Locarno Film Festival | 2019
"And as they appear one after the other in the film, it was necessary to show how this dance, like a relay passage, is transmitted between them."

Les Enfants d’Isadora

Dir. Damien Manivel

Concorso Internazionale


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Following the death of her two children, Isadora Duncan created the solo Mother in which a mother cradles her child in a moment of extreme tenderness, then lets it go. A century later, four women encounter this heart-rending dance.

Hi Damien, thanks for talking to TNC, how are you doing?

I am very fine thanks, quite excited about Locarno. I am on my way now as I am speaking to you.

What does it mean to you to be at Locarno Film Festival with Les Enfants d’Isadora?

I am very happy and proud, especially since in 2014, my very first feature film "A Young Poet" was presented here, in the section Filmmakers of the Present, dedicated to the first films. I have a special bond with this festival.

Does being in the Concorse Internationale add any additional pressure on you?

No, not particularly. I'm just happy to be part of a demanding selection, with other directors whose work I love and respect. It's going to be an important moment for me, I want to enjoy it.

Do you ever get nervous sharing your films with festival audiences?

Of course, there is always a nervousness. With my team, we work very hard to make the best film possible so when the first screening happens, it's a moment of emotion.

When did you first discover Isadora Duncan’s Story and the dance she created?

For this new film, we began by doing dance tests with actress Agathe Bonitzer. One day, during an improvisation, Agathe made a very slow gesture, like a farewell, arms outstretched. A choreographer friend, Aurélie Berland, who was helping us, turned to me and said that this gesture reminded her of Isadora Duncan's solo "Mother". She then taught me the tragic death of her two children from where this dance originated and I listened to the beautiful music of Scriabine. It touched me a lot and I immediately understood that I found there a source from which I could build a story both personal and ample.

When did you realise you wanted to make this into a film?

From the beginning because there is something very cinematographic in this dance solo. It looks very simple - it describes the crossing of a mother who carries her child in her arms for the last time - but it is very subtle and tragic. Gestures that have a deep story, I immediately wanted to film them.

Because of the heartbreaking history of this dance did you have any apprehensions about turning this into a film?

On the contrary, it is extremely inspiring. But as you say, the most important thing that we always had in mind was to find the right distance to talk about this tragedy that really happened, without falling into an excess of pathos and on the contrary, to make a film turned towards transmission and life. The film talks about the transformation of this pain of loss. It speaks of the power of art.

Can you tell me a little bit about Les Enfants d’Isadora, what can we expect?

Four women today who meet this dance and take charge of the legacy of the legendary dancer Isadora Duncan. Four very different actresses with each their singularity. A personal way of mixing dance and cinema. And this very beautiful emotion of a mother who dances to say a last goodbye to her children.

What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Les Enfants d’Isadora to the screen? 

It took a lot of time working with each actress to understand fully each of them, to observe the way they dance, move and speak and try to capture this energy. They are so different all four, it was a real challenge. Similarly, at the time of editing, with the editor Dounia Sichov, we took a lot of time to find the balance between each of these four women. And as they appear one after the other in the film, it was necessary to show how this dance, like a relay passage, is transmitted between them.

How important is creative collaboration when making a film like this?

Making a film is paradoxically a very solitary work and at the same time a collective experience. At all levels of creation, from writing to finishing, I worked very closely with my team. I ask them a lot and I take their suggestions very seriously. This collective work has a great influence on the film and I am delighted if everyone wants to do get deeply involved in it.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

I started having a passion for cinema when I was around 20 years old. It was then that I realised that a film is an object that is made, and that it is possible to do it. So I started with friends making short films on the weekends, as soon as possible, buying equipment and starting to learn cinema by making my own mistakes. And then, little by little, I liked it and it became a passion. The passion I have had for a longer time is dance.

What was the first film you worked on?

I started by making some videos of my dancer friends. And some experimental short films that I have never shown. I also was the assistant for the filmmaker André S. Labarthe, especially on his film about the choreographer Carolyn Carlson.

Do you have any advice or tips for any emerging filmmakers?

I advise them not to be afraid to make their own mistakes, that's how little by little we find a personal way of doing things. 

And finally, what do you want your audiences to take away from Les Enfants d’Isadora?

I hope that the emotion of this dance, which is transmitted between these women, can pass in turn in the heart of the spectator. With this film, by reviving this century-old solo on screen, I try to bring a touch to the transmission of the memory of the work of Isadora Duncan.

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