70th Berlinale | 2020
"The more technical part of the animation work, animating, colouring and compositing were a welcomed relief and seeing the images take their final form was amazing."
There is chaos everywhere: in her head and outside, in the big city. Things are taking on a life of their own. Young Reine is on the search, but she does not know what she is looking for. In delicate drawings and fluid animations, we see the world through her eyes and her perception becomes tangible.
Hey Adrien it's great to talk with you, how have things going?
Hi, thank you, things have been really exciting with the release of my new short film. It took a few years to make and so it feels wonderful to finally show it to the public and connect with other filmmakers in the short film circuit.
Congratulations on Genius Loci being selected for the Berlinale Shorts, what does it mean to you to have this film at the festival?
I lived in Berlin in 2007-2008 and met with many film directors and film students there at the time, so the Berlinale was a big deal for me since then. I couldn’t send my first short film Old Fangs to the Berlinale because it got selected to another festival as the world premiere, and so this time it was my dream to start the international run of my new short film with the Berlinale. I received a phone call from my producer Amaury Ovise last December telling me the film was selected for competition, which was absolutely incredible.
This will also be your International Premiere, does this add any extra pressure on you?
Ah no, not really. It’s all love from now on.
You made Genius Loci between 2016 & 2019 how did this journey come about?
I had a rough theme, a general intention I wanted to explore from 2013, and when my producer first contacted me about making a short film together in France, I decided to send him that film idea. He green-lit it and I started to work on a funding application and a film script together with co-writer Nicolas Pleskof. That was in 2015. We wrote something that was really different from what the film is now but it enabled me to receive fundings and start working full time on my film in my studio space in Paris. I re-wrote the film as I was doing art direction and storyboards in 2016, with the help of comic-book artist Brecht Evens. That re-writing part took about a year, because I wanted the film to drift away from its narrative structure and become progressively experimental, as my main character was experiencing in the film. The visual language of the film needed to be quite intuitive, to reflect the meditative aspect of drawing, so the writing of the final version of my film was a lot of trial-and-error, experiments and visual research, which was lovely to do but a bit stressful at times especially for my producer.
I am really happy with how it turned out though, I am so grateful I was able to have that creative freedom and time. In 2018, the French animation studio Folimage offered to do a co-production to help me finish my film in their offices in Valence, to make all the remaining animation with a team, and also the colouring which was super time-consuming as it is all done on paper with inks and watercolours.
"I was very inspired by the American music composer John Cage, for whom all the activity of sound is considered music - it’s only the act of listening that changes."
How did it feel when you finished Genius Loci?
A bit weird and empty to be honest, the void it left ahead was a bit paralysing at first, but now we are touring the festivals which is so inspiring, I have a new studio space in Paris and I am writing another film I’m excited about, so it’s all good.
What was the experience for you making Genius Loci?
Part of the experience of working on this film was akin to doing a sketchbook; I was trying to develop a new language, trying out new techniques, new, loose composition ideas. That development was incredibly valuable and important at that time in my life but it was quite difficult, most times I felt like I wasn’t sure what I was doing and what I was trying to do. Can’t wait to get back into it though! The more technical part of the animation work, animating, colouring and compositing were a welcomed relief and seeing the images take their final form was amazing.
Can you tell me a little bit about Genius Loci, what was the inspiration behind your animation?
My first inspiration was a friend of mine from the Irish countryside who was drifting from parties to parties, with little to hold on to and a very tender, poetic presence that inspired me to think he was living a spiritual experience through some kind of ascetic life.
I also wanted to write about abandon, in the way that something goes from one state of being to another state, the cultural to the natural, from being functioning to being useless, and the existential change that comes with that transition. I was very inspired by the American music composer John Cage, for whom all the activity of sound is considered music - it’s only the act of listening that changes. The idea that everyday sounds can become music through listening, the magnification of things inner and outer through observation, and the spirituality that comes with meditation is what I wanted to talk about initially. I also wanted to talk about urban chaos and how it feels like being in nature.
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing this film to life?
At some point I started feeling very anxious about the nature of my film. A part of me wanted to re-enforce the narrative side of the film so that the characters’ story feels more relatable and universal. Another part of me wanted to be way more minimalistic and only work with experimental intuitive ideas in order to have a more sensory experience of the world as was the character in my film. In the end I went with the second option but with a long 17 minutes of animation and the massive amount of work it represents, it was difficult to justify my choices and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to finish my film at all. That was a struggle.
When you're working on a project like this are you flexible with your script or do you like to keep to the text?
Well it’s animation so the recording of the voices of the actors is done quite early in the process, in order to match the animation of the characters to the voices of the actor. There isn’t any filming on location (not generally) and actors tend to keep to the text and speak into a mic in a studio. But then, through the drawing of the storyboards and then designing of the scenes, the finished film ends up naturally being a lot different than what was written in the script.
"All these things are much more palpable and tangible to me now compared to when I did my debut film ten years ago."
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I was more interested in comic books as a teenager. I think the passion about animated film really started in animation school, when we were taught how to make the characters feel alive, give them weight, and how to make them speak.
How has your style and approach to your work changed since your debut film?
I feel like I’ve been writing and drawing things in a much more personal way than I used to when I directed my first short film Old Fangs in 2010.
I’m excited to experiment with different ways to make animation films, with what defines filmmaking and how to push it to different places while keeping the experience of a film. Contemporary art, graphic design and dance but also the fight against capitalism, class warfare, and the protection of the environment are themes that are naturally very strong in my influences now. I also love simple things, everyday movements, my friends, our struggles and how we all organise together to try and find comfort and happiness. All these things are much more palpable and tangible to me now compared to when I did my debut film ten years ago.
What has been the best advice you have been given?
It would be to consider not eating animal products about 15 years ago.
What advice would you offer fellow filmmaker?
I would tell myself to get off the internet and keep drawing in a sketchbook as much as possible, take notes, and keep developing projects as much as I can, in order to keep making a living from my own films as much as possible.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Genius Loci?
Jesus I don’t know. It’s just one person’s experience of the city at night. I only wish people will relate with the character and enjoy the way everything is drawn. The music is lovely too.