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Friday
May262017

THE GATEWAY BUG: THE JOHANNA B. KELLY INTERVIEW

Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, may be the ecological ‘get out of jail’ card the planet needs. So say the band of cricket-munching, fly-swallowing, moth-chewing experts featured in The Gateway Bug, the fascinating and wildly entertaining advocacy documentary to screen at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. Alongside collaborator Cameron Marshad (“The grasshopper tacos are incredible”), director Johanna B. Kelly hopes their film will be at the forefront of a new era of environmentally sustainable food consumption in western culture. “By the time I’m a grandma, we’re going to be looking at a very different food landscape,” the Melbourne-born filmmaker tells SCREEN-SPACE from her New York residence…

SCREEN-SPACE: What first impressed you that alternative food sourcing and specifically a bug-based diet would fill a feature documentary?

KELLY: I first heard about entomophagy over brunch when one of our main characters, marine biologist Tyler Isaac, was explaining the overfishing problem. We are fishing wild fish to feed farmed fish and he explained how illogical that was and how insects could perform that function, using far less resources. The same can be applied to human consumption. That’s when I was also introduced to the edible insect consumer products already on the market. He shared the UN warning from 2013 that food production must increase 70% by 2050 but warned that's impossible, referencing a now very famous paper that entomophagy was a viable alternative option. We discussed how 50% of grain is fed to livestock and that feeding livestock insects could reduce greenhouse emissions immensely; how insects release far less ammonia and methane than pigs and cattle; and, how they take up less space and water. They have twice the protein of beef, more calcium than milk, all 9 essential amino acids and more iron than spinach. A global shift to an ento/plant-based diet would reduce mortality 10% and cut up to 70% of Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050. By the end of brunch, we were in total agreement that a doc must be made to share all of this. (Pictured, top; from l-r, Cameron Marshad and Johanna B. Kelly).

SCREEN-SPACE: I like the stylised way in which you present your arguments, including the use of animation, on-screen text and archival content. How was the tone of the film decided upon?

KELLY: We started simplistically, researching interview subjects, conducting interviews and building our story. As the editing, scripting and story building progressed, we realized that animations would help visualize some of the more complex arguments presented. We began to feel that talking heads were boring and information about how our environment got to it’s current state could be shared using footage from 50 years ago; it’s fascinating to see that the exact issues we face now were raised as concerns back then. As a cinephile, I couldn’t resist trawling through months of archival to prove that actually none of this is new news. I adore Adam Curtis (Bitter Lake, 2015; Hypernormalisation, 2016) and his masterful weaving of archival footage to describe current affairs so that probably influenced my style for sure.

SCREEN-SPACE: You were blessed with some fascinating personalities. Do you believe these are the men and women who can lead the charge for food industry reform? What personality traits bind them and their chosen paths?

KELLY: These personalities were part of what drove us to create the feature. Given Tyler’s brunch spiel had inspired us to make the film and that we met Sonny and Kevin early on, we knew we had some great stories with them alone. The personality traits that bind them are an honest desire for acquiring the knowledge necessary to help solve the major crisis we currently face. This takes bravery and fearlessness, so I do think they will all make a difference. But the point of the film is that all of us possess an element of that desire to do good in the world and help heal the past to protect our future. I’m an optimist; I believe that armed with knowledge, people behave in altruistic ways. After watching our film, our audiences can become empowered to make those changes to their lifestyles, which in turn influences others to make those changes. I sincerely hope that these characters are the starting point for a revolution of empowered armchair activists to change the world through their own diets and habits. The onus doesn’t necessarily rest entirely on those characters to achieve that personally but on all of us to heed their call. (Pictured, above; model Terese Pagh with a cricket-based protein bar, The Gateway Bug)

SCREEN-SPACE: Were you conscious of not just 'preaching to the converted', of not allowing entomophagy to appear to be a 'hipster trend'?

KELLY: We were mindful to retain as much journalistic integrity as possible. It was critical to us that our film come across in the form we discovered it, by letting individuals share their stories and enlightening the audience that way. It was one of the primary reasons we avoided narration or VO. And entomophagy isn’t a hipster trend; over 2 billion people worldwide practice it. It’s more of a cultural shift that the West may or may not be ready for. Irrespective, there is no reason we can’t consider shifting animal diets and the way we respect food and food waste. The idea is to start with what can work and move on from there. A great analogy is sushi. 80s’ yuppies being exotic made it big in the West but in Japan it was just regular food. So it’s not such a stretch to see a similar progressive shift towards insect eating in our society.

