The film as research : Ash and Ember, a research film in a changing working-class suburb

These photographs are taken from the film “Ash and ember” (De cendres et de braises) directed by Manon Ott (filmmaker and sociologist) during her PhD thesis in visual sociology defended in 2019 at the University of Evry Paris-Saclay (France).

At the intersection of social sciences and cinema, research and artistic practice, this PhD thesis in Visual Sociology has two components: a film and a written text.

Shot during a five years immersion research in the neighborhoods of the city of Les Mureaux (France), close to Renault car factory in Flins, the film Ash and Ember (a documentary feature film, shot in black and white) offers a poetic and political portrait of this working-class suburb. Meeting its inhabitants, the film gives them a voice.  Be it soft, rebellious or sung, down the buildings, at the entrance of the factory, or next to a fire, they reveal both intimate and political subjectivities.

The text accompanying the film contextualizes the fieldwork location. Nourished by the life stories of Les Mureaux people, it revisits the history of these neighborhoods, at the crossroads of labor, immigration and urbanization history. It analyzes the fieldwork experience and the making of the film with the inhabitants, and in particular, the staging, or mise en scène, of their speech and its stakes.

As a practical and theoretical approach of documentary filmmaking, this research-creation examines the contours and possibilities of a research cinema. It contributes to question the heuristic, methodological as well as epistemological issues of visual and filmic sociology. When a “sharing of the sensitive”, according to the philosopher Jacques Ranciere, could allow other forms of politics.

The film was released to the cinema in France in September 2019 in parallel with the publication of the book “Ash and Ember, Voices and stories of a popular suburb” (384 pages of texts and photographs) from the written thesis and published by Anamosa editions.

Movie trailer (English)   Film and book website (French)

Film synopsis


a film by Manon Ott, in collaboration with Grégory Cohen
vidéo, black and white, 72 minutes, 2018

“Les Mureaux, in the Paris area. The social housing areas awake to a black and white that rubs out the anticipated greyness of the districts. A few kilometres away, the Renault plants still employ a number of the inhabitants, starting with the children of those who were brought in from Africa and the Maghreb in the 1960s. What remains of the working class ? Outside a block of flats, at the entrance to the factory with the unionised and the militants, or on the shore of a lake, Manon Ott nourishes her film with the speech of those who live there, be it reasoned, soft, rebellious or sung. From the social struggles of the past to the precariousness of modern slaves, the unemployed and the temporary workers, she constructs a collective discourse of absolute intelligence about the working world. She breaks away from the clichés of the suburbs, immigration and delinquency or, rather, economic resistance, as one of the protagonists puts it. And when at the end of the night, this ex-con who read Karl Marx and Rimbaud in jail recounts his childhood as a suburban kid hungry to earn fast money, the smouldering fire reveals the political power of a film that is at once sensitive and subversive.”

Céline Guénot (Festival Visions du réel – Nyon – competition Burning Lights – April 2018).


01 IVSA Website   Film Ash And Ember © Manon Ott
02 IVSA Website   Film Ash And Ember © Manon Ott
03 IVSA Website   Film Ash And Ember © Manon Ott
04 IVSA Website   Film Ash And Ember © Manon Ott
05 IVSA Website   Film Ash And Ember © Manon Ott
06 IVSA Website   Film Ash And Ember © Manon Ott


  • Before I became a film major, I was very heavily into social science, I had done a lot of sociology, anthropology, and I was playing in what I call social psychology, which is sort of an offshoot of anthropology/sociology – looking at a culture as a living organism, why it does what it does.

    George Lucas

  • So it is my firm belief, that if you want nowadays, to have a clear and distinct communication of your concepts, you have to use synthetic images, no longer words.

    Vilém Flusser


    Sometimes one picture is equal to 30 pages of discourse, just as there are things images are completely incapable of communicating.

    William S. Burroughs


    The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of.

    Zygmunt Bauman

  • We never really know what’s around the corner when we’re filming – what turn a story will take, what a character will do or say to surprise us, how the events in the world will impact our story.

    Barbara Kopple


    There are dignified stupidities, and there are heroic stupidities, and there is such a thing as stupid stupidities, and that would be a stupid stupidity not to have a camera on board.

    Werner Herzog

  • Give us adequate images. We lack adequate images. Our civilization does not have adequate images. And I think a civilization is doomed or is going to die out like dinosaurs if it doesn’t develop an adequate language for adequate images.

    Werner Herzog


    One advantage of photography is that it’s visual and can transcend language.

    Lisa Kristine


    If it’s far away, it’s news, but if it’s close at home, it’s sociology.

    James Reston

  • Photographers learn to interpret photographs in that technical way because they want to understand and use that ‘language’ themselves (just as musicians learn a more technical musical language than the layman needs). Social scientists who want to work with visual materials will have to learn to approach them in this more studious and time-consuming way

    Howard Becker


    Visual culture is now the study of how to understand change in a world too enormous to see but vital to imagine.

    Nicholas Mirzoeff


    For any picture, ask yourself what question or questions it might be answering. Since the picture could answer many, questions, we can decide what question we are interested in.

    Howard Becker

  • Watching a documentary with people hacking their way through some polar wasteland is merely a visual. Actually trying to deal with cold that can literally kill you is quite a different thing.

    Henry Rollins

  • If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, you’ve got to find a language. Which goes for film as well as prose, for documentary as well as autobiography. Use the wrong language, and you’re dumb and blind.

    Salman Rushdie

  • You try your hardest to give people their space, but at moments you know you’re capturing their image in ways they may or may not be okay with. It’s that rocking back and forth between respect and betrayal that I feel like is at the heart of the film.

    Kirsten Johnson


    The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.

    Pierre Bourdieu

  • I believe that we face incredible obstacles in our attempts to see the world. Everything in our nature tries to deny the world around us; to refabricate it in our own image; to reinvent it for our own benefit. And so, it becomes something of a challenge, a task, to recover (or at least attempt to recover) the real world despite all the impediments to that end.

    Errol Morris


    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

    Steve Harp


    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

    Steve Harp


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