Interview with Estelle Artus, participant at official section 2017

Estelle Artus will be participating at Imagineindia 2017 Official Section with her film “According to her”.

Here is a short interview extracted from a larger one done by Danielle Winston of Agnes Films, organization supporter of women and feminist filmmakers.

According to her is a female-driven drama about a woman who chooses to leave her successful career as a concert pianist to raise her newborn son instead of hiring a nanny. Various points of view are covered in the film, which gets the audience thinking about who we should trust. Tell us what drew you to this particular subject for your first feature film. What motivated you to tell Veronica’s story?

The context of According to her is loosely autobiographical. I moved from Paris to New York in 2007, leaving behind my friends, family, and a career as a professor of visual arts at Sorbonne University. I made this decision only one year after having been tenured, which made it even harder to make because, in this case, there is no going back to a highly coveted position. I am not an immigrant. I just went from one big city to another, and if you consider my career from the strictly financial point of view, moving to the US was a loss. On the other hand, I was able to exchange my career for my passion, filmmaking, and raising my son.

I had no idea what having a child meant and I could have never imagined that I could go from being a very career-oriented person to being a totally devoted mother. Just imagine a woman with a Ph.D. and grand artistic ambitions who, at a time when she should have been building most of her career, decides that taking care of her child is more important. And it wasn’t even a decision, more like a revelation. It was literally like falling in love.

But during these years of being a full-time mom, I was also observing women with small children around me: how they compromise, how the ones who go back to work feel guilty while the ones giving up their job become socially transparent and dependent of their husbands, how they are always exhausted because they are asked to be three people at once: a mother, a worker and a wife, which is virtually impossible, how the husbands react to that and sometimes couples break because the stress is so hard to bear. And soon it became obvious to me that I had to make a film about it.

You hail from the art world, which is evident in your picturesque directing style. What drew you to making several short films and eventually a feature? Which filmmakers have inspired you in this journey?

For a long time I was a filmmaker without knowing it. When I was a child I had two  obvious talents: drawing and writing. After high school I choose fine arts because I felt it was a more ‘open place’. I had this fear of being put in a little box, catalogued, locked in a profession that was not me. This fear endured until I made According to her. At the Beaux Arts school I learned to paint and sculpt in a very traditional way, then I went to Sorbonne University where I both worked as an artist and studied art history and philosophy. During this time I discovered the booming contemporary art world.

I exhibited my own work as well. I made video installations and several short films that were screened in galleries and museums. Filmmakers should look closely at what happens in contemporary art. It’s impressive what artists such as Doug Aitken, Douglas Gordon or Eija Liisa Ahtila are doing. There is a whole world out there which makes you realize what a ‘film’ can be beyond the theater screening. During these years I also watched a lot of classics and the directors that influenced me most are Bresson, Buñuel, Pasolini, Godard, and Antonioni. The idea of making a feature came after a long stretch of creative hiatus. I think the desire to make a feature grew up very quietly when I was taking care of my child. When I started to write it came very fast and everything fell in place easily. Finally, I could use my writing skills and my talent as an artist in a form that made me feel, for the first time in my life, whole as a person.

What advice could offer to female filmmakers who’ve made shorts and are embarking on getting their first feature produced?

I have only one piece of advice for male and female filmmakers alike: communicate with the filmmakers you admire, even better if they’re dead. For me, the hardest thing in making a first film was loneliness. I knew nobody from the film world when I started, and I wasn’t fresh from any film school, meaning that I didn’t have classmates eager to help. I really had to start from zero, posting crew calls on professional websites and making bets on people I absolutely didn’t know. It was a ‘hit or miss’ exercise but one good crewmember will in turn bring other good people on board. In this case, Steven Latta was a good help.

My biggest disappointment is that I always imagined a cast and crew like a family but it’s not at all what happened. Everybody is busy in New York. Most of my cast was working on other projects simultaneously and a lot of crewmembers, even at key positions, were just rendering a service. Since I was doing both the producer and the director job it was disheartening how lonely it felt. During the whole shooting and editing I had nobody to talk to. So what I did is that I kept talking in my mind with the filmmakers I admire. I would say: listen Robert (Bresson), what would you do for this scene? How would you bring this girl to say her lines right? Michelangelo (Antonioni), come over, what do you think about this point in the plot? Isn’t a bit too obvious? And these guys must be bored because they never failed answering. I’m half joking but what I mean is that in the many hours of despair that await you, always go back to that: the films you love and the directors who made them. If you feel you are part of them, you will make your film.

This is for the mind, for the rest try joining filmmakers groups – and since you asked about women filmmakers I would suggest the Film Fatales and NYWIFT and network as much as you can at events such as the IFP film week or festivals near you. Then go back watching films.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the female gaze. According to her is told entirely from a female perspective. Do you believe this was a film that could only have been told by a woman, if so why?

When I did the cast and crew screening of According to her a lot of people came to me and said: ‘This is a great subject, I never saw it on screen before’, and I thought: ‘How is it possible? How can it be that what awaits at least 80% of American women which translates literally into 40% of the population out there, is not more on screen?’ So if what you call the female gaze is: ‘a narrative that few men would bring to screen simply because they don’t have the same experience’, then yes. But I don’t like this expression: ‘the female gaze’, because it’s something that divides. For me, of course a man could have told the same story. And yes, most likely he would have told it differently, but if it was another woman it would also be different.

The only thing you need to write a story or a role is to love your subject. I have a very strong woman leading role in According to her but it’s not an ideological choice. In fact, it never came to my mind that this was something special. I needed a character to be a mother and it’s just not yet possible for a man. Jokes apart, I feel I could write more about why I will never use the expression ‘female gaze’ about my work but to keep it simple, I believe that when you create, your gender doesn’t count because at this moment you are creating for the whole of humanity. When I film, I am a woman, a man, a street, a dog, and the chair where you are seated; I am all that because I need to feel each part of my film. What interests me is not a male or a female gaze, but an individual point of view on the world, which relates to the whole of humanity.