SCREEN-SPACE: Since filming finished, there is a new administration with a more regressive, pro-'big business' agenda that will only strengthen the traditional industrial agricultural sector. What does the future hold for alternative sector start-ups and entrepreneurs such as those in your film?

KELLY: I worry that more critical to the success of these industries is the new administration’s regressive attitude on climate change. Attitudes impact policy, which in turn affects subsidies and investment. All of these companies rely on a common understanding of current scientific opinion to ensure progress is made and awareness maintained. I remain optimistic that global attitudes towards science being real and common sense surrounding what we can see with our own eyes will prevail ultimately. Flint, Michigan isn’t getting clean water any time soon. To quote Alanis Obomsawin, “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.” Our dream is that it doesn’t have to come to that for individuals to start changing habits. (Pictured, above; ground cricket powder)

SCREEN-SPACE: You never turn the camera on yourself so; the big question is - what bugs have you eaten?

KELLY: Ah, a great time to point out that people with shellfish allergies should not eat insects! Having experienced anaphylaxis twice now, I have avoided them to preserve my life. Cameron however adores them. He frequently noshes on dry roasted crickets at his desk and enjoys the protein bars. He says his favourite insect product he’s tasted is the black soldier fly larvae you see Dave Gracer try at the end of the film at the Eating Insects Detroit conference. Although not a product being sold on the market to consumers currently, apparently it tastes like curry butter and he talked about it for months after we’d left so he certainly sold me on it!

THE GATEWAY BUG screens at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 16. Ticket and session details via the event's official website.

'The Gateway Bug' Trailer - A documentary feature film about feeding humanity in an uncertain age from Cameron Marshad on Vimeo.

Thursday
May252017

WOLF AND SHEEP: THE SHAHRBANOO SADAT INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Shahrbanoo Sadat was 20 years old when her story treatment for Wolf and Sheep earned her a prestigious Cinéfondation residency at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. She was the youngest recipient of the honour in the festival’s history. The film, a slice-of-life drama about the villagers living in the mountains of Afghanistan that combines stark realism with local mythology, is told through the experiences of Sediqa, a determined young woman living an outsider’s life in a tight communal structure. It is Sadat’s recollection of a period from her childhood, so vividly realised and emotionally resonant, it earned her the 2016 Festival de Cannes C.I.C.A.E. Award for cinematic artistry. Ahead of the Sydney Film Festival’s Official Competition screening of Wolf and Sheep, Shahrbanoo Sadat spoke with SCREEN-SPACE from her home in the Afghanistan capital, Kabul…

SCREEN-SPACE: Describe your vision for the character of Sediqa and how the casting of the wonderful Sediqa Rasuli helped realise and develop the character.

SADAT: I was an outsider as a child, living in rural central Afghanistan in an isolated village between the mountains. I grew up with an observational point of view, as I couldn’t make any friends. I still keep this observational outlook, allowing me to better study the Afghan community. Wolf and Sheep is a film about a community and I needed a character like Sediqa, an outsider, to take us up to the mountains and into the village. She is just a part of that community, not carrying any specific story or judging those around her, but she helps the viewer understand the place, atmosphere and village life. Unlike her role, our actress Sediqa was a very social girl, becoming friends with almost everyone. When I met her at her school, I asked her to take off her scarf, something that every other girl had refused to do. But she didn’t refuse. She smiled, and took off her scarf for me. (Pictured, below; Sediqa Rusili as Sediqa in Wolf and Sheep)

SCREEN-SPACE: As the title suggests, there is a great deal of conflict central to your narrative - male vs female; young vs old; interpersonal conflict amongst the boys and girls - all set in a land rife with conflict. How would you describe the role that conflict has upon your narrative?

