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Memories of Papé, the short film by Nicolas Polixene

The private diary by French director of Martinique descent

Articles

Memories of Papé

Diary of my short film.

The beginning

My name is Nicolas Polixene and I’m 33 years old. Native of Martinique, I was born and I live in Paris, where I work as writer and director. Cinema has been my passion since childhood, because I always considered it my way to share emotions with others and to get in touch with the world.

We all know it’s not easy to succeed in the world of cinema: it takes a mix of talent, perseverance, courage, patience and a good dose of luck.

We must be able to enter the industry and, at the same time, preserving our sincerity. I needed my time, archived projects and even failures before figuring out the right way to do it.

One day, I saw a scenario contest that held my attention. The theme was “a history of the islands,” and was the Prix Océan.

I put all my strength to prepare for the competition also because I always dreamed of doing a film set in the island where my parents were born: Martinique. An island and a culture to which I have always felt extremely tied, since I had a Creole education although born and raised in France.

This screenplay contest was also opening some very interesting doors from a professional point of view: the winner would receive 30,000 euros from the French television for the production of the short film and a premiere screening during the Directors’ Fortnight section of Cannes Film Festival.

At that time, I began to reflect on the script of Papé. In telling a story of Martinique’s island, many personal aspects related to my origins have emerged. One of these interested me particularly – the language. Having grown up in Paris, I never spoke fluent Creole even if I was understanding it. Even my wife, though she is from Martinique as well, she has never spoken the language. Our child could get in touch with the language of his native country only thanks to his grandparents.

Reflecting on what we leave behind us has been one of the key points in the writing of the script.

The passage and the transmission of culture and knowledge as opposed to the shock that exists between the old and the new generation on the island were the main topics of Papé. To illustrate this, it seemed natural to me to tell the story of a fisherman. As a fisherman, someone holds the tradition and the traditional knowledge of a place.

The script of Papé was liked and it won the contest. Thanks to this prestigious award the production of Papé immediately begun, with the aim of making a film entirely in Creole language, but at the same time as universal as possible to be understandable even for those unfamiliar with the realities of the Caribbean islands.

The preparation

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While my producer was in charge of the organization of funds, I was preparing in my directorial choices. I wanted a simple and honest film as the story of its protagonist: beautiful images that tell the loneliness and the regrets of an old seaman.

For practical reasons we had to shoot the film in Guadalupe instead of in Martinique, which perhaps allowed me to have a more objective look.

Having never worked before in the Caribbean islands, my producer sent the draft of Papé to local producers to have their feedbacks, but we never received any response, although, as you will see, our message was not unheeded.

In December 2014, with my producer and my assistant we started inspection in Guadalupe.

We were looking for some fishermen’s old houses to set there part of the short, but we soon realized that those houses were very rare in the island: they had all been turned into restaurants for tourists.

Finally, we got to an old house near the sea. The owner, an old fisherman, told us that the house had been destroyed by the Hugo tornado in 1989 and since that time he had to move to another house. However, he never wanted to get separated from this house despite the strong pressure of the municipality which would like to buy the house and make it a tourist facility.

The history of this house and the strong relationship of the fisherman with this place touched me deeply and I decided to set the movie in that place after making some restoration.

Although we proposed to the fisherman to stay in a hotel during the days of filming, he refused, saying that he would not want to leave his house now, that thanks to me, it became  magnificent. This was a particularly good moment for me and made me really happy as I realized that my movie was able to bring a bit of serenity to another person.

At the same time, the casting for the actors were also started: I wanted all of them to be non-professional actors and we managed to find them quite quickly. All except one: the protagonist. I wanted a true fisherman and it was not easy to find the person with the right intensity for this role.

They were missing few days to our departure and we had not yet found the protagonist.

Shortly before losing hope, I decided to make a last round with my assistant and was at that time that I saw under a tree an old fisherman.

I understood that it would be him the right protagonist. I approached and I told him what we were doing. He looked at me, smiled and said to me: “I know who you are, you are the ones from the French production who are looking for an old fisherman. It is 8 months that I do grow my beard and that I wait for you… You could have get here a bit before!”

Yes, our mails to local producers, even though they had received no response, had created a buzz among the people of the island, till him. For some lucky fate we met under a tree in my last moments of inspection on the island.

The filming

January 2015, and the filming began. They were six days of pure happiness, for which I really thank all the people who took part in this project. Especially the fact that the actors were not professionals created during the filming a strong enthusiasm and motivation. There was a synergy that allowed to built the story around the fisherman’s personality.

The première at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

Here we come to May 2015. The moment I imagined since I started to write Papé, finally arrived.

There I was, on stage, microphone in my hands to present my short film at the Cannes Film Festival. On the cinema’s screen appeared the Directors’ Fortnight logo, with the names of the great masters of cinema who took part to this contest. The lights went down and my film began. I remember that my heart was beating at 200 km/h. After many years of difficulties, doubts, questioning, my film was projected on the screen of Cannes and I had the feeling, finally, to be truly a director.

This projection was undoubtedly the most emotional and intense of my life… When I think about it, I still shudder today.

One year later

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We are now more than a year away from that day, and my short film circulated in more than 30 international festivals and won several awards.

I would have never imagined something like this when I was writing the story. I am always full of happiness when the audience leaves happy after the screening of my short and thanks me for telling the story of this island, so little represented in the cinema.

WHOLA

WHOLA

WHOLA è un gruppo di ragazze nate negli anni ’90. Abbiamo storie un po’ diverse, ma a tutte noi piacciono le storie, soprattutto quelle raccontate bene. 

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