Romain Gavras

Grant Delin

03/31/09

HIS GOAL IS SIMPLE: "To rule the world." The 27-year-old French director is a co-founder of Kourtrajmé, a 136-member art and filmmaking collective in Paris that incorporates hip-hop and graffiti sensibilities into stylish music videos and socially conscious documentaries. Romain-Gavras formed it with friend Kim Chapiron in 1995. "We started Kourtrajmé because the new techniques allowed us to do films without money," Romain-Gavras says. "We needed only a video camera and motivated friends." Don't be fooled. Kourtrajmé is not some Kumbaya love cult. Its projects fixate on social provocation. A recent video directed by Romain-Gavras for the Justice song "Stress" depicts a leather-jacketed gang roaming the streets of Paris, snatching purses, vandalizing cars, smashing tourists' cameras, and assaulting innocent bystanders, with a film crew capturing onlookers' expressions. The action looks real, or, at least, uncomfortably close to real. "I didn't try to do something controversial, otherwise I would have put whores and Nazis in it," says the director. "The idea was to make a really violent video to match the music. It's shot in a realistic way. Lots of people thought it was true." Undisputedly authentic is the Kourtrajmé-produced documentary 365 Jours à Clichy Montfermeil, which follows a 2005 clash between police and residents in a largely Muslim Paris suburb and culminates in a government-ordered attack on a mosque. Several directors are in the collective, and actor Vincent Cassel has starred in some of the productions. "I know how to handle a very small crew and shoot in a very natural way," says Romain-Gavras. He is currently writing his first feature film, which will be produced by Cassel. "My aim is to create strong European icons. I love American movies, but most young European directors just try to imitate Yankee films. It doesn't work." The seemingly ragtag outfit has a sterling legacy: Romain-Gavras's father is Costa-Gavras, director of acclaimed American films Missing (1982) and Betrayed (1988). "I've always been told that directing was something good," says Romain-Gavras, who started making Video8 films at age 14 using his family's two VCRs as an editing deck. "Not a gypsy job like most parents seem to think."

Watch the music video Roamin Gavras directed for French duo Justice's song "Stress".

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