Fireworks: A Film About Jean-Paul Bourdier

Jean-Paul Bourdier refers to the moments he captures in photographs as fireworks. It's easy to see why - moments of color and form exploding together before disappearing back into reality. The film explores this photographic practice of Bourdier, a professor of architecture, ex-pat of France, and husband of renowned filmmaker Trinh Minh-ha. His work engages painted bodies with natural landscapes and the results are frequently surreal and humorous, like the man himself. He has created these photographs for decades, going to great lengths to achieve his carefully crafted visions.

Bourdier is driven by a desire to create work that makes people laugh, since he believes when we laugh we don't think, and when we don't think we simply are. The film chronicles the contradiction of Bourdier's lighthearted photographs with the unyielding obsessiveness he has for creating them. Jean-Paul's visions are often hindered by external factors like weather and group dynamics -- but sometimes the unexpected forces at work are what make a photograph great.

The film documents his process with footage from a two-week desert excursion (amidst temperatures of 105 degrees), examining the effort that goes into each photo - and how the attempts don't always go as planned.

  • Sarah Simka Jaffe
  • Staci Degagne
  • Lindsay Olsen
    Music by
  • Calvin Luu
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Art, Photography, Comedy, Biography, Artist Profile
  • Runtime:
    15 minutes 7 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 2, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    500 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Sarah Simka Jaffe

Sarah is a Bay-Area based Director of Photography and graduate of UC Santa Cruz's Film & Digital Media program. Her work has been featured at festivals including Frameline 44, Indie Short Fest, and Lift Off Global. She loves being behind the camera and getting the chance to film and share unique stories with an ever-growing audience.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

When I was invited to follow Jean-Paul Bourdier for a two-week trip to the deserts of Utah, I was excited but had no idea what I was getting myself into. I figured it'd be an adventure of some sort. It really was.

Each morning we packed ourselves, props, paints, food, and water into a 4-wheeler and drove off-road to secret places he'd scouted years before. We'd get stuck in sand or mud, dig ourselves out, then set up the day's camp and sweat in the heat for 8+ hours. The three collaborators (J-P, Piper, and Zachar) built the elaborate designs, I captured as much as I could. Frequently, the day's preparation left a brief 20-minute window of light at sunset to actually take the photographs. Piper and Zachar would paint themselves, then jump into each other's arms, or dangle from swingsets, or fly on trampolines. When it became too dark for an exposure, we'd pack up camp by flashlight. We'd finally return to the shared motel room at midnight, exhausted, where there was laundry to do, showers to take, and as much sleep as possible to get before doing it all over again the next day.

It was a privilege to tag along on this weird ride and to witness the colors and incredible effort each day. I couldn't put my camera down, even when I could barely stand the heat, or see my LCD screen in the blinding sunlight. I filmed for 10-12 hours a day, for 12 full days. Distilling the footage into the film you see here was a great effort, and I'm incredibly grateful to my amazing editor, Staci Degagne for her patience, skill, and passion for the project. The film wouldn't exist without her.

I hope you enjoy this brief glimpse into the work of Jean-Paul Bourdier. There's more to say (there always is) about a person, especially one as dynamic as Jean-Paul and his work. I hope I captured some of the humor, and lots of the color and magic. Thank you for watching.