Léa Mysius has directed three award-winning short films selected for a number of festivals: “Cadavre exquis,” “Les Oiseaux-tonnerre,” selected for the Cannes Cinéfondation award, and “L’Île jaune,” co-directed with Paul Guilhaume. She has also written with other directors, notably Arnaud Desplechin.
“Ava” will premiere at Cannes’ 2017 Critics’ Week on May 19.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Lm: Ava, 13, is spending the summer on the Atlantic coast when she learns that she will lose her sight sooner than expected. Her mother decides to act as if everything is normal to make the summer their best ever. Ava confronts the problem in her own way — she steals a big black dog that belongs to a young man on the run.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Lm: It all started with the vision of a strange black dog wandering on a crowded beach. He leads us to the heroine and the story begins.
This script is my graduation work in the scriptwriting course of La Fémis. At that time I had strong migraine headaches so I had to stay in the dark all day. I became interested in how you face a more serious disease, retinas pigmentosa. This degenerative illness progressively narrows one’s field of view until there’s only darkness.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Lm: I hope they will feel a kind of happiness but that the memory of the film will stay with them for some time and evolve progressively.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Lm: There was a big challenge with the age of Ava. The character is 13 years old, and she progressively becomes more feminine and adult. Noée Abita was already 18 years old at the time of the shooting so she had to look much younger in the first half of the movie.
We worked a lot before [shooting]. We were going in the streets and cafes and she developed Ava’s voice, gait, and postures. The costume designer worked on that evolution too, from childhood to womanhood.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Lm: The film is a co-production. We have created our own company Trois Brigands Productions with Fanny Yvonnet and very early I met Jean-Louis Livi of F Comme Film, who is a well-known and experienced producer. He had seen my short, “Thunderbirds,” and told me that he’d follow me on the next project if he liked the script. He has brought his great talent at every step of the process.
We then got money from the TV channels Canal+ and Arte, the Aquitaine Region, the Cnc, and Soficas. Fanny and Jean-Louis gave me the chance to shoot a 35mm film in 8 weeks. That’s a rare opportunity!
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at Cannes?
Lm: It is wonderful because the film will be seen, and have more chance to find its audience. I also like the idea of being part of a worldwide panel of directors from my generation.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Lm: The most valuable advice I ever received came from a lecture given by Francis Ford Coppola in Paris: a good actor becomes the character, but the character also becomes the actor, and that’s the beauty and the richness of it.
I often heard that for a young director, working with children and animals is too dangerous. I never followed that advice.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Lm: Make the film you want to make, and refuse to be impressed.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Lm: This year I’ve been impressed by “American Honey,” Andrea Arnold’s last movie. I love her films; she has a great sense of storytelling, actor’s direction, and a true audacity.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
Lm: There is a political will to change things, and that is a good start. La Fémis respects gender parity among the students. The problem is still strong in France — only 20 percent of directors are women. Some institutions are still lagging far behind — there are only three women-directed films in Cannes’ Competition lineup.
Cannes 2017 Women Directors: Meet Léa Mysius — “Ava” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.