Interview with Filmmakers Nicolas Polixene & Sylvain Loubet dit Gajol (AMERICAN DREAM)

AMERICAN DREAM was the winner of BEST SHORT FILM at the January 2021 POLITICAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Our motivation was born from an opportunity to make a film in the US.

Nicolas won an award with his first shortfilm “Papé” during the Chelsea Film Festival at New York and received a $5,000 voucher to rent video equipment in the U.S. Sylvain said, “Nicolas, there is only one year left to use your rental voucher. Let’s write and shoot a short film in the U.S. in less than a year” We planned to supplement the $5,000 voucher with all our savings. Very quickly, we all agreed that the theme of the film would be racism, because it’s a subject that has always touched us. In this film, we wanted to talk about misunderstanding between people and the ways in which skin color creates mental conditioning and fear on both sides. Nicolas is Black from the French Caribbean islands and Sylvain is white. We both grew up with values of tolerance and sharing. But today, in the U.S. as in France, racism is very strong. As storytellers, filmmakers and fathers, it’s our duty to talk about it. The best weapon against racism is education: in school, in our houses and in the stories. We know our movie is just a small stone in this big ocean, but with millions of small stones we can built a new house, a new city, a new world. We want to contribute to building a better world. We have to stop fighting and fearing our differences.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

After a few weeks of brainstorming and writing, we had a first version of the script on March 2018. In May 2018, a courageous French woman producer, Florence Jacob, fell in love with the project. She decided to produce it with her production company, Caviar Paris. Shooting was scheduled for November 2018 in the Chicago area, but for budgetary reasons we had to change everything. The shooting date was changed to September and the location was moved to Canada. At the time of this change, we only had three weeks left to find all the sets and the North American cast. It premiered at the Chelsea Film Festival in New York in October 2019. The opportunity to make the film was born in this festival. While it was intense to present it there, the circle was complete.

It’s important to understand that in France, we don’t produce films like in the U.S. Most feature films and short films are financed by public funding from the Ministry of Culture and French TV channels. Normally, it’s a very long process because you have to make a lot of files and go through many commissions. It takes at least two years to shoot a short film and much longer for a feature film. But for this film, we wanted to make the film like real American independent filmmakers with the same energy and passion.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Mental conditioning

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The main obstacle was to shoot in a foreign country with a small budget and without being able to locate the sets well in advance. We only had 4 days to shoot including two nights. The shooting was very short, very intense and hard both physically and mentally. The weather was difficult with rain, very cold temperatures at night ,etc. In spite of these difficulties, we remained focused on the essential: telling the story of our main characters. We worked a lot with our actors.We already knew the two main actors, Jean-Luc Joseph and Vincent Vermignon. They are two very talented and generous actors, great professionals. We involved them from the very beginning of the writing process. They worked ahead of their characters while we wrote the script. The two actors had never met before this project, so Sylvain and I did everything we could to create a real brotherhood between them.

A few days before shooting, in Canada, we rented a cottage near a lake to be in the conditions of the film. We cut ourselves off from the world and we took time to concentrate on the necessary emotions. From 8 a.m. until midnight, we only talked about the film and their characters because we knew that the film’s power depended on the two brothers.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

A lot of happiness and pride. We do this work to give emotions with the public. Our passion is beautiful only if we can share it with others.

Getting good reviews from your audience is also a way to reassure us about our work. As we are French, we were afraid of not being legitimate on such a subject. Our film is set in the USA even though we don’t live in your country.

We both asked ourselves a lot of questions about the best way to approach the themes of the film.” what different point of view can we bring as French people on the topic? “ Even though we’ve visited the U.S. several times and are very interested in your country, we don’t live there. How can we be credible and true? The answer was simple: Tell a story in the U.S. with two French main characters like us.

