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Cannes Film Festival
Short Film Corner 2021

Virgile Ratelle 
LOST DANS L'PARADISE / LOST IN PARADISE
Canada - 18 min

Lost between the trail, the forest and the factory, northern Québec’s youth wander as they ask themselves what the future will bring.

Hi Virgile, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?

Thanks for the invitation. The last year and a half have been very hard to be honest. I think it’s pretty much the same for anybody who’s reading this. Not knowing how or when you’ll be able to create something that you really want to create was the worst feeling. Some of my previous projects were cancelled due to Québec’s strict lockdown… it was some strange time but brighter days are ahead.

 

Has this time offered you any new creative opportunities?

 

Although the last year and a half have been hard, it gave me opportunity to really take the time to go back to my roots as a skateboarder and photographer. It gave me the time to think and explore the questions of youth and what it means to be a teenager with nothing to do but to enjoy your daily life; to go out skateboarding with your friends with little to no adulthood obligation. This introspection guided me to seek out teenagers with “restricted” future in a town called Normadin in northern Québec where locals call their own town “The end of the world”. Those ideas eventually lead to Lost in Paradise.

 

Congratulations on having Lost In Paradise part of this years Short Film Corner, how does it feel to be able to present your documentary short film at Cannes?

It’s a weird feeling to be honest since Lost was created as a career suicide. I wanted to make a film that avoids any narrative or storytelling. I just wanted to show what it means to be a teenager stranded in a worker’s town. That’s it. Film festival are really into story-driven documentary and Lost is everything but that so when I heard the news about Cannes I thought it was a joke. It took me a whole week to realise it was real.

 

Will there be any nerves ahead of the festival?

 

Not at all to be honest. Cannes is a great film festival, one of the few that actually rewards those who take risk and it’s a great honour to be part of the few who are chosen to be featured in the short film corner. But other than that I’m still the same person that I was before and I’ll still be doing the same type of films no matter what.

 

How did Lost In Paradise come?

 

After my introspection about youth and what it felt to live as a teenager again, I really wanted to do something about youth and freedom. I spent a few weeks on the road seeking some worker’s town. I (somehow) ended up in Normandin, a small worker’s town in northern Québec. It’s a remote town that basically grew around a wood transformation factory and the future of the kids who live there is very restricted. Either you end up as a factory worker, a farmer or you leave the place to get to a bigger town with more life opportunity. When I saw the humongous factory that sits in the centre of the town I decided that this was the place. I reached out to Normandin’s high school and told them about what I wanted to do and they let me meet a few pre graduate classes to talk to the teens directly. I handpicked a dozen of them based on a small interview I did with them. I wanted to know what was their daily life was like, what they wanted to do once they graduate, did they want to leave? Those sorts of things. The film was created around their daily life, about how they spend their younger days knowing that they’ll eventually have to make an important decision about their own future. At first I was interested about what they had to say about the town they live in, but I quickly understood that showing them doing what they do after school in their own environment said a lot more about them than what they could say with words.

"On the other hand, the fact that we couldn’t shoot inside any location due to restrictions (except once) really brought the film together."

Did you have any apprehensions about getting people to be part of this documentary?

It’s always a bit tricky to get people to participate to your docs, especially when they’re complete stranger, twice as young as you. They key is to take the time to talk with them and to learn about their life and daily routine. Most of the time I felt that the teenagers who I wanted to shoot the film with were intimidated by me, but I really took the time to chat with them about what they liked, what they wanted to do when they’ll get out of high school and that sorts of stuff. I ended up bonding with them as I realised that, even if I was almost twice as old as them, our teenage years were pretty similar.

 

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

 

I wouldn’t that there was one particular scene that was harder than any other. The fire scene where a bunch of kids try to light a fire with 15 litres of gasoline for like 5 minutes was the most stressful. It was one take, with no possibilities to recreate that moment. If you fuck up, it’s gone forever. Other than that I think the whole process of getting the teenagers to participate to the film in a very strict Covid environment was the hardest. On the other hand, the fact that we couldn’t shoot inside any location due to restrictions (except once) really brought the film together. Most of the film takes place in their own landscape, in their environment during the winter, and mostly at night. It gives you the vibe of the place, the feeling of living there and to be part of community during the cold Québec’s winter night at -25°C. Shooting a film with teens is not an easy task, it was a lot of work, a lot of quick reactions and rescheduling, but in the end it worked out perfectly.

 

What would you say has been the biggest lessons you've taken from making this film?

Listen to your guts. As cliché and ridicule as it sounds, it’s true. The way that you approach a subject with your own personal style, your own background and references is what makes your film yours. Listen to what you really want do and what you want to see on a screen and go for it, with no compromise. Do you and that’s it. The only competition that exists in the filmmaking industry is you against yourself.

 

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

 

From skateboarding and surfing mostly. As a skater I grew up with a DVC camera in my hand so it was kind of a natural transition to go from skate/surf video to cinema/documentary. Skateboarding shaped the way I see a subject or the environment they live in. It’s kind of looking for skate spots in a town you’re not familiar with. Where others see a random bench in the streets, I see a skate-able obstacle with multiple possibilities. Filmmaking is similar to skateboarding in a lot of ways. It brought me curiosity and dedication and these are fundamental filmmaking attribute.

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How much has your style and the approach to your film projects changed since your debut short?

It was a confirmation of what I really wanted to do mostly. As I said before, Lost in Paradise was a big leap of faith for me and in the end, I am grateful I took the risk that I did, otherwise the film wouldn’t be what it is today. I learned a lot from that experience and I want to keep on doing film that are more experiential than narrative. Cinema resides in the feeling that you get when you see an image, when you hear a sound that is familiar to you, that speaks to you. It can be the sound of insects during a warm summer night or the image of a kid smoking a cigarette for the first time. Those kinds of things speak to me in a way that I think a lot of people can relate to and I want to explore that type of cinema again.

 

Is there any advice you wish you had been given before you started out as a filmmaker?

Know yourself. It’s a strange advice, I know, but it’s one of the most important thing that I learned by myself. As a film school student I was eager to film anything as long as it looked or sounded “cool” but I never really felt that I was in control of my films. Fortunately the pandemic forced me to slow down and to think about what I wanted say as a filmmaker, and mostly, how I wanted to say it. It’s the hardest task to achieve in any artistic domain, but it’s the most important thing. Who you are as an individual, with your own background, education or artistic inspirations is what makes something your own. Once you understand yourself the rest is just trial, errors and dedication.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your Lost In Paradise?

It’s a hard question to answer honestly. I hope that people can grasp the idea that our daily routine is filled with little magical moments that define who we are as individual or as a community. It can be anything from a group of kid trying to light a fire with gasoline in the back country to the sound of a girl rehearsing her violin alone in her bedroom at night. I think that when you take the time to appreciate little things in life, life itself become something greater than us.