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Clermont-Ferrand Interviews: Bryony Dunne, director of Gasper
Tuesday 7 March 2017, by
So, can you tell us more about Gasper and how the idea for the film came about?
The film came about when I took a trip back to Ireland, where I grew up, to visit family and friends in the summer of 2015. While I was there I unexpectedly met Gasper, an old friend from Ireland, who was part of a group of friends that I grew up with. One evening, when I was driving Gasper home after a friend’s dinner party, we started discussing the unaffordable housing property for young people wanting to buy in Wicklow (the area where I was born and the film was shot). Surrounded by the insecurities of others, he told me that he felt content and secure with his own living situation. I questioned whether he was referring to his life in Slovenia (where he was from), or in the small caravan in the mountains, where he had been based for the last couple of months. “The caravan,” he replied. The next day I went to see Gasper’s caravan in the daylight: he had created what looked like a film set for himself, with a wooden deck that was like the stage of a theatre. His cooking equipment and washbasin were the same blue as his caravan. I knew I had to make a film about the world Gasper had created for himself.
Rather than making a film where I was a voyeuristically documenting that world, I wanted to make a film in collaboration with the creator of it. Gasper and I drafted monologues and determined shooting locations in tandem, inevitably gaining insight into each other’s minds and beings. We staged numerous re-enactments of his daily routines, in addition to scenes from his own imagination, e.g. over an open fire beside his caravan, he bathed in a vintage famine pot filled with stream water and rose petals. This scene shows Gasper acting (living) out one of his visions for the first time, and is a poet nod to his idyllic, dreamlike isolation. Gasper’s struggle to conform to the structural systems of society — to lead a “normal life” — is hidden in the concept of producing a semi-fictionalized documentary portrait. For instance, a white bed sheet was used on the clothes line to hide the house belonging to Gasper’s neighbor, so to maintain his idyllic isolation.
Shooting a film in the location where I grew up and spent my childhood days has allowed me to indirectly express the complicated nostalgia that I have for it: Sometimes when I return, I ponder if I should leave, not when; and at other times, when I should leave, not if.
Can you tell us a bit more about your artistic/filmic choices? There are some very colorful close-ups of nature (the fish, flowers...) - I’m echoing the voice at the end.... What were you keen to explore?
Space and objects help to build a portrait of a person, and with that an understanding of who they might be in their own eyes and on their own stages. I like the idea that you don’t have to know all the answers, so I went on to create an experience for the audience of what it must feel like to be Gasper, living in self-imposed isolation. Instead of voice overs and dialogue, I used the language of the natural world such as birdsong, trees in the wind, and running water.
But at the end of the film, I decide to invert or distort the parallel world that he’s created: Gasper’s father calls and leaves him a voice message. In doing so, I imagined the audience questioning the true nature of the film and Gasper’s existence. I asked Gasper’s father to watch the film, and then afterwards for him to give his son some feedback on his performance (life). Gasper set up a skype call with him, and I asked if I could join in and record it without his father knowing. That was the closest to the truth that I could capture in Gasper. His father poured immense heart and contemplation into his feed, and Gasper’s isolation seemed to fade away.
Are you interested in focusing on documentaries? Or are you keen to explore other genres?
The documentary genre is an important and ambitious form, but I find it can sometimes curb the imagination of the audience, as well as of the filmmakers and characters involved. I think "truthful" is a complicated word in terms of documentary films, and I am more interested in allowing the characters to exist as they are. And, if you experiment with the form, you might allow them to exist as their idealized or chosen selves too, bringing together their exterior and interior lives. In my forthcoming film Pembe, I weave in and out of investigative interviews and surreal dramatizations that are based on my own interpretations. Gasper, too, has been made in the docufiction tradition: the imagination is to be celebrated, not inhibited. Accordingly, Gasper the man became Gasper the man and amateur actor playing himself.
Any cinematic coups de cœur in the past year you’d like to tell us about?
Fire at Sea, a film made by Gianfranco Rosi. Films that are made about the crises of our time whether it be war, poverty, ecological disaster, and in this case the refugee crisis, can start to seem interchangeable. Documentaries are just as susceptible to formula as action movies or romantic comedies. Rosi’s film is an account of an acute form of human misery and desperation, made in a highly creative and imaginative form, not adhering to any conventional form. Films that have the potential to move us emotionally by instigating our imagination can help us explore difficult topics such as isolation and dislocation.
Any other releases scheduled?
yes lots of exciting film festival screening, best to keep updated on the facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Gasperfilm2016/
Next screening in County Cork, as part of the Fastnet Film Fest - 24-28 May!