Rosanne Pel’s film Light as Feathers will be screening a couple of times at this year’s TIFF film festival. The first time director has taken on a rather challenging subject in her fist time out. It is a teenage or coming of age film that separates itself from most in this genre of film by delving into a side of violence we don’t often get to see on the big screen. It is handled with care yet remains completely realistic – even in its most difficult of moments.
Orcasound had a chance to interview Rosanne and ask her questions about the film, how she handled the filming of certain scenes and how she hopes the film will add to the “MeToo discussion that is going on presently.
Here is a trailer for the film:
Orcasound: For your three main characters you use the actors’ real names. What is the story behind that?
Rosanne: We had a practical reason. When we started this project I had fictional names for the characters. When we started rehearsing, the actors kept using their real names, because they have known each other for almost their whole lives, and play versions of themselves (although the situations in the film are not their real stories). What we did in order to make a separation between the character and the actors is to talk about the characters as in film Eryk and film Ewa. This created a difference for them in how they would act in the film versus their real lives.
Orcasound: The film took several years to make. What was/were the reason(s) behind that?
Rosanne: It was very important to show crucial events in the life of the boy as he matured to adulthood, which could only happen in real time over years. I think the only possible way to truly understand his behaviour is to show an authentic slice of time in his life. There are complex reasons why his character acts like he does, and I wanted to address his actions over a period of time.
Orcasound: The young actor who plays Eryk is so big. A boy in a man’s body. Was that essential to the character?
Rosanne: I don’t know if it was essential, but I feel it helps to understand the story. When I met Eryk he was 13, and he was already quite big for his age. Yet his body posture revealed something very childlike.
During our long shooting time, these childlike mannerism diminished slowly, which you see gradually in the film. I think this resonates in the story as you see his youth and innocence disappear.
Orcasound: There are so many animals in the film. There is a famous saying about not making films with kids or animals. Were there any problems working with animals?
Rosanne: It’s funny, the cats and the dogs in the film are owned by the actual family in the film, and were around the shooting so much that we decided to include them. We did some improvising with them as well – they are natural talents.
Orcasound: Eryk has no father figure. His mother is always arguing with her boyfriend. Eryk and her have a very co-dependent relationship. Is it inevitable he would have a warped idea of what a romantic relationship is?
Rosanne: I don’t know if its’ inevitable, but in combination with other factors, yes his lack of a father figure is a trigger for his harmful behaviour.
Orcasound: It is a work of fiction, but how did you come up with the story? What is the meaning behind the title of the film?
Rosanne: During my master studies at the Netherlands Film Academy, I did research into abuse and manipulation, and how this is represented in cinema. I think there is a a lack of authentic portrayals of this in film – but it’s a complex subject and the story was influenced by this.
One summer I saw an animal activist film about the plucking of geese. The imagery of geese being plucked, made a deep impression on me, and initially inspired the film’s story. It was an ironic contradiction – the white soft feathers and the use of strength in order to pluck the geese. But the interpretation of the title of the film I will leave up to the audience…
Orcasound: How hard/difficult were the assault scenes to film? For you? For actors?
Rosanne: I felt a very strong responsibility during the scenes to monitor the boundaries of our young actors, and also to make sure nobody was uncomfortable on set. Also because the actors were teenagers, we kept the assault scenes light, and body contact was minimal.
Orcasound: Eryk really should be someone we don’t like and yet he is quite sympathetic. Was this important when you were writing the script?
Rosanne: Without question, the boy in Light as Feathers should be punished and corrected – there is never an excuse for sexual violence. But I believe that people can be very inconsistent in their acts. Someone who does harm can also do good at another moment. This is what is complex but also realistic about the film and themes.
Orcasound: In the era of #MeToo do you feel you’ll be criticized over your choice of making a film with a sexual assault in it? Especially since it involves teenagers?
Rosanne: Of course, there is always that possibility for criticism, but that kind of dialogue can be a constructive thing. But I hope that when people see the film they understand my point of view and what I am trying to deeply discuss. I started this project before we had heard of the #MeToo discussion. I hope this film adds constructively to the discussion. And yes, while the film involves teenagers, we always had a very sensitive approach with our actors and all of our team. Nobody was uncomfortable and everyone was treated with complete respect, of course.
Orcasound: Was it important for you to show Eryk’s remorse? Why did you decide to tell the story from his perspective?
Rosanne: If I had shown just the harmful acts of the boy with no reflection, I think his future would look bleak. I am hopeful – and I do think there is a possibility of introspection and change in his case, and is necessary. To narrate from the perspective of a perpetrator, in an authentic and complex way, shows how sexual violence is unfortunately possibly in daily life.
Orcasound: You said you are interested in “extreme behaviour and in actions of people that are actually harmful. I want to understand them…” What did making this film help you to understand?
Rosanne: I think you can see in the film different life factors which trigger the behaviour of the boy. You see his struggle, and his impotence to deal with and change certain situations. Often the manifestation of violence seems incomprehensible. It scares me. I think Light as Feathers deals with complex and mature themes, but we can best discuss it by showing specific situations. In the end, I hope this examination helps to understand the circumstances that lead people to inflict harm on others.
Orcasound: Do you have another project coming up? What is next for you?
Rosanne: Yes! I’m working on a second feature film with producer Floor Onrust of Family Affair Films. The working title is Padded Lady. It’s inspired by Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen, and atmosphere-wise I describe the project as a combination of Festen and the Italian film La Grade Bouffe – I can’t say much more about it yet….