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Vertigo Conversations

GWENN JOYAUX

(director of TOMORROW ISLAND)


 

How did your multicultural background affect your artistic production?

It affected my life! hahaha! I guess it taught me to be flexible, to adapt myself to new circumstances, to judge less and to attempt to understand more. It made me extremely curious because when you are constantly changing cultures, countries, cities, you need to -you must- learn new things in order to sort of fit in. But you never actually 100% fit in. You are always uprooted and that is ok too. It trained me on surviving the bullies (it isn’t easy at all to face that many moves as a kid) I feel surviving, resilience and the look for something that can be call roots are at the core of the stories I shoot.

 

What were your first experiences as a director?

The first time I directed I was at school, in my second year (in Argentina a Bachelor is five years long). It was amazing, exiting, a happy challenge. I was 18 and it felt like a dream. The shooting last for several weekends to end up with a 10 minutes short film which is so cryptic that today I can’t understand what was I trying to tell, hahaha

My first school lacked of a storytelling basis. It was a Fine Art University and my first productions had a strong experimental nature. With time, practice, work experience inside the industry and some more studies in diverse universities, I’ve managed to get closer to the narrative style I always wanted to achieve.

 

Which are the three directors who have influenced you most?

I can’t tell in which ways these three directors have influenced my work -maybe it’s just I love their films very much -: Martin Scorsese, Christoffer Boe and Lynne Ramsay.

 

Let’s talk about Tomorrow Island: how did the project start? How did you find the budget for it?

Tomorrow island is my Master’s thesis and it’s produced by the University Consortium, Kinoeyes, in the frame of an Erasmus+ mobility programme. The budget comes from the school, plus a kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. The project started after finding this brief news about Diomedes islands in the touristic section of the local (Argentina) newspaper I usually read. What called my attention was the time difference between the islands: 24 hours for 3 kilometers distance between the two. That blew my mind! I commented the article in one of our classes, adding on some more information I’d researched (in 1987 an American open water swimmer crossed from one island to the other to demand for the end of the Cold War) After the class, Ana Falcon (who was taking the same Master but as screenwriter) approached to me because she wanted to develop a story in that setting. So we started working together on it.

 

The audience really enjoyed the performance of Daryna Butryk. How did you choose her as one of the leading characters? 

Daryna and I were couple at that time. We’d met working in a commercial in Buenos Aires and before I traveled to Lisbon to study, we set our minds on shooting something together. A sort of a farewell project. She wrote a story with a friend of her and brought it to me. They both wanted to perform on it together, so we gathered some friends and shot it. That was our first collaboration and we enjoyed it from the beginning to the very end. Once in Scotland, Ana got to develop a first draft for Tomorrow island, and since Daryna would come to visit me, I told the producer I would like to make a screen test with her. We ended up shooting a teaser trailer in one day. Producers loved it, so I could get her involved in the project when we moved to Estonia to shoot it. She’s very talented and was the perfect partner to work with.

 

How did you direct a short movie that was not shot in your mother tongue?

By trusting in my crew and cast. We were over 30 people from 17 different countries. On set, there were 14 different languages spoken. It was the most beautiful and diverse experience I have ever had. Daryna’s mother tongue is russian (she’s Ukrainian) but she is 100% fluent in Spanish. So with her the communication wasn’t a problem at all. My second assistant, Denis Emelin, is Russian. With him I would talk in English and he would translate for me to the russian and estonian actors. Mia Gaydarova is Bulgarian, so with her I would talk in English. The way I found to build the needed trust with and among the actors was by rehearsing A LOT. 

During two weeks we rehearsed every single day for about 8 hours. I would make them play together, rather than going through the lines. For me the lines weren’t the problem, but he cultural differences were. Daryna and I were raised in a very open minded latin culture, so for us the body contact, the hugs, the kisses with people you barely know are normal. We don’t react to the human contact as the way it happens in the Baltics. I noticed this difference while living in Tallinn. Not being able to hug a person to salute her was a nightmare for me during the year and half I lived there. Every time I asked someone if I could salute him by hugging him, I would get rejected with a short and curt “no!” (the only person who said yes and surprised me was the Art Director…she is Estonian but she lived in Mexico where she learned to like the hugs) Besides, for Daryna and I the LGBT+ community with all its rights are part of our culture, but for estonian, russians and bulgarians isn’t that natural. So there were different walls I needed to break in order to make the performance to work out and language wasn’t top on the list to be honest.

 

Where did you shoot the movie?

We shot the short film at Topu, Laanemaa, on the west coast of Estonia. Most of what you get to see in those long shot is the frozen baltic sea.

 

Why did you choose this particular moment and context?

Ana Falcon is Mexican, so she wanted to write a story that somehow could talk about borders and walls. She wanted to address this issue that is affecting her own country so badly. The beginning of the Cold War was the perfect time period to create a story that could speak out this topic. The context was given by the setting: one of the Diomedes islands was bought by Russia to the Government of Alaska at the end of 18th century. Before the Cold War outbreak, there were families living across the two islands. In 1947 those who lived in the Russian Diomede were forced to moved to concentration camps in Siberia. Today, these families, stranded in the American side, are trying to find and reconnect with the survivors in Rusia. Their quest faces obstacles since the border between the islands is still closed.

In a personal view, I believe borders are senseless because they have been created mainly to divide and separate people’s needs and wants. Galeano in one of his short tales tells “the maps of soul and time have no borders”. I think borders, used in ways as in the short film, bring with them only war and conflicts. I would love the audience could reconsider the concept of borders after watching the film and maybe embrace the healthier fact that divisions and exclusions aren’t making us happier or more safe. But not only in terms of geography but mainly in term of thinking, because that’s the core of the story: how much damage our inners divisions can make.

 

Do you think that today a queer love story is able to reach the sensibility of all the audience?

Recently I read that Netflix had to block some followers from its twitter account that were complaining about the platform on having too much gay content. So I think the answer is no, sadly. But, representation matters and little by little, a change can be achieved. I wish I could have watched more queer content while I was growing…it would have helped me tons!

 

Do you think that the fact that this relationship involves two girls has a crucial influence on the plot of the movie?

I think it adds a great deal to the plot. It could have being about a straight couple, but it wouldn't have addressed that many layers of meaning as it does thanks to being a queer story.

 

One last question. Can you recall any interesting anecdote? 

Well, I mentioned we shot it over the frozen baltic sea, so one of the peculiar ways this shooting adopted was that every so often a crew member would shout “ I heard a crack!” and we all would run to different places in order to distribute the weight over the ice. We could say we trained on social distancing for todays times, hehehe.