SADAT: I’m impressed by the power of nature on human beings. Afghanistan is a mountainous, rural country; a dry and tough environment (that) influences the nature of the people, who live in the valleys between mountains. This creates distance between people, many of whom come from various ethnicities. They mostly don’t like each other, instead believing they are different and better than others. But if you study their every day lives, you will see all have the same life, suffer from the same pain and have the same kind of problems. But they don’t see that as the wider picture. For me, such conflict is simply organic to the story; there was not a specific thought behind it. When I am talking about the everyday life of these people, it was just normal to put it in. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The film is a celebration of the art of storytelling, with characters both old and young conveying imaginative, thoughtful stories. What importance does 'the storyteller' have in Afghani culture and how does that tradition manifest in your directing?

SADAT: Afghans are very good storytellers. We like talking and we talk so much. We drink a lot of tea, because it gives us the opportunity to sit together and talk about almost everything. Sometimes when I listen to people I don’t understand if they are talking about reality. Their stories are a mixture of fantasy, wishes, lies, fiction and everyday life. I like this mixture. In a society where people are not allowed to dream, it’s so powerful to be able to express yourself through the stories. In the rural villages, I was very impressed when I saw almost every man talking about fairy tales, I connect this wish and desire for telling and listening to fairy tales to the love for women. It is a love that the society doesn’t really allow to grow. The community places limitations, tells us what our life should look like. We follow this thinking like a flock of sheep, because we are scared of being alone. We are told that if you choose your own way, there is the danger of  ‘the wolf,’ which scares us even though none of us have seen the real wolf. Oral stories are the best material to learn about communities, especially the rural parts where stories and tales have such power in the life of people. People come to believe stories that have been made up. Our history has been influenced by stories that mix reality and the fantasy; the border between the two is so pale. (Pictured, above; Sediqa, right, with co-star Qodratollah Qadiri)

SCREEN-SPACE: The fantasy imagery in Wolf and Sheep - particularly, the night visitations of the Bull and Fairy into the village - is beautiful. Are you a student of fantasy cinema or is that imagery an integral part of your upbringing and culture?

SADAT: I am so much in love with cinema verite, with the relationship between film and reality. Those scenes are the most ‘documentary’ part of the film, as they relate what the people in that community believe exists, even if it is a supernatural being. Many people have had that experience, of seeing the fairy or the wolf at night or early morning. For many audiences, those sequences convey magic realism, (but) for Afghans they are pure realism. My stories convey what those people believe to be true. They are more than stories. They are the mysteries of their lives. (Pictured, above; Patricia Alexandra Aparicio Dias as The Green Fairy in Wolf and Sheep)

SCREEN-SPACE: How are young filmmakers progressing in the current social climate of Afghanistan? Does an industry exist that allows them to explore and grow their talents?

SADAT: Our cinema industry is so poor. We have almost zero annual production of feature films. The cinema community is corrupted and the space for filmmakers like me, with no connection inside Afghanistan, is so small and narrow. There is no funding system, no co-productions with other countries, no producers. No one takes cinema seriously, as there is no money in it and no effort to make money with it. Stories are too shallow and reflect nothing about Afghanistan. Films about Afghanistan made by international filmmakers take the western touristic point of view, which has influenced local filmmakers, which bothers me a lot. Afghanistan is such a rich country in terms of story and we do need storytellers who can share these stories with the world.

WOLF AND SHEEP will screen June 11 and 12 at the 64th Sydney Film Festival. For ticket and session information visit the event's website.

READ our Sydney Film Festival Preview here.

Tuesday
May092017

RUSSIAN FEST DIRECTOR RECALLS BOLSHOI FILM PREMIERE

The Moscow premiere of director Valery Todorovsky’s latest film, The Bolshoi, quickly became the hottest event ticket on the 2017 Russian film calendar. On April 17, 1400 of Moscow’s most esteemed dignitaries sat enthralled as the film unfurled upon the grandest of stages, that of the magnificent Bolshoi Theatre itself. For only the second time in the venue’s 237 year history, cinema took centre stage, albeit to tell the fairy-tale story of a ballerina’s rise to stardom; Todorovsky’s shoot had been the first allowed to film within the walls of The Bolshoi Theatre. In the audience that night was Nicholas Maksymow, the Festival Director of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival, Australia's prestigious annual showcase of Russian film culture. SCREEN-SPACE welcomes Nicholas as guest columnist, as he recalls that Moscow night when modern cinema met centuries-old tradition…

Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre houses one of the world’s oldest and most acclaimed ballet and opera companies. Designed by architect Joseph Bové, it’s opening in 1825 gained world-wide recognition and continues to do so to the present day. The Bolshoi is the latest offering from renowned Russian director Valery Todorovsky (The Lover, My Stepbrother Frankenstein, Hipsters) and provides not only a rare glimpse inside the majestic venue, but also examines the pure artistry of classical ballet. (Pictured, above: Maksymow, left, with director Valery Todorovsky at The Bolshoi Theatre)

Bolshoi is a trademarked brand and the producers needed to pre-screen the film for approval by the Theatre's board to use the title. As Todorovsky himself has said, the name Bolshoi (from the Russian for ‘grand’) not only represents classical ballet, it is synonymous with Russian classical ballet itself. (Pictured, right; lead actress Magarita Simonova in The Bolshoi

Not since the 1925 premiere of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin has The Bolshoi Theatre served as a grand movie palace. Attending the premiere of Todorovsky’s latest were the Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, the Deputy Prime Minister, Olga Golodets, and such Russian A-listers as actor/director Fyodr Bondarchuk and Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich.

Never in history has the actual stage been used for a film; the crew was given six days to film on the historical dance floor, an impressive achievement given the intricate and grand art form that is classical ballet. Seeing the dancers perform on the renowned stage with such grace and watching it in an actual ballet theatre made it very easy to forget one was watching a movie and not live ballet!

Todorovsky’s narrative is a simple story of ballet dancers striving to be selected for the Bolshoi Theatre Company that evolves into a captivating coming-of-age journey. Our protagonist is Julia Olshanskaya, played as a youngster by Katya Mainulina, a reserve for Russia’s Olympic Team in Rhythmic Gymnastics, before maturing into Margarita Simonova, a dancer with Warsaw’s Grand Theatre. The similarity between the two girls was striking in terms of their physical traits, appearance and behaviour.

Julia is a provincial girl from a poor family who dances on the streets of her mining town. Her big break comes when former ballet dancer Pototsky (Aleksandr Domogarov) sees potential in the starlet and arranges an audition at The Moscow State Academy of Choreography. Julia’s new life is one of exhilarating highs and depressing lows, as she strives to overcome the difficulties placed in front of her by teachers with their own personal struggles. Life and career choices present a challenge to our ballerina, with her only ally in this maze being her mentor Beletskaya (played wonderfully by an old master of stage and screen, Alisa Frendlich), who instils an inspiring willingness in her student to succeed but also prove she has talent.

The film is unique in how it deviates from the increasingly common formula of a force-fed story that feels predictable. Yes, we do have the perfected scenes of rich kids versus poor kids, kids with real talent versus kids with mothers who think they can buy their way to fame. If such elements seem familiar, Todorovsky’s storytelling is not. These scenes are intertwined with a narrative of the past and the present, which ultimately helps viewers engage with the characters on screen.

The exploration of complex themes and issues, such as the struggle of dementia, is subtle and powerful.  These scenes are humorous, yet touchingly sad; anyone who has a family member suffering from this cruel condition will recognize the authenticity of these scenes. Frendlich captures here character’s suffering brilliantly; her portrayal could have been taken from a real-life aged care facility and edited straight into the film. (Pictured, left; The Bolshoi director Valery Todorovsky)

Aside from a core cast of professional actors, Todorovsky chose to assemble 70 professional ballet dancers and children studying ballet to play the principal characters in the film, a decision that surprisingly pays off. Todorovsky described the process of finding non-actors as the most difficult casting audition of his life.  "It was necessary to first find professional ballet dancers who could play dramatic roles,” he told the premiere audience. “Then we had to find those who would play the characters in childhood. We searched everywhere, visited every city in which there is a ballet school and theatre, so as to ensure the best got to the audition and to achieve a perfect match.” 

