By Paul Risker.
Veteran of the short film Pascal Chind’s latest endeavour Extrême Pinocchio (2014) finds the French filmmaker looking back into the past to Carlo Collodi’s original story by giving it a more “contemporary spin.” The spectatorial experience of a film in one sense could be perceived as being located in the filmmaker’s past – the spectator always in pursuit of the artist, an inevitable state of this relationship whereby artist and audience are separated by creative time zones despite living in the collective present.
For those yet to experience Extrême Pinocchio, which took top awards at the Reel East Film Festival and others around the globe, Chind is already moving forward, by looking to the past and to the future at the conclusion of our interview: “Extrême Pinocchio has impacted my life by allowing me to develop my own aesthetic and narrative universe, which I plan to put to good use in a future feature and TV series projects.” Having watched Extrême Pinocchio it will be intriguing to see how Chind’s encounter with this classic character of children’s fiction will shape his “aesthetic and narrative universe.”
Why a career in filmmaking? Was there that one inspirational moment?
I got into filmmaking when I was a TV reporter for the French TV channel Canal Plus. They insisted I write and direct sketches for one of their programmes. But I didn’t want to do it as I was set on journalism, and so I shot stuff I thought they’d never broadcast. The sketches were revolting, gory, sexist and vulgar, but they showed every single one of them!
Over a hundred sketches later, I realised that fiction suited me perfectly. I’d done them all by myself: the scriptwriting, the storyboarding, the casting, the directing, even the editing…. If I’d not had this experience I’m not sure I would have thrown myself onto the filmmaking career path. I didn’t dream of directing when I was little, though I always loved movies.
What was the genesis of the idea for Extrême Pinocchio?
I love dark comedy and so I’m always looking for gritty stories. Carlo Collodi’s original tale is a gem, with lots of unspoken sub-texts. Read between the lines and the tale is about child exploitation and paedophilia; two of the most hideous things that exist. Making people laugh – despite themselves – about heinous social issues is what black comedy is all about, and so the story seemed to fit. Also my fetish actor and great friend is Christophe Fluder. He’s a little person – just 1.23 meters tall – and Pinocchio seemed an ideal character for him to play. Though in my version, he’s a real human man who gets treated like a child and becomes a puppet.
As a storyteller is there a certain joy or even privilege that comes from being able to explore classic tales and reimagine them through what could be described as an interactive exploration?
Classic tales are timeless. They’ve existed for centuries and so they are anchored in our collective minds. There’s a real joy in breaking down the codes of these tales; playing on the symbolism and deconstructing everything to adapt the storyline to today’s issues.
If there are only a limited number of archetypal stories to be told, then could storytelling be compared to the game ‘Chinese Whispers?’
Storytelling is always Chinese Whispers. Everyone always puts their own spin on everything. Look at religion….
There is a school of thought within storytelling that you should stay away from creative influences, the reason being that they can intrude on the creativity or work of the individual. What are your thoughts on inspiration, influence and the need to either embrace or reject it?
Nobody creates something from nothing. We’re all influenced by something. Creativity is there to be fed. The only way to be original is to take inspiration from what others are doing and express it through your own ideas.
Extrême Pinocchio is a dark comedic tale. Without the dark humour how differently do you think the film would play for an audience, and was the black comedy always an essential ingredient for you?
Without the dark comedy the film just wouldn’t be the same. Black comedy is the ideal tool for portraying society in the most realistic of ways – humans are capable of pathetic and tragic things. What better weapon than black comedy and laughter to face of all that adversity?
The darkness of Extrême Pinocchio taps into the dark roots of the origins of fairy tales. What do you think has allowed the Pinocchio (1883) story to endure, and what made it ripe for a dark interpretation that touched upon drugs, paedophilia and crime?
Stories that best describe human nature are generally universal and timeless. Pinocchio ticks those boxes. As for the drugs, paedophilia and crime, they’re already there in the story. I just brought them to the surface and gave them a more frontal, contemporary spin.
While a visually and verbally rich film, on a narrative level it is a warped fairy tale that fits into the mistaken identity, heist and escape narratives? Whilst writing and directing Extrême Pinocchio were you conscious of these elements or did they just arise unconsciously or coincidentally through the process of constructing and the story?
I wasn’t conscious of them while I was writing. When I’m working, I don’t ever look for metaphors or ways of giving an extra ‘sense’ to what I’m doing. I write what I feel. It’s afterwards that I sometimes see that other elements are present. They appear like magic, but they only appear when I don’t try to create them.
Writers such as Stephen King and Ray Bradbury have spoken about the metaphysical nature of the creative process, whereby the writer serves as a kind of receiver for the ideas that come in the form of voices. If this is true it supports a shift away from the focus on the individual to consider the metaphysical nature of the creative process. How do you reflect back on your various films including Extrême Pinocchio in regards to this line of thought?
I agree that writers receive ideas from an inner voice and this has been the case with all my films. But it wouldn’t be possible without spontaneity. As humans we both feel and intellectualize things. Spontaneity in expression allows you to be more precise on the ‘feeling’ level – lending a mysterious and subconscious element to the narrative mechanism.
Does every film become comparable to a single step of a long journey, and if as Christopher Sharrett says “cinema, at its best, addresses basic questions of daily life,” do you perceive your films to offer us a window through which to view life or do you view them as a counter to such introspective ideas?
My movies are first and foremost a window, but if they can make people reflect on their own lives or on society then all the better. You shouldn’t inject a message into story; the message should radiate through the story itself. When a film is made with generosity and honesty, there are always elements for people to latch onto and reflect upon.
Writer-directors often talk to me about how the two processes inform one another and how as they are writing they are directing. How do you view the way that writing and directing inform one another?
The writer opens the door; the director chooses which path to take.
What is it about the short format that draws your interest, and is writing and directing a feature length film in the future of any interest?
I’ve always made my short films as if they were ‘little’ features, and so yes, feature lengths interest me. Ditto for series. I’m developing both a feature and a series right now actually. Any format that allows you to deepen character and story interest me.
What is the place of the short film in modern day cinema?
Shorts are a way for emerging talents to be picked up and are also often the seeds that grow into features.
With long form television drama in the midst of a golden age, could film be described as a short form medium and if so how does this redefine the concept of the short film?
I think that features and series are two separate things. They are “consumed” in very different ways. A short will always be a short; a feature will always be a feature and a series will always be a series.
Filmmakers have cited the importance of the film festival circuit for short filmmakers in particular. How important is the festival circuit for filmmakers and distributors alike? If the festival circuit ceased to exist, what would be the impact on the landscape of modern cinema?
For me the most important thing about festivals is getting the opportunity to test your work on real audiences, which is why a filmmaker creates movies – so they are seen. Festivals are celebrations of cinema organised by film lovers. I don’t think festivals will cease to be.
Reflecting on Extrême Pinocchio, what moments surprised you and what unique challenges did you encounter? How has this film impacted you both personally and professionally?
I was surprised by the amazing reaction to the film in the USA. Americans really seem to “get” my dark humour. The French seem to take my film at face value and don’t see the subversive side, whereas in the States it’s understood straight away.
The film has impacted my life by allowing me to develop my own aesthetic and narrative universe, which I plan to put to good use in a future feature and TV series projects.
Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Flickering Myth, Starburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.