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VIFF ’11 Interview: “The Fairy” directors Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel

The Fairy - At VIFF '11
by Jason Whyte

“In this fairy tale the fairy is an unfinished prototype walking around in a pink tracksuit. The prince is a frustrated, antisocial night watchman working in a cheap hôtel, his white horse is a blue vespa, the castle tower a psychiatric hospital, and the pageboys illegal immigrants from Africa. As for the enchanted forest … it's an industrial sea port in Normandy, Le Havre. This unique city is graphically and symbolically the perfect setting for our modern fable about those who have, those who have not and those who try to get it. But as in all our films, what means the most to us is the frailty of the characters we create, their awkwardness, their clown like inability to fit into a world too big, too hard, too fast.” Directors Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel on “The Fairy” which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

Could you give me a little look into your background and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

We’ve been touring original physical theatre shows since the eighties. Little by little we started experimenting on video and then on film. Theatre is like a shooting star, it's there and then its gone. That's the beauty of it. But cinema gives us the possibility to create something that leaves a trace. Our cinema is very much influenced by our stage experience. Our style and methods are probably similar to the silent film pioneers who came for the most part from theater as well.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”

Dominique: Garbage Collector
Fiona: Doctor

How did this project come together?

Like all our projects, a lot of sweating, a little fighting, a lot of laughing, perseverance and the understanding that a limited budget can also encourage you to use your imagination.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

Staying concentrated for the duration of the three month shoot, drinking only one glass of wine at dinner and rehearsing on weekends when everyone else is having barbecues with their friends and families. Concerning the photography, the quality of the acting, etc., everything is challenging.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We try to involve our crew as early as possible, rehearsing and location hunting with the cinematographer and camera operator, costume hunting with the costume designer... We give a few hints about the approach to lighting. For example we asked our DP to light the characters as if they were in summer, the background as if it were in winter. We asked them to look at Edward Hopper's painting, the films of Powell and Pressburger, Kaurismaki and Hitchcock. We are meticulous when it comes to the composition of the frame and choose the composition and lens size for each and every shot. We're not keen on closeups, camera movement, and nervous editing. We like the characters to be seen from head to toe whenever possible and we like to see them complete a scene with as few cuts as possible. We use a lot of rear projection like Hitchcock and our DP, lighting crew and set designer spend days, sometimes weeks creating beautiful poetic settings for us to reverentially clown around in.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

We are influenced by the silent film stars but also by live performers who amazed us when we saw them in Paris when we were young students; the Czech Clown Bolek Polivka, the Argentinian clown Carlos Traffic, Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Brook. The influences from the film world are many. Fellini, Powell and Pressburger, Capra, Kaurismaki, Peter Sellers, Monty Python, Woody Allen's early films, Pierre Etaix, Kurosawa's early films, Jacques Tati's early films, Meliès ...

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

Fiona: Dancer… it’s too late now though!
Dominique: Musician

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if
money was no object.

Nobody well known, we prefer clowns and amateurs. Perhaps Pierre Etaix the French clown who is now in his eighties.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Very. But not indispensable if you don't mind the tortoise method of running the race.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

Haven't seen all of them so that would be hard to say. Does the Taj Mahal have a screening room?

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start, and especially for those with films in the festival circuit?

You can lose a lot of time waiting, waiting for financing, waiting for the perfect idea. Start working on something, however small or inexistent your budget or project may be, to get experience. For those with films in the film circuit the hardest part is getting into the festival circuit in the first place. When we self produced our first short film we applied to all the festivals. We left no stone unturned. It takes a lot of time and money (postal costs mostly). But once your film has been selected in a festival you can start contacting the producers and distributors that would be most likely interested (no use hassling those who don't seem interested, it just annoys them!). When we self produced our first feature we were selected in the San Sebastian festival and were then entitled to help from government institutions that financed the promotion and helped us find a distributor. It all happens one step at a time.

How can people keep in touch with the film at this point in the festival circuit?

We have a web site at a little out of date but our bios are complete. There's a web site for our previous film Rumba and on Facebook there's an Abel & Gordon fan club, an Abel & Gordon & Romy fan club and a Rumba the Film fan club.

And finally, what is your all time favorite movie and why?

“City Lights” by Charles Chaplin because it's a masterpiece,

This is one of the official selections in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this year’s fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF ’11 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #viff11 is the official hashtag.

Jason Whyte,

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 10/11/11 19:19:42
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