All the photos in this article were taken by set photographer Lauren Kolyn
Born in the maelstrom is the second short film of director Meryam Joobeur since Gods, Weeds and Revolutions (2012). The story is inspired by author Marie-Claire Blais’s novel, Rebecca, Born in the Maelstrom and stars american actress Sasha Lane who starred in Andrea Arnold’s latest feature, American honey. Born in the Maelstrom addresses the issues of race and inherited trauma, exploring these themes through an abstract narrative structure. The story takes place in a surreal campsite inhabited by a group of black and white women who live in strained peace.
Long before the production started, Meryam and I spent a lot of time on location at Mont Saint-Bruno, a national park outside of Montreal. An abandoned apple field located at the bottom of the mountain turned out to be the perfect location to shoot the film. With its diversified vegetation, mysterious paths, beekeeping area and weathered red barn, the park seemed to be straight out of a fairy tale. Thus, we began adapting scenes of the script to integrate these environments into iconic moments in the script.
It became clear in our minds that the campsite of the women and the natural environment would become a character in itself and as important as the main narrative of the film. Because we had limited time to shoot an ambitious project, director Jacquelyn Mills came on board as B-unit director. She was in charge of capturing all the beauty and the subtlety of the location. Jacquelyn, also the editor of BITM, became an amazing creative collaborator to Meryam and I.
The aesthetic approach of BITM was inspired by photographer Larry Towell’s book, The world from my front porch. Towell photographed intimate and poetic portraits of his family over a span of many years on his farm in Ontario. His style is characterized by his ability to approach portrait photography in the same way as landscape photography, creating rich interplay between man and environment.
This idea of landscape portraiture was mixed with our mantra of “going with the flow” through shooting handheld and intuitively following the action instead of cutting it.
Colours sustain such a symbolic role in the story that it was not even a question whether or not to shoot in color. The dresses, the trees, the tents, the skin, the sky, the flowers, every tone and colours were meticulously thought from the beginning of prep by production designer Valérie-Jeanne Mathieu and the costume designers Philippe Massé and Alexandra Lord.
In order to give more texture to the image and to create a subtle 1950s look, we opted for round front anamorphic Lomo lenses matched with an Arri Alexa mini. The close-ups were achieved with diopter+2 and +3, sometimes with the 50mm, sometimes with the bulky 35mm (a pain in the ass for camera assistant). Everything was shot between T2.4 and T4 in order to keep the beautiful aberration of the lenses. The diopters reduce the ability to follow focus and this constraint became a stylistic approach for many scenes, I would sometimes move back and forth to find the focus on the character’s face. Instead of cutting from one character to the other, the camera slowly moves away from a protagonist, loses focus and then glides towards the face of another protagonist who catches the focus. We were attracted to this approach since it gives the impression of entering in the emotional space of a different character.
Production designer Valérie-Jeanne Mathieu and her colleague Kyle Pelletier had the challenging task of bringing this fantasy world to life with a very small budget. They gathered old accessories from around Quebec and developed a singular aesthetic for each location of the camp site. Combined with the work of the costume department, the result was a rich cinematic smorgasbord.
Although most scenes seem to be lit solely with natural light, artificial daylight, bounces and diffusions were used for almost every shots. I chose to get small sources that are easy to move instead of big sources. It allowed the lighting technicians team to cover almost every angle of the introduction scene in a large barn with a single lighting setup. With 70 extras in the barn and 5 hours to shoot 20 complicated shots, there was no time to mess around and constantly relighting. Jokerbug 800, 400 and flathead 80 were hidden in the roof structure of the barn while a couple of Jokerbug 1600 and HMI 1.8 were coming through the windows. Kino flo and 4x4 bounces were use inside to control the fill light. I tended not to diffuse the key lights too much. I like the harsh rim created by side hard light on faces, mixed with a 3/4 front soft light that falls off rapidly on the opposite side of the face. This mix of lighting tends to create a kinda Carravagism effect with high contrast and makes everything more dramatic.
Born in the Maelstrom is still in post-production, completion is set for spring/summer 2017.
Art & Essai Productions in collaboration with Metafilms