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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Laura Wandell: ‘It was important that the kids made this film theirs’

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Laura Wandell: ‘It was important that the kids made this film theirs’

The Belgian director of Cannes stand-out Playground on the intricacies of film-making from a children’s perspective.

bAlgean director Laura Wandell won the Sutherland Award at the 2021 London Film Festival, awarded Best Debut Feature in the competition, to Wandell for Une Monde (A World), which was released as Playground in the UK. It is a bold and often shocking portrayal of childhood bullying in elementary school, featuring remarkable performances from young actors Maya Vanderbeck and Günter Durett.

LWLies: What inspired you to focus on kids?

WANDEL: I wanted my audience to be re-faced with the perspective of childhood that we’ve all experienced. Especially those first moments where you start in school, this microcosm of society where you first feel the need to be recognized in order to include others.

This required the audience to be completely immersed, so the best way to achieve this was to remain at the children’s eye level. I invited them to actively participate with them, understanding the world with the characters, rather than just engaging on an intellectual level.

What demands did that perspective place on the cinematography?

The director of photography, Fredrik Noirholm, had a harness with the camera placed on his belly button. He needed to be able to hold the camera without his back during the entire shoot, so we had an assistant cameraperson standing next to him to hold the battery. On this project we were reacting to the actions of the kids so we had to be careful what they were doing and follow them.

At the same time, I was directing the actors so I was always moving with the camera, holding a small video monitor so I could keep an eye on the footage. It was all set up before shooting started so the kids knew how it was going to work, allowing them to focus on just that, while simultaneously listening to me deliver instructions.

Was there a lot of precedent for what you were drawing and how you were doing it?

During the writing process I noticed Son of Saul by László Nemes which uses a cinematography style closely related to the main character which convinced me that this was an involved and immersive style of storytelling that I wanted to pursue. It worked for this film and my next film, which is set in a hospital, will not be shot in the same way. It was special to this story and the closeness that I needed to create to tell that story.

That level of immersion is perfectly captured in the original title, Un Monde, which may have been lost in the English title, Playground. How did you like the translation?

Not enough to understand my English language subtleties and differences in titles, but it was the choice of the people selling the film to give it the English title Playground. I don’t believe this is the best title for a movie because it reduces the feeling of the world, ‘Un monde’, to something much smaller and more specific.

I liked the idea of ​​children’s experience and their school being ‘unmonde’, that it is the seed of adult society and where the themes and experiences of the larger world take their roots. Of course, it goes both ways – I wanted to show how the wider world affects the school world, and how children’s attitudes and behaviors are influenced by adults inside and outside that environment.

How was the experience of shooting this film for and working with children? Have any of them worked on the sets before?

Maya had never worked on the sets. Günter had a little bit, but the rest didn’t. The first thing I did was teach Maya to swim three months before the shoot, and the most important thing for me is to get to know the actor and build a bond of trust with him before coming on the sets.

I didn’t want to give the script to the kids in advance because I was worried that it might come out of the kids’ mouths like adult dialogue. It was very important that they make it their own and have a creative part in the work they brought to the film.

I had heard about an educational expert who had already worked on another shoot with a four-year-old girl and she explained her method to me. We used to meet every weekend and the kids puppeted their characters so that they could differentiate between themselves and their characters. I would give them the start of a scene and ask them what they would do in that situation, and then my job was to guide them in the direction I wanted the scene to land.

This led to a discussion on the question of violence and what they themselves must have seen or experienced. Then I asked them to improvise, to implement it physically, and sometimes the dialogue they came up with interested me more than what I had originally written and I felt really enriched the script. has done.

The depiction of bullying and violence in the film is very realistic which many films have not shown. Why did you want to include it in the film?

Maya had experienced bullying and Günter had been a witness to it, so it was important not to re-enact her own experiences, but to use that experience to bring sensitivity to her performance. When we were casting we needed to make sure they were kids that were a certain distance from what they experienced because our kids may not still be raw from the trauma of bullying.

In terms of the idea of ​​reality and authenticity, I did a lot of research, talking to parents, teachers, experts, and psychotherapists about what they saw about childhood bullying and what informed the film’s narrative. It is an amalgamation of real stories that were told to me. I wanted it to be universal, so that everyone could connect with it.

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Reference from lwlies.com

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