The Work That Made Me in association withLBB

Behind the Work: The Moments that Made RSF’s Harrowing New Film Hit So Hard

Production Company
London, UK
Birth director Vincent Rodella talks us through the decisions behind the scenes that made his Reporters Without Borders ad such a visceral experience
Directors are supposed to put their all into the films they make. But there’s a difference between making sure that your latest 15-second soap powder spot really pops and making a film like Vincent Rodella’s new work for Reporters Without Borders (RSF). 

Created by BETC Paris and produced through Birth, the film’s job is to demonstrate how journalists all over the world defend minorities, protect the environment and denounce police violence and corruption. It shows four examples of situations only journalists can shed light on: a prisoner held in conditions unworthy of human dignity, exhausted migrants, a young woman forced into an unwanted marriage, and rows of bodies of Covid-19 victims lined up on an ice rink. The victims of these harrowing scenes gradually disappear, leaving an empty shot.

Understandably, this was a project that Vincent worked hard on to make sure it hits as hard as possible. Here, he talks us through a set of photographs depicting the key moments in the film coming together.

This film actually all comes down to a missed train. I was waiting on the platform for the next one and I spotted Dominique Marchand whom I had just worked with on a film for AIGLE. We ended up standing across from each other and I accidentally saw the first drafts. And that’s when I proposed to direct it. When she told me there was basically no budget I told her I’d talk with our producer Tristan Beraud (Birth) who would be able to move mountains to make things happen. We ended up on the phone for an hour playing out the idea. Then we started a long year of writing and rewriting. A huge thanks to Dominique Marchand and Jean-Michel Alirol for their trust.

I’m speaking with Nico Poulsson and we’re discussing my dream boroscope shot – I wanted to take a top shot through the prison’s very low ceiling. He didn’t say anything so I tried to describe it by sound design, by drawing it, but it was all in vain because we obviously didn’t have a boroscope. He looked me squarely in the eye, heaved a huge sigh like a soldier off to the frontline, and promised me “I’ll get you your boroscope”. And he called every equipment rental company imaginable. I’d like to sincerely thank Nico Poulsson and the all the rental companies who lent me my toys. 

I’m talking with Nico about a shot we’d had in mind since the beginning. We’re making a long, lateral shot following the line of a hundred corpses. Just as we’re about to get started, my assistant says we’re going to have to figure out a different way to do it because we’re running out of time. I suggest shooting while running with the camera on my shoulder and Nico, with that lovely Norwegian accent, chimes in: “You know, I was born with ice skates on”. Sure enough, our DOP got the shot. It was funny and also terrifying to watch him slalom across the court.

When I direct actors, I like to take time before we start shooting to exchange with them. We talk about the character and what the actor needs to look for in himself, what he can draw from his own memories. Then I jump into action, screaming throughout the take. Kind of like Jean Pierre Moqui, but with less talent. All jokes aside, I scream for one reason only – I live the scene with the actors. Literally. If the person is crying, I cry, if they yell, I yell, if they laugh… and so on. It's important for me to accompany the actor when he gives life to the character.

Tristan Beraud and I taped an interview on the set at the end of the shoot. Like every time we get together, we laughed so hard that we were never able to record our answers. Tristan, in addition to being an excellent producer, is a dear, long-time friend. We even played street jazz in Paris together back when we were doing our studies.

The day before we shot the migrants’ sequence eight extras dropped out. We called our casting director Luce Nordmann and went to an immigrant-heavy neighbourhood in the centre of Paris and asked if anyone was interested in helping with the project. The next day I had men and women who had experienced what’s shown in the scene standing in front of me. I can’t imagine the horror of giving up everything you have, leaving it all behind in search of a better life, and here on top of that, is me directing them, asking them to recall these terrible memories they’ve buried in their soul. They helped a lot, correcting us on a lot of important details, like when it came to recreating the conditions of crossing the Libyan desert. We had, in front of us, men and women who were reliving hell to show this truth and, hopefully, change the world.

Here on this sand dune, I kept getting annoyed when people came up to me saying, “You’d think we were by the sea.” I got all mad and went to see Yann Aldabe (Mathematic) and gave him puppy dog eyes until he assured me “Yes, yes, promise, I’ll add in your desert”, “Yes, I’ll give you a storm…” Throughout the shoot, Yann was the magician who always took care of our worries. A big thanks to him!  

This picture of me directing these two actors is probably the one that best sums up our subject. These people didn’t want to appear in the credits for fear of retaliation in their countries of origin, which I won’t mention. I owe them many thanks for bringing this sequence to life. And, huge thanks to everyone involved for making this film possible and for giving me everything I needed so this vision could be transcribed on film.

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