While at VIS, Yellow Bread had opportunity to interview Ronny Trocker about his new short, “Estate”, that screened in Competition, and the European short film scene.
Can you talk about your background?
Before becoming interested in images, I was mainly working with sound. When I started making films, I was more focused on documentaries. But, while at film school, I started making fiction films too. In 2011, I attended Le Fresnoy in Lille, a kind of post-degree art school and residence, where artists from all over the world and from different disciplines (photographers, digital or plastic artists, etc.) come together. Working together with people coming from different artistic backgrounds had, without doubt, a big influence on my own work as a filmmaker.
Your short film “Estate” was inspired by Juan Medina’s photograph taken in 2006 on the beach of Gran Tarajal. How did it inspire you to make Estate?
I first saw the photo in 2008 and its symbolic force impressed me. So, I immediately wanted to do something with this image, but it took me a couple of years to find a proper way and an interesting form. Actually, the idea to make the film this way came while I was finishing my last short film “Gli immacolati” (“The Immaculates”) where I used a similar technique. Once I had an approximate idea how the film could look like – about two years ago – I called Juan Medina and we had a long and nice talk about his photo, but also about our roll as a photographer or a filmmaker producing images and telling those stories.
Can you talk about the exploitation of the narrative possibilities of the photograph and the double temporality?
Photography is able to tell a story by showing only one single instant. I wanted to keep this characteristic and combine it with the way cinema tells stories, based on duration, multiple images (editing) or different points of view. It was an experiment and I didn’t know the result, but I really like the effect of alienation the film provokes in a part of the audience. I like when they’re not sure whether it’s true or not what they are seeing.
What was the creative process like?
At the beginning, there was a long research period, the same as for a documentary. I decided to transpose the location to the Italian coast (Sicily) because back then, in 2014, there were less arrivals on the Canary Islands and most of the boats came to Italy. So, I went there to speak with the people who assist the people coming by boat (NGOs, the Red Cross, Coast-Guards, press and photographers, etc) and, of course, with the migrants who experienced the risky crossing by boot.
The writing itself consisted first of all in imagining a possible “out of frame” (hors-champ) of Medina’s photo, in order to define the characters and the whole situation. That’s where the fictional process begun, because even if Medina showed me the whole series of photos he had taken on that beach, it is now a recreation of that same moment.
For the shooting, I invited the actors to a photo studio, where I asked them to “play” the situation, or the gesture. They where surrounded by a kind of cage of 60 photo cameras synchronized with each other. It is like a 360° photogrammetric body scan, and, as a result, I got a digital 3D model, which became the “frozen” characters you can see in the film.
Once the photo shoot was done, I went to the real location and we shot the almost empty beach with a film camera. Only the main actor was on the beach with us. I insisted to shoot on 16mm to oppose the “clean” character of digital images and to strengthen the ambiguous nature of the images.
Later, in post-production, we integrated the 3D characters into the edited 16 mm footage.
What else has inspired you to make “Estate” film-wise?
We’re consuming tons of images all day and, most of the time, we don’t even realize what we’re seeing. There are also many images documenting the tragedy of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, but I think we’re not used to take our time to look at the photos anymore. So, what a film can offer is another way of observation; the audience is invited to explore the photo by following the film and its duration.
“Estate” exists also as a video-installation, where I had the opportunity to include the original photo and to directly confront it with the film. I think this is quite an interesting experience for the audience.
“Estate” has also a very strong, highly relevant and timely political statement. Can you elaborate on that?
What’s going on in the Mediterranean Sea is absolutely unacceptable and a big shame for Europe. It is impossible to ignore this humanitarian drama and I felt a big need to speak about it. I had several sleepless nights after the shoot, because some days after we left the Sicilian coast, there were around 1, 200 victims in two major accidents. Those victims were a direct consequence of some fatal changes in the European Border Policy a few months prior to that. Despite several warnings, the Italian naval Operation called “Marenostrum”, which was mainly a rescue operation that was replaced by the Operation “Triton”, conducted by Frontex whose main goal was to protect European Borders, not save lives.
But, I think that, in the end, the film is less about refugees, but more about us and our cynical passivity. And – why not – also a bit of an auto-reference about us producing this images.
You are a very European filmmaker. Can you talk about the short film scene in the countries you work in and/or Europe?
There is a new generation of filmmakers working and living in different countries, feeling at home in different cities. There is very cosmopolitan and fascinating film scene in Europe today, not limited anymore to one’s own country. Transgressing the national borders and enjoying the world’s diversity is maybe a good way to oppose the rising egoism and nationalism in Europe…
What do you have in the pipeline?
I’m just finishing the post-production of my first feature film, and, of course, I’m trying to develop some new projects too.