2017 IFFR Interview: Sophie Goyette (Mes nuits feront écho)

The lights of the International Film Festival Rotterdam turned off last Sunday and Canadian filmmaker Sophie Goyette walked away with the Bright Future Award and 10.000€ as the jury found that her debut feature length, Mes nuits feront écho, “knitted softly together the different sounds and colors of varied landscapes, countries, generations, passions.”

The first thing I noticed about Goyette, when we met in Rotterdam, was her radiant calmness. As we started talking, I soon realized that I had to do with a person who knows where exactly she wants to go. In a world where we are taught to make choices depending on what would provide us with a linear life, Sophie dropped out of biology in order to follow her dream and do movies. And, in a way, that is the dispute in the poetic Mes nuits feront écho: people looking for the right direction to go to.

That is me in the film. Every character is me. For me, there is no right or wrong way to make art and it always comes from an internal feeling, an internal experience. That feeling, that the characters have and then act on, I have actually had a lot of times in my life. It seems brave but I was telling myself that, if I show it, people might think that it is possible to do it, at any age, to try and reconnect with a parent, to travel to the other end of the world, to quit it all and escape. Sometimes, we have to challenge ourselves, we need to change the scenery. The first sentence of the movie is “life is short.” Of course, we hear that so often, but I do have a feeling for that sentence that led me doing that narrative in my film. Characters put aside what blocks them and they just try it, even if it is in a really soft way.

The first thing one may notice with Mes nuits feront écho is how poetic it is. There is a unique point of view from which the viewers are watching, not a story, but feelings unfolding right before their eyes.

I have done five shorts and this is my first feature length film and I am always told that [they are poetic]… I have these images in my head, of those songs and I try to make them truthful. It is strange to name yourself ‘poetic.’ I think that poetry is a bit in every day life. Aside from that, there is a fine line, where you don’t want to be cliché and you feel like you are slacklining. In all of my films, there are deep subjects, such as death, solitude, dramatic subjects. Therefore, I always ask myself: ‘how can the film not be heavy and add lightness to it?’ I think that lightness comes a lot with an editing I already have it in my head as I write it. There is some image, there are some sounds, but how can I play with that? There is some kind of connection between image and sound. Sometimes, it’s those connections that create this poetry and balance. It is not something that we connect regularly in life, but when put together you think ‘oh!’

Subjects like death and solitude can be particularly heavy and dangerous. Yet, her experimentation seems effective, as her film isn’t overly emotional. That is managed by watching the story from a very different perspective than what you are used to. As audience, you are able to keep a distance, which allows you to process the emotions received, in a more rational way.

I get a lot of interpretation about the narrative story and about my way of filming it. Just before I got to Rotterdam, I had a Q&A in Canada and the room was emotional because they had felt really close to the characters. I took the risk to have in several parts in the film a long take, where you see only the back of the characters. Things still happen and this kind of shot will have mainly two interpretations: some will get the distance and others will be there, with the characters. My intention is to always include the viewer, who is, to me, the fourth actor. In example, there is a scene in a restaurant where a man enters and speaks Chinese. The two characters don’t understand him. I wanted the viewer to not feel excluded from the film and be linked to it, hence the subtitles.

I respect everyone’s feeling about the film because I care a lot about the viewer. It may not seem that way at first because I explore something else. It’s not conventional narratively but it’s because I want to give them something else. I did not want to follow the standard way and give everything to my audience. For instance, there’s so much psychological stories where the film is ending and you know who killed everyone. I just wanted to do a film on different levels, on sound level, narrative and on editing and just try to make them feel a sensation. Maybe distance, or something else. I know I reach with my hand for something closer.

 

Even to the untrained eye, it is impossible to miss Goyette‘s balance. She pushes us to an emotional pool, but at the same time holding our hand, letting us know that she is there for us. Such balance is achieved by mastering colors and sound.

