“The SACRe PhD program invites candidates to invent their own research methods”
PSL SACRe (for Sciences, Arts, Creation, Research), a pioneering arts-based research PhD in France, has inspired many other programs and earned the admiration of Harvard. Each year, it trains artist/researchers in preparation for brilliant future careers. As applications open for the 2021 incoming class, Anouk Phéline et Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat, two current PhD students in the program, share their experiences.
PSL: What were your main motivations for enrolling in the SACRe doctoral program?
Anouk Phéline: The SACRe PhD program invites candidates to invent their own research methods and produce not only a written dissertation, but also films, exhibits, performances, etc. This freedom to experiment is what convinced me to join the program. When I was studying philosophy and film history, I started to make films while studying abroad at the University of California, Los Angeles and later in an archive editing workshop at Université Paris 1, and I really wanted to integrate the activity into my dissertation. My project on Roberto Rossellini’s film Journey to Italy combines these experiences: archive work, field studies, and audiovisual creation.
Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat: Very early on in my studies, I realized that I wanted to be doing research and experiments. I dream of a research space free from any requirement to produce. When I began attending CNSAD-PSL, I also discovered the SACRe doctoral program. After graduating from CNSAD-PSL, I took the Master’s in Literary Creation at Université Paris 8, with the aim of applying for SACRe.
PSL: How did you choose your research topic? Was there a particularly decisive moment or factor?
Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat: Preparing my application was a key moment for me. I was drawn to so many topics. It was difficult to choose. Thinking back over my theatrical experiences, I realized that I was acting more like a game designer than a director or actor: I would assert myself or suggest rules to enable creativity. In other words, I’ve always been most interested in creating conditions that foster freedom, creativity, and enjoyment for actors. My dissertation topic was born out of a sort of retrospective introspection: “Can acting and putting on a show (rehearsals and performances) be made into a game for the actors?”
Anouk Phéline: As for me, I first got interested in my topic during my studies at ENS-PSL. I took classes and seminars with Antoine de Baecque, which introduced me to the historical study of the genesis of films. Inspired by this approach, I reached out to him to direct my dissertation and our discussions while I was preparing my SACRe application helped me to refine my research topic. After delving into the archives of Éric Rohmer and Alain Resnais for my Master’s studies, I wanted to expand my horizons to Italian cinema and focus on a film considered foundational by the New Wave: Journey to Italy (1954). The idea germinated after I gave a talk on how the traditional journey to Italy had been adopted into cinema.
PSL: Every SACRe dissertation is a unique object. Is there any work that has particularly inspired or influenced you among the generation of SACRe PhDs? And regarding your own dissertation work: do you have any idea yet of what form it might take, and can you describe it?
Anouk Phéline: The program’s unique asset is how it puts us in contact with other disciplines, like design. I was fascinated, for example by the machines devised by Émile de Visscher and Jeanne Vicérial during their research. In my own field, I was struck by the video essays by Chloé Galibert-Laîné that breathe new life into film analysis. For my dissertation, I’m working in parallel to gather never before seen documents and sources that can piece together the origins of Journey to Italy and develop an audiovisual essay using film sequences and interviews conducted during filming. I presented part one at Cinéma du Réel under the title Regard contre regard.
REGARD CONTRE REGARD, a video essay by Anouk Phéline, collects and reprocesses excerpts from Roberto Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy” (1954). Presented at the Festival Parlé during the 43rd Cinéma du Réel.
Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat: I was particularly impressed by watching [2017 SACRe PhD] Marcus Borja defend his thesis. The audience was seated in a circle, in the dark, and all they could hear was snippets of phrases in different languages. His work created a completely new experience for the spectators. Changing the relationship between audiences and shows is my aim as well. I would like to rethink the way actors are connected to what they do through the inspiring lens of play (having fun).
Excerpt from one of the performances presented during Marcus Borja’s thesis defense, December 2017, ®Thomas Vauthier
PSL: You’ve been in the program since 2018 (Anouk) and 2019 (Geoffrey). Have there been any particularly memorable moments?
Anouk Phéline: In December 2018, there was a joint 3-day seminar for SACRe students and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences delegation that was visiting Paris. We had the opportunity to learn about the work being done by young PhD students in the Critical Media Practice program directed by professors including anthropologist and film-maker Lucien Castaing-Taylor. I was particularly touched by the video essay by Jessica Bardsley entitled Goodbye Thelma, which paired shots from Thelma et Louise (1991), processed as negatives, with images filmed by the director during her solo travels. Seeing the film repurposed to tell a personal story gave me a lot to think about.
Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat: I agree, our discussions with Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences were unusually powerful. I also was fortunate to be part of the SACRe delegation that visited Harvard last year, just before the pandemic. It was my first time presenting my topic before an audience, and in English no less, so the pressure was intense! (laughs) Our dialog with the American PhD students was very rich. Meeting them also helped spark ongoing exchanges and suggest areas where we might collaborate. The pandemic has put those plans on hold for the moment, but I’m still hopefully that they will pick up again when things get back to “normal.”
PSL: What plans do you each have for the future?
Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat: In the near future, I’ll be doing a research residency with six actors and actresses, a mask designer, and a video director. We’re going to do things like adapting games to the theater, trying out stage direction with adult actors based on children’s conversations, and creating a system that will generate stories from a chessboard. The results of the research will be presented in early May. I’m also working with undergraduate students at CNSAD - PSL on horror theater. And next year, I’m doing a residency at La Chartreuse to write my final PhD project: an adaptation of the Gilgamesh epic as a framework. The idea is to create a set of rules and meeting points for the actors to produce a fresh production, interpretation, and stage design with each performance.
View of the story-generating chessboard ® Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat
Anouk Phéline: I’m planning to return to the little village of Maiori near Naples where I met with the last few extras and witnesses to the final scene of Journey to Italy. There’s a whole community that remembers the movies Rossellini filmed there, and through them, its own history. The anthropological dimension of this living memory is what I would like to capture in images and sound recordings. After my dissertation, I’d like to dive into more collective initiatives and support films at various stages of their production and distribution. To this end, I’ve begun collaborating with the International Filmmaking Academy in Bologna and the Locarno Film Festival.
Anouk Phéline and Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat
A graduate of ENS-PSL, Anouk Phéline is working toward her PhD in film history and theory at the SACRe laboratory (ENS-PSL), jointly sponsored by Università Degli Studi di Milano. Her thesis, under the supervision of Antoine de Baecque and Elena Dagrada, analyzes the genetics of Roberto Rossellini’s film Journey to Italy and includes the production of an audiovisual essay.
Director, writer, and actor Geoffrey Rouge-Carrassat studied at the Conservatoire de Lyon and then the Conservatoire National Supérieur d'Art Dramatique de Paris - PSL. In 2016-2017, he participated in the AIMS program (a troupe of artists visiting schools). As founder of La Compagnie La Gueule Ouverte, he has since created three shows: Conseil de classe, Roi du silence and Dépôt de bilan. After earning a Master’s in Literary Creation at Université Paris 8, he is now a SACRe-PSL PhD student.