Tea time with Barcelona
How did you get the actors together? Did the writing happen as you went along? Within what framework was it written?
Invited by the association Ph’Art et Balises (a cultural association that has been very active in underprivileged areas in Marseilles for over 10 years), I led a writing and acting workshop for three months last year with 12 kids between 14 and 17 years old. Our assignment was to create a short film by the end of the workshop. It is the first time that I have led this kind of workshop where I was asked to partially or entirely share my writing. I started by observing the young people I was to work with and seeing how they interacted with each other. The group had a crazy energy that fed itself, never ran out, and when we didn’t force them to stay seated around a table, resulted in an eruption of jokes, ideas, thoughts and ceaseless gestures. After several meetings and in an attempt to use that special energy, I suggested improvisations based on very simple situations that resembled them, and that united them. Example: “You are all together in an elevator that breaks down, you, you are claustrophobic, you, you really need to go to the bathroom, you have to practice a poem for your French class this afternoon, and you two in the back just broke up… go stand over there in the corner and get started!”. Conserving the group feeling along with the simple starting situation untangled their tongues and reassured these young people as they engaged in this difficult and frightening exercise that is improvisation. They were better, more forthcoming and more precise than in any of the warm-up activities from previous sessions. It was thus that a collective, inclusive system of writing was born. I shot every improvisation, I logged them back home and wrote down on paper in the form of a script the best moments of the preceding improvisation. I took the opportunity to arrange it all, affirm certain directions discovered during improvisation, discreetly add other elements, a few new paths, and then I brought this bit of script on paper to the next session. We read it seated around the table, the kids corrected by hand any dialog that seemed unnatural to them, and then we let go of the paper, and from what remained in their memories, we started another improvisation. Thus, in a game of ping-pong between them and me, the script was intuitively written. I infused a few of my own ideas, I structured it all by pulling on a string here and there, but these are their words, their movements, their feelings. The day we shot the film, they didn’t need to memorize the script, they owned it and knew it better than anyone, they lived the script both live in front of the camera as well as off-camera.
What was it about football, and about Barcelona in particular, that interested you?
Nothing in particular – as I mentioned earlier, it was about finding simple and comfortable subjects that brought the kids together, instilled them with confidence and opened up their imaginations.
How did you make the transition from this imaginary game to the filmed performance?
We rehearsed every Tuesday evening in the dining hall of a community center, on chairs. One evening, one of them said, “Will we have a real bus for the film shooting? I want to go to Barcelona!” Another responded, “With or without a real bus, we aren’t going anywhere. We’re making a film!”. Bingo! “And in the end, what if the bus didn’t exist, what if you simply pretended it was there, if this place was a means of escape, but in the form of a game. A place where everything is possible through the imagination…?” A very abstract concept that was difficult for them to accept at first, but later, they admitted that they played this game back at home when they felt bored.
Are you interested in the theme of adolescence, and do you foresee making other films based on this theme?
I found this group of kids fascinating: their freedom, their madness, their intelligence in the present moment, despite their difficult lives, they are always present and smiling. I was taught to think about the creative act, them, no, never. They are neutral faced with the creative act, far fewer preconceptions, less shame, less fear, fewer stakes – this makes them much more free. It’s fascinating, enviable, and extremely precious. This year, we are going to reproduce the same kind of collective creation but on a larger scale. We will write a feature-length film that we aim to finish by the end of 2019. It will all be within the framework of a kind of alternative film academy created by the Ph’Art et Balises association: MOOVIDA.
Finally, did you come up with the idea of that scene of mounting general uproar?
In addition to the script co-written with our kids, to create an element of surprise during the shooting and to call upon them to continue using the force of improvisation, I had written a few scenes and had handed them out during the three-day shoot. Group scenes, group movements, shouts, tableaus. The general uproar scene was among these: I got up on a canteen cart with the director of photography, and as we were pushed around, I shouted at them to have fun, to push each other around, to jump on each other, and finally to get back up and dare to face me.
Are there any particular freedoms that the short film format allows you?
In the short format, sometimes a concept is enough, action-packed narration is not essential. In the short format, the UFO is still welcome.
Barcelona was shown in National Competition.