It’s a Swiss film, cast with non-professional actors, most of whom grew up in the care system.
Now La Mif, also known as ‘The Fam’, is set for an international release after winning the Focus competition at the Zurich Film Festival this weekend. Entries to the prize must come from directors who have put together no more than three films in their career.
Set in a fictitious Geneva care home for girls, with dialogue improvised by mainly teenage actresses, the film was made by self-taught director and producer Fred Baillif.
Nearly all of the people with on screen roles come from care and foster homes themselves.
La Mif will now head to the UK, where it will be released by the British Film Institute (BFI). It’s also in contention at this year’s European Film Awards.
'I just wanted to put across the situation of living in care from the inside'
The story centres around a group of young people living in care, where even the person playing the director of the home, Claudia Grob, worked in the sector rather than as an actor before filming.
She had been about to retire from her job when she was asked to appear in the film.
“I just wanted to put across the situation of living in care from the inside, from the people who really experienced it,” Baillif explains.
“That’s why I decided to work with non-professional actors, to make sure I was listening to people who really had lived their situation. The film is fiction: nothing comes from their real life situations; but because they opened their hearts and told me their histories, hopefully they inspired me to write very real fiction.”
But he adds that their personalities are very similar to the ones they show in the film.
“That was my first rule,” he explains. “Never try to act; you’re not professional actors.”
Street casting pays off for 21st century directors
Nevertheless, ‘street casting’ as it’s known, is a technique often used successfully in 21st century filmmaking.
Double Cannes Palme D’Or winner Ken Loach is renowned for collaborating with those who haven’t acted before for his social realism dramas, while Laurent Cantet also won the Palme D’Or for 2008’s ‘The Class’, an improvised docu-drama set in the French education system.
Success stories at festivals of this kind can open doors for those who’d never previously considered an acting career
The winner of the top prize in this year’s competition at the Zurich Film Festival, A Chiara, by Jonas Carpignano, is set in Calabria, Italy, and starred numerous members of the Rotolo family, all making their movie debuts. It secured a cinema release in the USA based upon its critical reception.
Rocks is a British film made by Sarah Gavron, who collaborated with a group of East London schoolgirls, to create and improvise a story around a female character called Rocks. The film won five British Independent Film Awards and a Best Casting BAFTA. The lead actress, Bukky Bakray, also won the EE BAFTA Rising Star award this year at the age of 19 – and is now pursuing acting full time.
Could filming La Mif kickstart the acting careers of former care home children?
Both Anais Uldry and Charlie Areddy, two of the teenagers who star in ‘La Mif’, say they’ll try acting as a career after this experience. Uldry is currently studying fashion, but says she’ll try to meet agents and casting directors once she’s finished her education.
Areddy was one of the few cast members who hadn’t experienced the care system in real life; she is the daughter of the film’s Director of Photography and got a bigger role after she appeared as an extra.
“Fred was impressed with me when I did a scene for him and after it, asked me to shoot some more scenes. He said every character had a back story that was uniquely theirs, and so I used to work on my own story in the car with my Dad,” she explains.
“I was already interested in acting and had done a bit of theatre already when I went on Fred’s set, so I’d love to continue with acting in film and TV, I love the idea of being another person in another world.”
“When Charlie did her first scene, she was absolutely amazing,” Fred says. “I don’t know how she did it, but everyone was in tears during her scene, it was so affecting. So we wanted her to do more.”
Baillif says although he had a script with an overall narrative, all the dialogue was improvised; he’d whisper suggestions to the cast members if necessary during filming. He also didn’t ‘cut’ a scene as quickly as on a typical film set would do, to give the dialogue time to develop.
“It would be really interesting to use the same method of working with a professional cast,” he says.
He acknowledges that professional actors still have a value that those without experience find hard to replicate.
“Emotionally, those who have been trained in acting can be less afraid to do things, to go places. And that was another thing I insisted upon with this film, was that no one had to do anything they were not comfortable with.”
'Fred helped them to express things they’d been carrying inside for a long time'
Anais Uldry says that working with the group raised other issues for the director.
“Fred is really courageous in doing this film,” she says. “The girls would sometimes arrive late onto set, you know, because of our background sometimes we were not always reliable people. Sometimes people just didn’t show up at all.
“I think I arrived late myself on the first day, but when I arrived, Fred just came up to me and gave me a hug and said, ‘thanks for coming.’ It’s been a really marvellous learning experience for me.”
Claudia Grob adds that working with a cast with their background had raised complicated emotions in many of them, that they were still processing.
“Fred helped them to express things they’d been carrying inside for a long time, and sometimes these things are ugly,” she explains.
“Having a good image of yourself and accepting you are doing something amazing is almost impossible for some of them.
“We got very emotional on the set sometimes, and I think it would be great if they can now feel as good about themselves in real life as they did when they were filming the movie.”
‘La Mif/The Fam’ is the winner of the ‘Focus’ Competition at this year’s Zurich Film Festival.