Joan Bentosela’s most recent film showcased a Director who has found his voice, delivering a polished, artistic and hard-hitting examination of mental health and family life. However, according to the French filmmaker, it has been a long and often painful journey to reach this point. The Director of Humide (Wet) and Disparue (Gone) spoke to Indy Film Library about fighting for the right to make art.
What are the pros and cons of independent filmmaking?
I have always made short films with low budget. So I don’t know what it is to have a big budget for a film and how to manage with. In France, you can make a short film with a €80,000 budget (money from the state, regions and TV companies) with total editorial freedom. The border between independent and non-independent film is somewhat unclear. Independent cinema is independent towards ideas and prejudices. It is your point of view which is expressing independence.
For a first-time filmmaker looking to start their inaugural project, what are the key first steps?
You should surround yourself with the right people who share your own idea of cinema. I often take theatre actors because I hope they have a less ‘’televised view of life’’ and acting. Never forget that it is not an ‘industry’, it is not a ‘hobby’; it is, above all, art. This is the idea you should pass on to your cast and crew, and to the audience.
How do you deal with cast and crew as an independent Director? Is there a limit to what you can expect of them, and how do you go about pushing them toward your expectations then?
Totally. You cannot ask the same thing of someone who is there voluntarily. I’m adapting. And sometimes I surrender! Even if it’s painful. I think if the person were paid I would be much more demanding. It is better to surround yourself with very enthusiastic people from the start.
Do your ideas often out-strip your resources (time, money, cast, crew, technology, etc.)? How do you cope with that?
I have often given up on projects that I did not have the budget for. On the one hand, this forces you to make cheap films, but on the other hand it gives you the rage needed to continue! I wrote Disparue (Gone) because I couldn’t make other more expensive short films – a very simple story with few settings and few shooting days.
What support mechanisms have you benefitted from in order to keep making films (e.g. film networks, festivals, etc.)?
I made my first short film in an association of filmmakers and actors, but the result wasn’t good. For my second, Humide (Wet), I received a grant of €10,000 from a French county – along with a screenplay workshop – and it was produced by an association that helps first films (‘’le GREC’’). I had a big crew. It was very comfortable but quite complicated for me to be with so many people and I had very little experience at that time. For my third movie, Disparue (Gone), I was alone with a little crew. It was perfect! Finally, I was in the circumstances which enabled me to make a better film.
Taking criticism on-board can be difficult – how have you handled the reviews for your work over the years?
It’s always very painful, you cannot deny that. Even if the film is not very good, you put all your heart and your spirit into it, it’s a part of yourself, and you love it as a child – so any criticism is a little disappointing. But you must go on. For every bad films and the bad feedback it brings, you will be better. At the same time, criticism is better than being ignored. For Humide, I was not disappointed by the critics, I was disappointed that the film was not seen!
Has your filmmaking changed as a result? If so, how has it changed?
Yes, of course. I choose more purity, simplicity; I look more for the core in a scene or a dialogue and ultimately prioritise an uncluttered style.
What advice would you give other filmmakers when it comes to receiving feedback?
Listen to reviews with modesty. Someone’s opinion is always interesting, even if it is wrong for you. Cinema is a very popular art, and so everybody has their own opinion about it; my cousin, your teacher, someone in Alaska you never met… But a critical and reasoned analysis will teach you unknown things about you and your cinema.
This is also important for new filmmakers, because particularly young directors tend to want to imitate their role models. You have to find your own voice though, and that’s the hardest part. It is acquired only by practicing. Be sure of the type of cinema you want to make, and fight for it!