In the new film, "Ginger & Rosa" (opening Friday locally), Elle Fanning and Alice Englert play two young friends growing up in the 1960s, as the Cuban Missile Crisis has pushed society to wits' end. The world ending though, is the least of Ginger's problems.
"Ginger & Rosa" only marks director Sally Potter's seventh feature-film, although her first film, The Gold Diggers," was released nearly 30 years ago. Over that time, Sally Potter has built a very unique and eclectic filmography.
I had the opportunity to speak with Sally Potter about her film, its themes and about directing such a young and talented duo of lead actresses. Here is my exclusive chat with Sally Potter (minor plot spoilers to follow):
Tom Santilli, Detroit Movie Examiner: Hi Sally! Great to talk with you!
Sally Potter, writer, director of "Ginger & Rosa": And you too!
So over the past 30 years, you've only directed and written a handful of films. Why "Ginger & Rosa" and why now?
Well it's my seventh feature. Seven is a good number! What I wanted to do was make a story, tell a story, in a simpler, more emotionally transparent way than some of my other films, about something that I considered very important in my life growing up, the threat of the nuclear bomb. And how something that huge and difficult to deal with relates with the much more intimate crises that people face in their everyday lives.
Now I was not alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis but I thought your film did a great job of kind of showing how people were during that time period. In many ways, this same sort of fear relates to what people deal with in today's world. Do you feel people today are more used to these kind of "end-of-the-world" threats, or do we just cope better, or how do you feel this time period relates to today?
Well, it was a new fear. With my parents it was the fears of World War II and my grandparents the first World War. Me growing up, it was the threat of nuclear war. Myself, I was twelve at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now people are afraid of terrorism and, probably in greater numbers, the effects of climate change. All of these are man-made disasters. I think the equivalent in today's world is that these environmental issues have just gotten completely out of control.
Let's talk about your cast. They were all wonderful, with Annette Bening, Oliver Platt, Timothy Spall, Christina Hendricks, Alesssandro Nivola, to name a few. But the two leads, Alice Englert and especially Elle Fanning, give extraordinary performances. What was it like to work with Elle Fanning and how exactly did you pull that performance?
Elle was fantastic to work with. She was only twelve when I first auditioned her and I was worried that she might be a bit young. Her role (Ginger) is that of a sixteen year old. But we came to shoot a year later, so she was thirteen. Yes, all of thirteen (laughs). But she had been working since she was two. And she was a very serious young artist. But she's got all of the openness and vulnerability of youth. I found that combination very rewarding to work with. We worked very hard in preparation of her character, in getting across the things that she doesn't say but that she feels.
Yeah, I noticed that much of the film sort of takes place on Ginger's face, where we see the world through her eyes, how she is taking it in and how she reacts to things. Was this a stylistic choice that was predetermined or did Elle's performance suggest that she needed to be on camera more and more?
It was in the original vision, because I wanted to make a very intimate movie on widescreen. A big subject, but the core of it is about the people. I wanted to be able to portray what was going on in their heads. It became clear in working with Elle that she could deliver that inner life, very, very strongly.
The father in this film was a very interesting character, a very different thinker compared to society at the time. How much of this film and its characters are autobiographical?
Some of it. There are bits of memory in there, albeit it reinterpreted and revised. Some bits of observation and then above all, there is the imagination that starts to take hold when you're working on a film. There comes a point when you are inventing a character, where it sort of reaches a critical mass, and they start talking to you (laughs). Like in your ear, telling you what they think. They become very real to you as a writer, as real as any other memory. It's interesting because when all the other actors read the script, they all said, "I know that guy." The gap between what this man says and what he does is something that I think many people have either seen, or experienced.
One of the messages in the film seems to be to live life to the fullest, don't have any regrets and live in the now. But one character, Rosa, decides to take this advice and there ends up being some pretty serious consequences for her character and others. What were you trying to say with all of this?
Each of the characters are looking for freedom. But they find that sometimes if you take freedom without responsibilities, you end up in kind of a prison of your own making. What Rosa does is she ends up repeating her own mother's story. She's kind of trapped, actually. Roland is looking for freedom as well, he's a man of big ideas but he's driven by desire. I think that tension between freedom and responsibility and living your life in a way that doesn't harm others...you know, I never thought of it as a message, more like exploring the contradictions in each character and these consequences.
So with Ginger, there is a crisis in the world, but there is also a crisis in her family. Neither of these things are necessarily in her control. Do you feel that part of growing up brings with it the sort of need or desire to gain control? Over your own life or others?
Wow, that's a really interesting question, nobody has ever asked me that before. I suspect you might know something about this?
Well no, it's just that I could relate a lot to Ginger when I was growing up, the worrying about things. I remember the world was going to end in 2000 and I was truly freaked out. But growing up I was always told to only worry about things that I can control.
Oh that's interesting. I think it's one of the great myths, actually, that we have much less power than in reality we can actually have. That feeling of powerlessness or helplessness in the face of things falling apart around you, can lead someone into a very bad place. So I think it's true that one of the problems that children have growing up is that it seems like it's all the adults who have the power. It's a feeling that they have to wait until they grow up in order to take control of their own lives. In fact, I am very impressed when I meet young people who have decided to do something. To take some kind of control or to own their own power at a very young age.
You mentioned earlier that Rosa may have been on the same path as her mother, but what about Ginger? How does Ginger turn out?
Well Ginger has a weapon at her disposal which is that she writes poems. They may not be the most brilliant ones yet, but she's got some way of processing her experiences, transforming them into something else. She's got a way forward. Plus, she talks about in the future how she will have the ability to forgive, so she's not going to be caring hurt and wounds around with her, resentfully, all her life. I think you see that in Elle's face. There is a generosity of spirit in there, isn't there? I tend to pile on quite a lot of hope on Ginger.
So what kind of audience do you hope sees "Ginger & Rosa"?
The widest possible audience, because some older people who lived through this period will identify with it because it's a memory. A memory of the 60s and all of the liberation movements and the struggles. The confusion. It'll open up a whole box of memories. For younger people, the story is about two young people. It's about the universal, eternal issues about growing up, being a teenager, adventure, betrayals, all things like that. Male and female I hope too. So I guess my answer is, I want everyone to go see it!! (Laughs)
Well I hope so too! It was great speaking with you, best of luck and thank you for your time!
Thank you! Very intelligent questions! Thank you very much.
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 3 p.m. EST on MYTV20 in Detroit.
"Ginger & Rosa" hits theaters on Friday, March 22, 2013. Check back then for my full review of the film.