Moving and entertaining, The Bolshoi is a majestic treasure that succeeds on the big screen. In its portrayal of young lives chasing the dreams a ballet academy offers, it exhibits an empathy that is lacking in many films of today. It allows the audience to feel a part of academy life, just as it does for the dancers in the film. Valery Todorovsky has a knack for separating the significant moments in the lives of his characters when growth, obstacles and talent are all juxtaposed.  We saw this in Vice (2007), a fictional expose of youth caught in the underworld of drugs and crime, and more recently in the lively and colourful musical, Hipsters (2008). (Pictured, right; a scene from The Bolshoi)

No more fitting score than the music of renowned Russian composer Tchaikovsky could have been chosen to complement the dance action. The director beautifully sums up the film’s score as being reflective of the different phases of the lives of his characters.“Childhood is the Nutcracker, youth is Sleeping Beauty and adulthood, Swan Lake,” says Valery Todorovsky. “Tchaikovsky was not chosen by me, he was chosen by the Russian Ballet.”

Nicholas Maksymow
Festival Director, RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL.

The Bolshoi will be released theatrically in Russia on 11 May 2017 and will premiere in Australia and New Zealand as part of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival from 26 October 2017.

Tuesday
May092017

FIVE DAYS ON LESVOS: THE RICHARD WYLLIE INTERVIEW

In the summer of 2015, director Richard Wyllie and his producer, Sam Brown, left behind their London base and travelled 1500 miles to the Greek island of Lesvos. Their aim was to craft a documentary that examined the role the outpost played as the entry point for an increasing number of refugees, fleeing conflict and oppression via a dangerous ocean crossing. The finished film, an extraordinary work called Five Days on Lesvos, would ultimately capture a tipping point in one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in European history. Richard Wyllie spoke with SCREEN-SPACE ahead of the Australian premiere of his film at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

SCREEN-SPACE: What were your impressions that first day you set foot amongst the refugees of Lesvos?

WYLLIE: I remember thinking how much these people are just like me. Many find the refugee crisis difficult to relate to because the people involved speak a different language (or) the Middle East seems like a different world. But meeting the people, seeing their clothes, hearing about their lives before the conflict, brought it home that it isn’t too much of a leap to imagine myself in that situation. They were businessmen, doctors, students. I wondered what it would take to make me flee my home and make a terrifying journey across the sea with my family. These people are fleeing death and destruction, we should be under no illusions about that. As the week progressed, the sheer numbers of people arriving was pretty overwhelming. We’d film one boat coming in at dawn, head back to the hotel to eat breakfast and there’d be two more boats on the horizon. The volunteers on the island were fantastic, and just as relentless as the boats; they would just carry on helping, getting refugees off the beach, going back for more, all day long.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did the film evolve as you’d envisioned it would? Were there discoveries you made between pre-production and arriving on the island that altered your vision?

WYLLIE (pictured, right): We knew we wanted to make a film about both the refugees and those helping them. Filming on Lesvos was supposed to just be the beginning. We thought we might want to track some refugees across Europe, over months or even years. I called Eric, who you see at the beginning of the film, and he was happy for me to film his work, so we simply agreed to meet him at 6am on top of that hill. We had no idea what we would actually capture during that week. (But) that particular week saw a massive increase in the numbers of refugees; although many refugees had arrived in Greece before this, that week marked an escalation of the crisis. What you see in the film is the effect of that – the island becomes overwhelmed and ordinary volunteers step up to help. It was only when we got home that the idea of simply telling the story of those five days came to us. It really was shot in five days, the characters coming in and out of the film in the same way we met them during filming. Narratively, it worked very well. As the edit progressed, this structure made more and more sense. I like the cyclical nature of what’s happening, because that is what it felt like when we were there.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you set out to make a political statement, a humanist drama or a historical snapshot?

WYLLIE: Probably a bit of all three, to be honest. Samantha (Brown, the producer) and I were getting increasingly frustrated with the depiction of the refugee crisis in the British media. Our politicians were using phrases like ‘swarms of people’ and the right wing press didn’t question any of this. We wanted to make something that gave faces to the refugees, emphasizing their humanity. I don’t like to make films with an overt message, telling people what to think. I like to let people decide for themselves. The best way to do this is to show the situation through the eyes of the characters, let their experiences tell the story, revealing the human drama naturally. It’s the reason why I let the pictures run for quite a lot of the film – I want the audience to decide for themselves what they’re seeing. Some people have said the film is very sympathetic to the refugees, but we simply filmed what was going on. There’s no way you can’t feel sympathy for people in that situation. Historically, we thought that we had perhaps captured the pinnacle of the refugee crisis. In retrospect, we not only captured the beginning of the crisis, but also the beginning of a turning point in the politics of Europe. The refugee crisis has been a trigger for much of the current tumult in European politics, such as Brexit, the increased rightwing fervor and populism. Eighteen months on from those events, the film takes on a new relevance as the political situation develops. Those five days were, to an extent, the catalyst of all that.

