Visit Auvergne

Art in Auvergne: An Interview with Christopher Tourneur

Auvergne…it is useless for the uninitiated to attempt any description of it. Alike the archaeologist, the artist, and the mere lover of the beautiful will find ample to reward him here.

– Marie Betham Edwards

Although the littérateur Alexandre Vialatte famously said that Auvergne produces “ministers, cheese, and volcanoes” — the region has also been a font of inspiration to a starry array of writers and artists. To Algernon Charles Swinburne, who sojourned in Auvergne with his friend, the adventurer Sir Richard Burton, Auvergne was gracious, wild, and glorious, “stranger than a dream.” In a letter to a friend,  another English poet, Matthew Arnold, attributed his “fine poetry” to Auvergne’s “southern air” and landscapes. “Go to Auvergne by all means,” he wrote. Auvergne’s topography and rustic folkways also captivated painters like Auguste Bonheur and Theodore Rousseau. With brushstrokes and pathos they portrayed a still-existing Arcadia that fed the imagination of international publics.

The Ruins of Château Apchon by Auguste Bonheur

Today, the region continues to inspire storytellers like Christopher Tourneur, an award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, author, and drone pilot who was born and raised in Vichy.

With his production and media company, Y’avanti, Tourneur has sought to explore and memorialise aspects of Auvergne’s regional cultures in towns like Aigueperse, Gannat, and Châtel-Montagne. Tourneur’s films and passion for arts education — which emphasise the importance of fostering the transfer of communal knowledge between generations — have also taken him across the globe, to Scotland, Egypt, Uganda, and Turkey. “I’m inspired by a desire to tell stories and create links between all people,” he told me. “Living together is something we must continue to cherish.”

Tourneur spoke to me about both his filmmaking and his appreciation for Auvergne’s many treasures.

Christopher Tourneur. Photo by David Grouard

A.D. Manns: Were there any particular films or comics, like Indiana Jones or Tintin, which had an impact on your passion for travel and adventure?

Christopher Tourneur: Tintin helped me to discover the world and culture. When I was 8, it was the first step to understand that France is not the centre of the world. Indiana Jones is another inspiration because the stories span across history. It’s a good way to discover cultures. Jim Carrey is very important for me as well,  just like Buster Keaton or Albert Dupontel. Their “poems” had a spirit, a power to share their message without violence but with laughter.

Music had an impact as well. Jimi Hendrix, Bach, Tinariwen, Magma, Sébastien Tellier, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Benjamin Clementine — just to name a few! When you combine inspirations you create a new step for the next generation. My team is very inspired and we try to blend everything.

AM: What have you found to be most inspiring about Auvergne and its culture?

CT: Meeting elderly locals for me is the best way to discover a town. When we work to prepare a film, we don’t stay in hotels. We prefer to board with locals. There are always surprises and living like this can also be a source of inspiration. In terms of images and photography, nature is my main inspiration. The valley of Chaudefour, in the Sancy mountains, is the best place to stimulate the imagination, especially for writing films. 

Tourneur at work

AM: What’s the most challenging aspect of your work? What’s the most rewarding aspect?

CT: It’s difficult to satisfy everyone because we all have an opinion but we forget sometimes the spirit of cinema. Today, we need short and fast films, but when you see the reality of the territory and medium, actually you have lots of rhythm and synchronicity.

The best reward so far has been gathering 400 people one day at Ébreuil and seeing the smile of locals. It’s also been fun to listen to laughter during the performance. We try to mix reality with a little bit of comedy and poesy.

AM: What can you tell us about your current and upcoming projects?

CT: We are finishing up an episode on Uganda and we hope to show it to the public in December 2024. We have a lot of ideas for Y’avanti, but projects need a lot of time and planning. We should complete 30 episodes before 2040.

For more information on Y’avanti, click here.