Whistler Film Festival 2018 Filmmaker Interview: Sophie Dupuis, director of FAMILY FIRST

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Sophie Dupuis’ first feature is Canada’s selection for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar category. Family First is a a hard-hitting, crime-tinged drama about a totally dysfunctional family. JP, a 20-something guy, lives with his alcoholic mother and 19 year-old brother whose behavior is best described as psychotic. The family is ruled by JP’s drug-dealing Uncle Dany, who uses the brothers to collect debts. JP tries to avoid violence, his brother enjoys it. JR is torn between loyalty to his mother and brother and his deep-seated wishes to create a better life for himself and his girlfriend. The plot is intense, the script, direction and performances are superb. Family First is the recipient of an AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Feature at the noWhistler Film Festival 2018.

Jennifer Merin: Please tell us what your film is about.

Sophie Dupuis: Family First is a family story. It’s about JP who’s living with his younger brother, Vincent, an explosive, unpredictable, scary and violent young man and his alcoholic, emotional dependent mother, Joe. Along with studying electronics, he’s taking care of his family, always providing them the protection and the support they need and he’s working as a collector with his brother for his uncle who has a drug business. He’s keeping all those heavy responsibilities balanced until his uncle ask him to do a job that is exceeding his limits.

It’s a film about fraternity and the heavy weight of the responsibilities we feel we have towards our family members. It’s about what I call a « prison-family » and about the moment you decide to think about yourself before the others, when you decide to save yourself before the others. But it’s mostly a film about love.

JM: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

SD: The camera is so near the actors that it immerse you in their world. You can really feel the oppression that each character is feeling. Neither the character nor the spectator has the time to catch his breath. My film makes the audience feel a physical experience.

JM: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

SD: I’m an only child. Fraternal relationships have always fascinated me. It’s a kind of love I’m never going to experience. It’s a kind of love that I admire and maybe idealized, I don’t know, I will never know. But what I know it’s that it appears in every screenplay I wrote.

JM: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

SD: I learned that love is so strong and powerful. That our family is our roots, our landmarks. And going against it is really hard. It takes a lot of courage and will to cut ties.

JM: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

SD: I learned that making a film is all about collaboration. Being a director is communicating what you want to feel, see and hear. For that, you need people to create with, people you find talented and in which you can put all your confidence. And you have to listen to them! Those artists have great ideas, they know their medium better than me and they want to make the best film too. Filmmaking is a team art. I believe in creation in collaboration, I’m happy with it and that’s what I want to continue to learn during my career.

JM: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

SD: I had the chance to make this film without encountering any obstacles. I was surrounded by a great team and I got all the the space and time I needed. Everybody was happy on this film set and we got the impression that we were doing a great film. So, my biggest challenge was to continue to doubt even if we were living a lot of moments of grace. Sometimes, there’s this magical feeling on the film set and everything seems perfect on the monitor, but it doesn’t mean you will FEEL the same thing in the editing room when you’ll watch the same images. So I had to be careful and not take the satisfaction we were feeling on the set for granted. The images on the screen, long after the film set, are the only one who hold the truth.

JM: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

SD: Handling the filmmaking process, I will never know. I think everybody is unique and there’s no such thing as a « man’s way » or a « woman way ». People are saying that there’s this special woman sensibility in my film. Maybe. But it’s my male actors (Jean-Simon Leduc and Theodore Pellerin) who understand it and play it so well. Sensitivity is not only a women thing, it’s a human thing.

JM: What are your plans for the future?

SD: Making films! I’m working on my next one, I’m already ready to shoot it. I come from a gold mine city and it inspired me for my next film which is gonna be about a little group of men who’re working in a gold mine. It’s gonna talk about friendship mostly.

JM: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own work?

Snowtown, by Justin Kurzel, changed my perspective of filmmaking. During the screening, everybody in the room was reacting physically and verbally to the film because it was so real and sensitive but so hard and emotionally violent. When I saw people « feeling » the movie that way, I said to myself « that’s what I want people to feel when they watch my films. »

JM: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

SD: FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS and surround yourself with talented, respectful and kind people who believe in you.

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