Fifty years ago, the Paris Chief of Police, Maurice Papon, with the consent of the then French government, imposed a discriminatory curfew, intended solely for French Algerian Muslims. To protest against this racist curfew, the French Federation of the FLN called for a peaceful reaction that took the form of an enormous demonstration in the streets of Paris. On the evening of Tuesday, October 17th, nearly thirty thousand Algerians—men, women, and children—thus demonstrated peacefully on the major boulevards of the capital, as a reminder of their equality and for the independence of their country. A fierce repression followed that for years was hushed up. There were eleven thousand arrests, dozens of murders, including many demonstrators thrown into the Seine after having been beaten up; hundreds of expulsions and complaints went unheard.
Just after October 17th, the Audin Committee understood the importance of testifying to these police crimes committed in the heart of Paris. One of the leaders of this committee, the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet agreed to Jacques Panijel’s idea to make a film that would become Octobre à Paris. The film was financed by the money of the Audin Committee, which was itself secretly helped by the French Federation of the FLN. The shoot began at the end of October 1961 and lasted until February 1962; the final film includes images from the tragedy at the Charonne subway station where eight French democrats were killed by the police, still under the command of the Police Chief Papon.Octobre à Paris was immediately banned and Jacques Panijel again harassed (in September 1960, he had already been indicted for having signed his name to the “Manifeste de 121” that supported insubordination and the fight of the Algerian people for its independence.) The State persecutions against the film and its director continued even after the end of the Algerian War. The exhibitors who sought to screen it privately or in semi-public screenings systematically had their theatres shut down by the police who also did their best to confiscate the film.
Longed banned, presented in Paris in May 1968 at the same time as Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), Panijel’s film received its screening visa only in 1973, following René Vautier’s hunger strike. But its director refused for a long time to show it as long as it didn’t have an additional preface, an operation that required subsidies that hadn’t been found until then. A 20-minute film was finally produced thanks to distributor Gerad Vaugeois (Films de l’Atalante) in 2010-11.
Fifty years after the events it commemorates, Octobre à Paris was officially released in France on October 19, 2011. Panijel died two months earlier.