Interview released by c7nema.net
The second film that was announced in the fiction Silver Castle Competition was North-American director Alvin Case´s debut feature “The Whirlpool”.After successful presences at Rotterdam Film Festival and the Boston independent Film Festival, this intimate and profound piece could easily raise a few eyebrows in its passage through FEST.
“The Whirlpool” tells the story of Agathe, a girl who struggles with the fact of being adopted and the survival techniques she has devised in a guilt-laden, sexual relationship with her therapist. When he sends her off on a holiday alone to Niagara Falls, she meets a charismatic loner named Victor who is haunted by a recent tragedy.
c7nema.net interviewed Alvin a couple of weeks before the film’s portuguese premiere at FEST 2012.
c7: THE WHIRLPOOL is like a relational kaleidoscope. How did you come up with the idea of doing such an experimental, visual yet emotive, romantic story?
AC: I have always been interested in cinema as an art form, particularly what distinguishes it from other narrative forms: literature, theater, and painting. I had been experimenting with film and video for a few years before THE WHIRLPOOL began to take shape in the fall of 2010.
I preferred an intuitive structure for story-telling, as in building the narrative from shots that may have been taken solely because I was drawn to the shape, form, and movement in a setting. Or built on a phrase or a character, as in FORCE MAJEURE, which was born out of dreaming of that phrase, nothing more.
I was particularly inspired by the potential to use cinema to explore how a person relates to memory, especially the echo of memory and what form that may take visually and sonically in a character.
We walk about day to day and so many memories are triggered by the smallest event. It could be a sound or a smell, or time of day. Our minds will wander off for a few moments to the face or body of someone we loved or had an intensity with.
And my curiosity about this lead to the natural question of ‘How much of ourselves, (what we consider ourselves) is nothing more than echoes of these past events.
It seemed natural to approach the film as a visual rather than overly spoken narrative, because memory works like a blender, mixing related and unrelated aspects of the past into some form of cloud of memory.
I built the story of these two lovers on visuals, without words. On shots and shapes within shots. That was the was it was written, like writing a screenplay with the camera lens as the guide.
The film was cut in a way that relates to the process of memory function in the mind. The way scenes repeat themselves, out of context, and slightly different each time. And in the end, there is not specific narrative. There is no definitive ‘story’. Instead there is the purity of a remembered past, built on a few specific events, which take on a reality of its own.
c7: These two lost souls, how do you relate to them?
AC: These two characters very much reflect my own experiences. Pierre Perrier’s character ‘Victor’, throughout his dialogue improvisations, was saying things that made me smile or even laugh, because these words were so familiar to me. They were things I had said or could have said in those settings. And ‘Agathe’ was like so many young women that I have known and know to this day.
Filled with a reckless passion for love and romance, yet still being doubtful of their own beauty and intelligence. The thing about romance, seeing it from the perspective of the director or the writer, as that you naturally relate to the two aspects in your own mind, the two halves: the male and the female.
c7: What filmmakers influenced you the most?
AC: There are so many, but I would say without question Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, David Cronenberg, and Orson Welles. What these directors have in common is a personal focus in how they tell a cinematic story, and a willingness to invent new tools and forms to achieve their vision.
c7: You’ve done some shorts but also works in all different kinds of arts. What’s next?
AC: I am hopeful for the possibility of an installation art work related to Niagara Falls. This interests me greatly in that it explores the idea of ‘place’ as a concept rather than simply a geographic numerator. And I continue to work with drawings and collage. Collage especially has a cinematic resonance which outside of its pleasures is an effective tool for the composition of scenes and shots.
c7: How was the casting process for THE WHIRLPOOL?
AC: I was introduced to french actress Agathe Feoux, through a mutual friend in Paris. I had written a screenplay a few months previously which seemed ideal for such an actress and so our mutual friend thought that she might like to work with me on a that film idea or a new one. We didn’t really speak each other’s language fluently but this proved to be more of a blessing than an obstruction as it allowed us to communicate with each other in a visual form, much as I was hoping to do within the film itself, depending on improvisation for the dialogue and using a ‘live’ camera approach which means improvising the movements of the camera as the scene plays out.
Also, as it turned out, Agathe had television and commercial experience, but no feature film work, so we were well suited for each other that way, since we both had no preconceptions.
We also did not meet in person until I came to Paris to begin shooting the opening scenes of the film. All of our communications were via email and Skype.
She was getting help in translating my notes from her friend Pierre Perrier who upon reading the scenario I had envisioned inquired if he could play the role of the male character in the film. Pierre told me he was very interested in a small scale filmmaking with improvisation and at a unique location. That being Niagara Falls.
c7: The Niagara Falls play a big role in your film. Is this a special place for you?
AC: Yes it is, but I honestly cannot explain why. And this is where the tools of art-making are helpful. Art allows you to explore, in tangible forms, the intangible and difficult to explain. So for me Niagara Falls was many things before I visited the first time many years ago. Mostly it was a terminus, an ending point or goal at the end of the highway. This makes sense because the road ends there and beyond it is a river and another country, Canada.
Of course the film with Marilyn Monroe is a big factor. It was one of the first ‘film noir’ movies in color.
There is one more thing that comes to mind and that is the physicality of the place. It has the feel of an inverted cathedral with the sound of rushing water operating like a continuous hum, or chant, always present in the air.
c7: Your film premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival and it has been very well received. Did you expect this kind of reaction?
AC: Not entirely. I did feel strongly that the film reflected my own personal vision of what cinema is or can be. That being an approach that begins with the visual and does not rely on plot, nor acts, or any of the obvious structures of literature and theater.
I was very pleased with the reactions to the film in Rotterdam, both from the public that attended and from the professionals, directors of other festivals, who were kind enough to contact me afterwards.
c7: What do you know of FEST and expect of WHIRLPOOL’s portuguese premiere?
AC: I knew very little of FEST before 2012, but what I had heard was very positive, so when FEST contacted me about submitting the film for consideration I was very pleased and excited. It was a very meaningful gesture and I still remember how I felt when I received the email. FEST is an important festival for any filmmaker in large part because those that are attending at FEST are focused on the art of filmmaking. That makes the audience very invested in new approaches to cinema.
As for the premiere, I am hopeful that as many people as possible attend the screening of THE WHIRLPOOL at FEST.
I think this is a film that many in Portugal who love cinema, can relate to, to the film’s poetry. I think Portugal, which has a great tradition of iconoclastic filmmakers, is possibly a bit less conditioned by the traditional movie making coming out of the big studios that dominate the screens throughout the world. I may be wrong in saying that, but I hope it inspires those that appreciate it and I hope it elevates those that have dreams of making their own personal cinema
You can watch ALVIN CASE’s THE WHIRLPOOL on July 7th at the Casino de Espinho, at the 6pm session of the Silver Castle Award Competition.