. (Screenshot from catalog above).
  • Read more here: www.talwegproduction.com.

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