SCREEN-SPACE: How do you reconcile the dichotomy of your life as a documentarian? Do you struggle with being so close to the human condition while maintaining the distance your lens affords you?

WYLLIE: I was confronted with something I hadn’t ever experienced as a filmmaker – the compulsion to put the camera down and help. Usually, filming in crisis situations, you’re in the presence of experts who are far better placed to assist people in need. Your job is to film and document. But here, it was ordinary people who were helping; there was so much to do with every boat that landed on the shore. So I would film some of it whilst Sam tried to help people off the boats. We spent some of the time ferrying people off the beach and down into the town; there were elderly people, pregnant women, children, who were in no shape to walking those kinds of distances.

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope western audiences, such as the Melbourne Doc fest crowd, take from the experience of watching Five Days in Lesvos? 

WYLLIE: I hope that people come away realising that these people, and refugees across the world, don’t give up their homes and make these dangerous journeys because they want more money, or welfare from foreign governments. They just want safety for themselves and for their families.  These people deserve our help and, having met them, I’ve no doubt they’d do the same if the tables were turned.

FIVE DAYS ON LESVOS will screen as part of the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. Session and ticket details can be found at the event's website here.

Thursday
Apr132017

IN THE FLESH: THE JULIA DUCOURNAU INTERVIEW.

It was the film that became the cause célèbre at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, driven by a wave of glowing trade reviews and the passionate response from audience members, as they emerged ashen-faced from crowded screenings. Raw tells a contemporary tale of sibling rivalry and familial tradition, of a young woman (Garance Marillier) struggling to embrace a destiny forged in blood…literally. For writer/director Julia Ducournau, whose coming-of-age horror/drama earned her the Festival’s FIPRESCI 'Parallel Sections' Prize, it was a challenge to humanize her characters, even as they performed the most inhuman of acts. “Cannibals are usually the bad guys,” the French auteur told SCREEN-SPACE during her visit to Melbourne in November, where Raw earned Best Film honours at MonsterFest 2016

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the great joys of my 2016 Cannes experience was watching Raw with a receptive, energised audience. There was a point – let’s call it the ‘finger scene’ – when we all realised the nature of the journey we’d undertaken…

JULIA: That is so good to hear, because that is so much about what I am aiming at in my film. You would know that, since you started watching horror movies behind your parents back, you do it with your friends or your sister or your cousin. You do it under a blanket or behind cushions on the couch, bonding with that other person over whatever is happening on the screen. It is a scary but also a joyous aspect of watching horror and I love working within a genre that inspires that sense of community, of complicity.

SCREEN-SPACE: What conventions of the cannibal genre did you want to embrace and explore and what tropes were you determined to avoid?

JULIA: I researched a lot of books, but I did not go back to the movies I had seen about cannibalism. I wanted to keep focussed on the ideas that had inspired my story and not over analyse the movies that had come before, so I was not thinking in terms of conventions. I love horror because it has its codes and it is interesting to subvert them, especially with body horror. The one thing I really wanted to adhere was a super realism. My main fear was that people would compare it to vampire or werewolf movies. I wanted people to really identify with this girl, and her needs and desires. I did not want to make it easy for the audience by putting a fantastic veil on it, by giving them some fantasy element that keeps them distant. I didn’t want anyone thinking, “Well, I can’t really identify with these girls because they don’t exist, so I am safe.” I want the audience to be vulnerable to Justine’s developing humanity and to draw comparisons to their own. If you find yourself identifying with a cannibal, you start questioning yourself as a person. The cannibals of such films as Cannibal Holocaust or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre exist in some perverted version of the world. In Raw, I wanted it to be the opposite. (Pictured, above; Garance Marillier as Justine, in Raw)

SCREEN-SPACE: The film is unique in its depiction of sisterhood, both within the narrative and with reference to the often-constrictive boundaries the horror genre can place upon female characters.