I had never been to Mexico or Asia before. It’s 1,5 hour film and I just wanted to focus on that. Grey is good. Some people think that a grey period in your life is blurry. I try to make it upside down. It’s all possible. Aside from that, I went to exotic places. The story starts in Canada, then goes to Mexico city, Mexican jungle, china. I was conscious that I didn’t want the landscape to distract the viewer, I didn’t want it to be more powerful than the characters. The tone of the film was really important that it felt like it was the same film. I didn’t want people to feel like we had 3 different continents, places, countries. For me, my view is on human level. Even if we were in Asia, I wanted us to stay close to the characters and never make the viewers step out of the film. The scene on the boat, for instance, is deliberating in the middle of the film. We have reached a certain point in the film and you think “we may go somewhere else now.” I think it’s a bit blunt, the way I deliver it. We are in cinema, let’s try something. When you use music in film it’s often for emotional purposes. The scene is already acted out and it adds a feeling. I was trying to see how the music works with the narrative, so you get a sense of what is she talking about. I wanted to be with them on the boat, to feel those mountains, to suspend time for a while. I get a lot talk about that scene. People will either really enter the film at that point or get out. You can imagine me being on the boat playing the music, so the actors can act on it. We took that scene only a few times and tied in perfectly.

Dreams play a significant role in the film. Not only the ones we have for our lives, but the ones we have at night as well, when asleep. For Goyette, dreams are much more than that.

I always forget my dreams and do not analyze them. I asked myself how can I use dreams as a narrative? I think it was mostly to see how I created a connection around everyone on earth. I was trying to see how in these times when there are walls being built, there is a lot going on. How could I share a sense of hope? Anyone in the world experiences dreams at night, and that is the land where everything is possible. Someone who passed away, in example, can still be there with you, in the dream. If there are people meeting in life, the last dreams and the last scene will connect to the first one. It was a way for me to see the dreams as a high way. There is the real life and there is the dreams we have. They interconnect. We all have inner worlds where we daydream and we come back to reality. It’s just to see how to explore that and make it a bit more magical. Ultimately, to link us all a bit more. It’s my position, I don’t know if it is true, but I wanted to send that possibility.

Goyette may not remember her night dreams, but she definitely is full on her day dreams. Bravely enough, she is not afraid of experimentation. To her, cinema is a lab where she can explore her possibilities as a filmmaker.

The script was written in 2,5 months. I was writing about Mexico and Asia, but I had never been there. I went out myself scouting in those areas to find my actors and places for months and to learn a bit of the languages. There, I could see that what I had written about was indeed in those places. I had to change some things in the scenery. The translation of the script was the part that touched me. The poetry that you talk about, I wanted to add the same tone to have the same film and that everyone would deliver the text in the proper language but without changing the tone. For that, I really had the chance to be with good interpreters. I think the film is quite accurate to the script. There has been exploration like the scene in the fog. We were in the car, going from one place to another. The fog appeared but we were camera ready. We just included it. When we arrived to our destination, I wrote things that were in my head as a conversation that the actors would have on that experience. They have to deliver big dialogues and monologues and it was really to practice and to be sure that everything was understood. But, I did allow life to come in the film. It was a lot imagining this way and writing this way. When you are really prepared you can allow yourself to just hear around if there is something magical… or in your head… Of course life is more magical. Just to be really observant of things… I couldn’t allow myself that much. The whole film was shot in 17 days, which, for a film shot in 3 countries is really short. It was a lot of preparation, almost 1 year for those 17 days. The whole project took me 2,5 years, from the first trip to post production.

As a creator with a low budget in her hands, what Goyette learnt from the experience is that being well prepared can save you from a lot of trouble.

Preparation is key. I had to produce some of my shorts and I saw how I could work. I really take time to learn and then I do it. If I have something to be filmed outside and it rains- which is the case in all my films- I always have a plan B. Always. You tell yourself that it is an ambitious project so you will take it in chance. After all the months of preparation, those 17 days were split within a year. So I allowed myself respiration, for my team as well. I would go to a country, then take a break, then another country. That kind of organization allows flexibility. The most difficult part was the artistic one. Every culture has its own speed of language, of delivery of it, speaking. In Asia they speak faster so it was really to see how to get everyone on the same level. That was actually one of the biggest things I had to work on. I edited myself and I did some rough editing of what we shot in Canada and I showed it in Mexico, and then the same in Asia, so everybody was on the same boat.

But making films is a fun process. Not only is it creative, but the giving and taking with your audience can be very rewarding.

