In Conversation with Sally Potter, Director of Ginger & Rosa

Monday, November 5, 2012

Earlier in October, legendary director and long-standing WFTV (UK) member, Sally Potter, spoke to WFTV CEO, Kate Kinninmont, and an audience of WFTV and Soho House members at the Aubin Cinema in East London following a private screening of her latest film and London Film Festival hit, Ginger & Rosa.

The film is set in 1962, a transitional time marking the end of the austere and conservative ‘50s but not quite the beginning of the swinging ‘60s. It’s a time, post-World War 2, when women were pushed back into the home and men were feeling lucky to be alive at all and so grasping at life with both hands. The Cold War was in full swing and the looming threat of nuclear Armageddon came to a head with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Potter, who was in her early teens at the time, remembers it well.

Sally Potter (centre) pictured at the event with Selina Robertson of Soho House Group (left) and Kate Kinninmont, CEO of WFTV (UK).

In Ginger & Rosa, Potter conveys Ginger’s personal fears and anxieties of impending womanhood and sexual exploration within the context of the larger Cold War threat, commenting “we are deeply political animals, but we tend to experience things more acutely at a personal level." She began the writing process for the film by penning a short story, as she often does, and then elongated it by adding characters and feelings. Effectively, she then adapted that short story into the screenplay and “started getting ruthless with it.” It was not until very late on that she added the dialogue, when she felt she knew the characters inside out.

Elle Fanning and Alice Englert (a new arrival to the screen and daughter of Australian director Jane Campion) are both outstanding as the best friends since birth, Ginger and Rosa, who struggle to maintain their friendship through teenage turmoil. The cast also boasts experienced a-list actors Annette Benning, Christina Hendricks and Timothy Spall, amongst others. Potter explains that she didn’t have particular actors in mind when writing the film, but it's clear that her reputation as a director means that actors are often forthcoming about wanting to work with her.

"I love working with actors. I understand actors, I respect actors, and most importantly I'm not afraid of actors!" She doesn’t make casting decisions lightly, "I do excruciating amounts of homework with my casting… I can feel it in my gut, but I also look for some objective evidence." She saw two thousand girls for the two lead roles before selecting Fanning and Englert, and it’s been clear from the joint interviews she’s done with them that she has a huge amount of respect and affection for them both.

Elaborating on how she works with her collaborators, both cast and crew, Potter explains that she takes a “different strokes for different folks” approach. She works one-on-one as much as possible with the lead actors and heads of departments, "so I start to understand what makes them tic." She clearly dedicates time to understanding people (she’s read a lot of sports psychology books, she confesses) but expects nothing in return: “my ego doesn't matter, it's all one way… it took me years to realise that (as a director) I needed to override my own feelings completely.”

Anders Refn, a frequent Lars Von Trier collaborator, edited the film. It was the first time Potter had collaborated with Refn and the two argued "to the point of tears and shouting" but approached every day with a fresh start and held no grudges. "It was great working with somebody who was prepared to be hated” adds Potter. It’s clear she really values and learns from the editing process: "it's in the cutting room that you see the dregs, the full range of the rubbish you've made, that's part of the reason why I like to be there."

The film was shot in just 5 weeks, meaning that Potter had to be extremely well prepared in order to allow the spontaneity on set which is visible in the characters’ natural performances and the free-moving camera work of Robbie Ryan. One of her key tasks during the shoot, she says, was "trying to create the feeling for everybody else on set that there's all the time in the world", when really she was right up against the clock.

A lot of reviews have emphasised the autobiographical nature of this film, but Potter is keen to keep it in perspective. Yes, she was on the ‘Ban the Bomb’ marches we witness in the film and grew up in that same area of East London, but neither of the girls is meant to represent her. "I want to resist the idea that it's autobiographical but it's good that you feel it is… fiction can mirror back truths in a very emotional way."

Ginger & Rosa was released in UK cinemas on 19 October 2012. Find out more about the film here.
Find out more about Sally Potter here.

WFTV would like to warmly thank Sally Potter and Soho House Group for making this event possible.

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