JULIA: I wanted to talk about the love they share. It was important that, at the end of their story, there is heartbreak. They have to be separated, not because they want to but because it is deemed that they have to. Their paths are forever intertwined yet completely irreconcilable. This dynamic of love/hate, of rivalry, without ever being able to explain why they change moods from one scene to another is the (essence of) sisterhood, of a bond that every girl understands. I didn’t want any of those boring scenes where sisters spell out their issues to each other. I was trying to create a relationship where you didn’t have to have these explanatory scenes, but instead just go straight to the core of the bond they share.

SCREEN-SPACE: The themes also embrace that dark heart at the core of even the most seemingly pleasant family environment.

JULIA: That’s right, especially in the light of how family politics have been portrayed since the dawn of humanity in all the myths we have created. Back to the days of the pharaohs, through Shakespeare and right up until today, the dark side of the family unit is portrayed as incestuous, cannibalistic, as a rivalry exposed. It is always portrayed in very violent ways. So we are prepared for the family horrors in my film, because we have read Greek tragedy and we have read the Bible. It works in all languages, especially cinematically. (Pictured, left; Marillier and Ella Rumpf, as Alexia, in Raw)

SCREEN-SPACE: In terms of your national cinema, your strong female leads fit well with the great films of the French Extreme movement, like Martyrs and Haute Tension.

JULIA: There is no French Extreme movement. What are we talking about exactly? There are, maybe, seven films that have been made over the course of 20 years. Do you call that a ‘New Wave’, a ‘Movement’?

SCREEN-SPACE: Those films, and films like Inside and Frontieres, reflect a very specific point in French genre cinema when your peers explored undeniably extreme depictions of horror…

JULIA: Those films are totally unrelated works, made by directors who barely know each, over the course of 20 years. For me, a ‘New Wave’ is when a small group of directors talk between themselves, establish a dogma that dictates the direction their collective works will take, like we had in France in the 60s. I am kind of sick of talking about this French Extreme movement that does not exist. I have talked about it with Alexandre Aja, who totally agrees with me. His movie that you mentioned, Haute tension, came out in the 90s! It is so old (Ed: Haute tension was released in France in June, 2003). How can you relate a movie that is 25 years old to what I am doing today? So much has changed. The context in which they are made has changed. I am sick of being put in the same bag just because we are French and we make genre movies.

SCREEN-SPACE: I wasn’t trying to imply that, but I would say that a direct line could be drawn between those films and the portrayal of violence that your film employs. There is a lineage, don’t you agree…?

JULIA: No, I don’t, not at all. And it is not that I don’t like these movies, some of them I like very much. But I am waiting for the writer or the journalist who writes the powerful essay that convinces me that any of what you say is true. You should do it!

(Pictured, above: l-r, Rabah Nait Oufella, Ella Rumpf, Ducournau, Marillier and Joana Preiss, Cannes 2016) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Maybe. Let’s talk specifically about your attitude to and use of gore.

JULIA: Well, I hate gratuitous violence. I always feel used, then I feel annoyed, then I am bored (laughs). If a movie starts with extreme violence, and ends exactly the same way, there has been no evolution. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has very intense action but very little blood, at least before you meet the family. That film achieves a remarkable sense of balance, which is important for me. Any violence that I portray is really the violence that is internal for my characters. Let me say that my problem is not that we are desensitized to violence, but more that violence is completely taken for granted. That is a terrible shame. One of the main reasons we make horror movies is so that we can explore and express our relationship with violence in the most channelled, precise and intelligent way we can. The opportunity to express one’s sense of violence in this way is not given to everyone, so it is more often repressed. Horror movies exist to help those people, and if you use them for no reason at all you are denying the viewer this act of catharsis. Horror movies have always been the true underground cinema, because we talk about what is repressed.

SCREEN-SPACE: You show an unflinching dedication to that principle in Raw…

JULIA: In my own small way, I was determined to show things that must be shown. And when I show it, it will be revealed in the most confrontational, full-frontal way possible, in a manner that stops you from looking away. Just like Cronenberg does in The Fly; very little camera movements, still shots, frontal, centre-of-frame, so that you cannot avert your gaze. This kind of cinema demands that you confront your own mortality. Then your film starts to work in the crevices between scenes, where the moments you don’t show add to the impact of what you eventually do show.

READ The SCREEN-SPACE review of Raw here.