One of the things that also inspired us is the difference between the U.S. and France – the visions, cultures and even the racism. The two brothers represent these countries. There is no bad guy or good guy, just two totally different ways of looking at the world. We French, like the little brother, are utopians. You Americans are pragmatists like the older brother.

We are really touched that the film is appreciated in the USA. We’re very proud for the whole film team

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

We spent a lot of days brainstorming on several totally different stories. The idea for the film was inspired by an anecdote that Nicolas lived through. During a stay in Los Angeles, Nicolas had asked for advice on peaceful places to stay. The interlocutor answered him, “In L.A., for a Black man, it’s the police that you should be afraid of. If you get arrested in your car, don’t move and say that you are French!

Even in France, police checks can end badly, but there is a different climate in America. In the U.S., things can tip over faster, harder and more dramatically. The gun culture is not the same, the judicial system is completely different, the prison system is more severe etc.In everyday life, for people who are unemployed or with little income, life in France is simpler. However, the United States is a paradoxical country. A country that went from segregation to Obama being president. A country where you observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day – in France, we don’t have a historical Black figure highlighted in this way, yet he exists – and Black actors and directors are recognized worldwide.

Despite the violence and fear that a Black person can feel at certain times on American soil, one has the impression, rightly or wrongly, that opportunities to achieve exist more than elsewhere. So in the film, we were interested in this aspect. The determination of a Black man who comes from abroad, frustrated by not having the opportunities to match his talent in France, yet manages to make his way in the U.S. and live his dream. But the fact that he’s Black makes him very afraid of being crushed by the American legal system. It’s an accident, but he has no confidence. This is the famous mental conditioning. Everyone would like to live the famous AMERCICAN DREAM, but what happens when the harsh reality of America wakes you up unexpectedly? Especially when you’re not white. That’s what happens to our characters. What would you do in their place? Run away to preserve your dreams or stay to save your part of humanity? That’s the question the film asks. But the answer isn’t so simple when you’re two Black men lost in the middle of Illinois.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Nicolas: There’s so much film. As a teenager, there are movies I’ve seen more than 100X (cinema classics or pop culture movies like Back to the Future or Terminator) .But if I had to choose one, it would be “The Killer” by John Woo. Beyond the very stylized style of the staging and the themes that I like a lot in cinema (redemption, guilt, …). This film opened me to another type of cinema. As a child, I only watched American films. After The Killer, I watched a lot of Hong Kong films and it made me want to discover everything that was done in Japan, Korea, etc… This opening towards other types of cinema is very useful for my imagination and my way of writing.
Sylvain: the first and the only trilogy (4.5.6 episodes) of Star Wars. My mom is a geek, and she introduced my brothers and I to Star Wars at a very early age. We immediately fell in love with the story and the universe. But we were also very interested in how the special effects were done.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It is an essential platform. It is simple to use and allows young filmmakers to register easily all over the world.
It is also a way to form an opinion on a festival thanks to all the opinions left by other directors.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Nicolas: “Rock with you” by Michael Jackson
Sylvain: “Stairway To heaven” by Led Zeppelin and the main theme of Princess Mononoke because it’s the song that helps my daughter fall asleep at night.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Yes, we have a lot of projects, both personal and a lot in common.

We almost finish to write the feature of American Dream. Moreover, if producers have seen the short and are interested in the feature film, do not hesitate to contact us. We think we’ve improved the dramaturgy by learning from our mistakes on the short. We have a lot more ambition on the long version and we put new elements to enrich this story. We know this story has enormous potential for a feature. And because of the tragic actuality, we think it’s absolutely necessary.

“American Dream” is not our only project set in the U.S. If all goes well, this year we will make a new short film in the USA. This time it’s a horror movie with a totally new hight concept idea. Big change for us, the film will be totally in English, with American actors and a producer from LA ( ADF PRODUCTIONS leaded by Alana de Freitas). We can’t wait to be on the set and show you all this. In fact, we’re so confident in our idea that we’re already preparing the feature film version.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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