Interview with Filmmaker Marion Anouk Couturier (A LIFE FOR LILY)

A LIFE FOR LILY, 20min,. USA, Drama/Fantasy
Directed by Marion Anouk Couturier
Since her creation, the marionette (Lily) dreams of being a part of the outside world, while she remains trapped in the workshop of her creator, Mr. Hopkins. One day, upon learning that the is going to be sold to the famous theater director Mr. Dolzhikov, she cuts off the strings that have kept her oppressed. Unfortunately, once in society, Lily’s search for freedom is consistently challenged by the objectifying gaze of her onlookers. But with the help of her new friend Coco, Lily’s quest for self-identification finds hope in this tale of female solidarity and independence.

Get to know the filmmaker:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I have always been fascinated by filmmakers that subvert the conventions of traditional storytelling to create space for new voices and ideas, so I wanted to explore the different ways in which I could reimagine a fairytale with a uniquely feminist twist. Inspired by classical fantasies like Pinocchio and Alice and Wonderland as well as modern and more critical ones such as The Elephant Man (David Lynch), The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger), Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda), and Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton), I wanted to take on the challenge of creating a film that is highly aesthetic and stylized, while also commenting on the conditions of young women in patriarchal society through various forms of symbolism. I think allegory can be a very powerful storytelling tool to shed light on the sometimes oppressive elements of our cultures and societies, and the nature of the world we live in. I wanted Lily to be a visually compelling coming of age story that was simple to watch, but at the same time I also wanted to illuminate through a more critical lens, the dichotomy of how young women see versus how they are seen – as we follow Lily in her journey from a captive object to-be-looked-at, to an sovereign agent of her own freedom and identity, learning how to actively look and see for herself.

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

From idea to the finished product, A Life for Lily took almost three years. I came up with the idea in a film class on fantasy and surrealism in February 2020 and soon realized that my initial script was perhaps a little too ambitious for that class project. So I set about making the film from scratch. Evidently, the pandemic delayed much of the pre-production for this project, but this hiatus was a blessing in a way, because it allowed me to really examine the kind of world I wanted this character to inhabit and give special attention to every single detail of the story. From the first draft of the script to the post-production process, Lily went through so many script revisions, cast, crew and production and postproduction changes. There were many trying times when I wondered if the film would ever come to life at all, but I’m grateful for these challenges because it taught me the importance of really fighting to have our stories seen and heard. I gave so much just to have the opportunity to shoot these frames and tell this story, but looking back – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

It’s difficult for me to summarize A Life for Lily in two words because I want the narrative to have plurality of meaning but ultimately, I believe this narrative celebrates both freedom and friendship.

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

The biggest obstacle I faced in completing this film had mainly to do with production. As any emerging filmmaker knows, it is extremely difficult to create any kind of film on a low budget, especially a fantasy which relies so much on the aesthetics of world-building within the narrative. When you’re creating a fairytale, or any type of story that depends on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, you can’t have someone wearing modern day clothes walking around in the background of the shot for example, because it instantly jolts the spectator out of the magic spell of cinema. For this reason, some of the logistics of shooting (locations, budget, permits) became complex simply for the kind of story we were trying to tell. Having a limited budget also forces you to be creative in more ways than one. Many of the costumes in the film were hand sewn, set, camera and lighting material were loaned to us, and the first two scenes were shot in a real antique store in Madrid, which facilitated a lot of work for the art directors. For this reason, I am so grateful that there is a community of people out there truly willing to offer what they can and help new filmmakers bring their ideas to life through a shared love of art and story-telling.

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

I was so honored and humbled to watch the audience feedback video. My initial reaction was sheer delight. It was truly heartwarming to hear the audience not only talk about the elements that they enjoyed about the film, but also that they truly understood my intentions behind the narrative. I was so excited when one of the audience members for example, summarized how A Life for Lily was a parable for the modern-day journey of young women in search of their own autonomy through the guise of a coming of age story. It’s a great feeling when spectators really grasp the message you were trying to put out in the world, and it was truly special to see their support and appreciation for this film about female independence and solidarity.

I was also relieved to hear spectators say they enjoyed rhythm and pacing of the narrative, because that was one of my main areas of concern as a first-time filmmaker (I didn’t want the film to feel too long or too short). It was also nice to hear their impressions of the script, shots, magical realism at work, the elements of world-building at play and their sympathy for this marionette in search of her own humanity. Watching the feedback video was truly a special feeling that I will never forget.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I have always had an obsession with moving images ever since I was a young girl. But it wasn’t until I started studying film and cultural studies at McGill university that sparked my interest in the world of filmmaking. I spent many years of my academic career analyzing certain film movements, cultural trends, directors, and genres and I loved it so much that I often dreamt about creating small films of my own but I simply didn’t know how to go about it. Somewhat on a whim, I enrolled in a film school while living in Spain and my journey in filmmaking began. It was difficult to learn the techniques of filmmaking (and directing especially), in a foreign language, but the challenge of writing a script, directing actors and producing a film in Spanish allowed me to truly appreciate the communicative and collaborative nature of film that often sets it apart form more individual forms of art such as painting or writing. I think the most rewarding part of filmmaking is when you finally get to see all these disparate elements (editing, music, sound mixing, acting, costumes, etc) finally come together and create a unique meaning. When I was younger, I used to want to be a collage artist and in a way, I think filmmaking is just that!

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

The film that I have seen most of in my life is probably Imitation of Life by Douglas Sirk. I studied this movie in college and I think what I find most fascinating about it is the way in which Sirk is able to tell such a devastating story with such style and grace. On the surface the film is so glossy and aesthetically pleasing to watch but deeper messages of the narrative are quite heart-wrenching. I really appreciate this kind of juxtaposition between the overall “look” of a film and its underlying content. I think my fascination with this kind of contrast really inspired me with Lily. I wanted to create a film that was stylistically innovative, but also carrying the weight of a deeper and perhaps at times more sinister message.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

So far, my experience with FFF has been the highlight of this festival journey. I think the feedback element is so helpful in allowing emerging filmmakers to really test the waters and see how their film is received by the audience. I think FFF goes above and beyond in helping female producers, writers and directors further their career, and it would be nice to see other festivals offer similar opportunities for female creators to talk about the goals and incentives behind their projects as well as learn what platforms and resources are available to them to get their voices heard and their films screened. I love the productivity behind FFF – specifically all the creative and admirable ways in which it really encourages these films and projects to be seen.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

As an emerging filmmaker, it can be very daunting to navigate the world of film distribution and festival submissions. I am grateful that there exists a platform that facilitates not only searching for festivals that are suitable for the film, but also the seamless process of uploading and submitting materials. I also appreciate that Film Freeway features festivals from all over the world, allowing filmmakers to expand their horizons and realize all the opportunities their are at their disposal to get their films seen at local, national and global level. Its also very helpful to have one, easy place to go to submit our work especially for those of us who maybe don’t have so much familiarity about the logistical aspects of project distribution and promotion, or perhaps don’t have the budget to acquire promotional materials or have people in charge of distribution for us. Film Freeway allows you to do all of that at your own pace and makes the submission process feel less daunting and more accessible.


By matthewtoffolo

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

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