There are two parts I enjoyed. Here is the international premier. You know, when you are in the marathon and you see people from both sides cheering with bottles of water, for me the connection with the audience is the last part of the film. It is the audits that are like the finish line for my films, not post production. For now, what I feel is the best thing is sharing the film with others and see their reaction and share their questions. It is an internal film so in the end you have some time to process it, it isn’t spontaneous reactions. I have a lot of people coming to me talking about a character but they are really speaking about themselves. For me that is why I make films.

The second thing I enjoyed a lot was editing. It was hard to do it myself because you need a distance and make sure that your instinct is correct. You feel a bit alone in it, but it allows so much liberty. I really need to have all the liberties in the world, but they come with danger because you may get lost. Editing, I think, is really the ultimate writing. Especially in cinema, I think there is something that -of course there is the script and shooting, but editing… I think we can play with it. There is an image in the film that is upside down and reversed but you won’t know it because it seems normal to you. But I thought we should try it this way. Nobody talks to me about it, they talk to me about the scene, but they don’t know I have played with it so it’s like that. I want to do that more often… to see how that poetry can emerge in every level of writing. Some films really stay true to the script, but the editing can be the actor’s best friend too. Editing can save you, can take you elsewhere. I had so little money to make that film and did some sound editing too. I played so much with editing image and sound just to see what kind of sounds can I add to images that weren’t really theirs, to try to make different connections. There are so many films being made, why not try something different?

As her film is so emotional, Goyette was expecting the feedback to be based on feelings as well. To her, that last step, the reception and interpretation by the audience is the most important and rewarding one. That is where she finds the energy to be creative at.

When you do a different kind of storytelling, maybe someone can feel like the filmmaker makes the film for themselves, but I really do it for someone else I don’t know yet. Maybe an audience, maybe someone I will never meet. The film travels far more than you. Each step I was making that film, it was great but it was a lonely road too. I was really asking myself for whom am I doing this? I had the feeling that I did good, that it was for someone in the world and I really try to make it for someone who can see the film and not feel alone for an hour and a half that the film was with them. Why I do cinema- there are some films in my life, and I think for everyone who likes cinema, that I didn’t expect it, but I have so much connection to. Sometimes it isn’t even psychological, it’s just a feeling you have in your guts, in your heart or the film stays with you. When I dedicated my life, literally my days and nights into making the film, it was for those moments for someone else I don’t know. In Canada, I was crossing my fingers that it would happen and it was quite emotional for some viewers. The Q&As have questions, but mostly comments and especially on how a sentence or music had an impact on them and they speak to me about it. They share. You see people who are shy and they just peak themselves up from the audience. In the next year, when the film is traveling, I cannot be next to each person and say that everything is going to be ok. I just try that my film could do that for that 1,5 hour. For some, my film will achieve it.

The ending of Mes réves feront écho can be quite controversial in that sense. To some, it may seem very cathartic and liberating and to others, it may seem like they did not get a closure. But that has been done on purpose. Goyette wants her audience to be active, to think about what they saw and revisit it.

When you direct actors, you have to let them know. I wanted the last frame to be something that the audience could take with themselves. It wasn’t a matter of letting them guessing, because they would have their own interpretation. That shot echoes to some to the beginning and it shows that we can be more linked than we think we are. I had some interesting interpretations from the Q&A but I try to leave it to them. It isn’t about making myself more mysterious. As I said earlier, the auditors are the fourth actor. I know it can be a demanding film, it requires attention. One of the best comments was in Canada by a person who came to see it twice and realized some things. I did put things in it for a second viewing. It is a strange last shot, but you have to really watch the film to get there. I tried to reach for catharsis. That is my intention, but I don’t know what the reaction of the others is going to be. Also, I made it so I know what it is. But when I speak about it I try to not diminish it to things that are only in my head, because I hope that the film is bigger than that. To my team I was always telling them how can we make that bigger than that? It seems that it is simpler, in image, but we did put a lot of effort. There are many layers.

Goyette is anticipating to let her creation travel around the world. Besides, she makes films for others, not only for herself.

It was such a miracle to make this one and wanted to see how can the film travel? Maybe the next feature is around next year, but I am quite realistic about it. One step at a time.

We would like to wish to Sophie Goyette that there will be a lot more steps to come, as she holds a very unique perspective, missing from nowadays cinema. In an era where blockbusters have led us to miss the point of cinematic art, she is carrying the weight of creating films for the others.

 

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