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“Viewers need to clearly understand the protagonist’s psychology”

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Iveta Grófová • Director

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- BERLIN 2017: Slovakian director Iveta Grófová talks to Cineuropa about filming with children and adapting a novel into the film Little Harbour

Iveta Grófová  • Director

Slovakian director Iveta Grófová studied animation and documentary production. She made short documentary films before crafting her feature debut, Made in Ash [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Iveta Grófóva
interview: Jiří Konečný
festival scope
film profile
]
, which combines fiction, documentary and animation elements. Her latest feature, Little Harbour [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Iveta Grófová
film profile
]
, world-premiered in the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus section, where it won the Crystal Bear. Cineuropa talked to the director about translating a novel into a film and the choices she made in the process.

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Cineuropa: How does Little Harbour differ from your debut feature, Made in Ash?
Iveta Grófová
: The initial intention was to make a film that would be completely different from Made in Ash. Little Harbour is more elaborate and precise in its form, a fiction feature unlike Made in Ash, which straddled documentary and fiction storytelling, and was made under completely different circumstances. It was a sort of DIY film, with a totally different approach. Little Harbour combines the performances of child actors, non-professional and professional actors, babies and pets. To some extent, the nature of the production was similar to Made in Ash. Every shooting day was full of surprises, and chaos became a common feature of each shooting day with the children and the babies. For that reason, I also found a use for the directing methods I used in my debut while making my sophomore feature, since directing kids is closer to the methods applied while making a documentary.

What was the process of translating the book into a film like?
We had several versions of the script. We worked on it for over a year, and the first drafts were completely different to the one we ultimately shot. The book is much more complex, and I chose just a fragment of it. If I had chosen to shoot more timelines that the book includes, I would have lost the pure emotional experience of the film. There is always an upside and a downside, but I chose the content that I most appreciated from the book. To be honest, I tried to forget a bit about the novel. When I was working on the script along with Marek Leščák, it helped me to distance myself from the book in order to be inspired by memories from the story, something that remained with me and still resonated long after putting the book down. The script is different from the book; the film is an independent work, and I did not feel any need to compare it rigorously with the novel.

Little Harbour is primarily a psychological film, although the social dimension remains visible.
Sure, the social aspect definitely remains in the film, although my main aim was to suppress it as much as possible in favour of focusing on the specific atmosphere and artistic side of the film, which I also sensed as a vital part of the novel. That’s why I opted to take the direction of a low-key social drama. 

In the book, the story is told in retrospect by an adult protagonist, whereas you chose to shoot the film from the perspective of a child. Why did you choose this option?
I wanted to preserve the child’s perspective, but the main thing is that I wanted the protagonist to always be in the frame so that the viewers could connect with her, understand her and experience the story with her. I did not want to shatter this empathy by incorporating other timelines or storylines. In my opinion, the story relies heavily on the protagonist’s inner motivation. There are situations on the edge of believability, and viewers need to clearly understand the protagonist’s psychology to be able to accept those situations; that’s why I chose to invest more in building the credibility of the protagonist’s psychology so that viewers would accept the events that happen in the story.

Despite the child protagonists, the film is not entirely a children’s film.
From the beginning, I never wanted to shoot a film with a precise target audience in mind. I was more concerned about being truthful to the book in this regard – meaning that I wanted to shoot a specific and original story that could speak to children but would not be aimed exclusively at them. I wanted the film to find that kind of audience that enjoys this sort of atmosphere and this type of story. Personally, I was surprised to be picked for Generation Kplus because when we were assessing the audience segments for the television and theatrical release, we chose 12 years and up, so I believe festival audiences are used to reading films differently, and maybe also child viewers watching Little Harbour at the festival had different expectations from the usual fare they may encounter in television programming. 

Are you already planning your next project?
I have one project in store that I am working on with Marek Leščák, which is also a sort of therapy because of Little Harbour. But I do not want to rush into anything, and I will consider whether this story is really something I want to work on. After Made in Ash, I made Little Harbour as a kind of therapy, and now, after such a poetic, visual and emotional story involving children, I would like to shoot a black comedy, something cynical – and all of the stories that keep flashing through my mind are of this nature. I guess I need to try something different. 

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