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GHENT 2021

Olivier Pairoux • Director of SpaceBoy

“The cinema I loved as a child, I didn’t find it in Belgium”


- We talked to the Belgian filmmaker, who delivers with his feature debut a marked wink to the US family-friendly cinema of the 1980s

Olivier Pairoux  • Director of SpaceBoy
(© Aurore Engelen)

We talked to Belgian filmmaker Olivier Pairoux, who delivers with his feature debut, SpaceBoy [+see also:
film review
interview: Olivier Pairoux
film profile
, which had its Belgian premiere at the Film Festival Ghent and comes out in Belgian cinemas today via Belga Films, a pop and intelligent family film, which dares to take children seriously all the while entertaining them, a marked wink to the American cinema of the 1980s, in the tradition of The Goonies, E.T. or Stand By Me.

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Cineuropa: Is making a live action family film today a daring bet?
Olivier Pairoux:
Initially, I was aiming for a more adult audience. The first versions were much darker, something more like Jacques Doillon’s Ponette, all these small children talking about death (laughs)! But I got carried away by my emotions, and the film became more family-friendly. It wasn’t part of a strategy. It’s true that there was this realisation that the cinema I loved as a child, I didn’t find it in Belgium. I feel like in the 1980s, there was a plethora of films that could be shared as a family, such as The Goonies, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, films that both parents and children could enjoy. Today, I have two sons aged 6 and 10 years old, and I wonder what to watch with them. Of course there are incredible animated films, but what about live action cinema?

Why did you choose to tell this story of a little boy dreaming of space?
I discovered the figure of Joseph Kittinger, this American pilot who holds the world record for parachute jumping, while watching a Boards of Canada video. I’ve always loved science, stars, space, and human exploits. So I asked myself: what if a child decided to imitate Kittinger? I was working a lot during the time of writing, and I sometimes had the feeling of not being present enough for my children. I decided that the film would ask this question, that of the balance between chasing your dreams, and assuming your personal responsibilities. Finding this balance is complicated, but it’s a very important challenge in the life of an adult. 

The film also raises the question of transmission between father and son. The son will try to revive his father’s vocation by proxy.
I do not like children’s films where it feels like children are taken for idiots. I like when they’re given food for thought, when they have to make a little effort to understand. I wanted the children in the film to teach things to their parents. Personally, I don’t know what I bring to my children, they will reveal that in 15 years, in therapy! The only thing I can honestly measure is what they bring to me. I wanted Jim and Emma to move the lines for their parents. Together, they will redefine a certain balance, for themselves, and for their parents. 

The 1980s, which are very present in the film, are a source of nostalgia for those who grew up in them, but also one of the last periods of hope, where faith in science and progress were obvious?
Today, I find that many films are very tragic and serious. But it’s possible to have a sad or dramatic tale, while injecting some humour. That is what a series such as Stranger Things successfully does, injecting humour in a fantasy tale. The 1980s tint of the show also comes from that, not just from the sets and costumes. I think that maybe people were having more fun making cinema at the time. What is certain is that for me, as a Belgian man, there was a before and an after the Dutroux affair [Belgian convicted serial killer, rapist, and child molester], we lost our innocence in the 1990s. When I was little, we’d go camping in the fields, we didn’t have cell phones, our parents didn’t care. We had a lot of freedom. Clearly, something has changed in society. 

In this film, are you re-mixing nostalgia in order to create something modern, to connect this aesthetic to the present day?
I like to go looking for references in lots of places, and having an easy-going approach to directing. I like directors who have fun, who try things, like Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry. I also think that we shouldn’t be afraid to be inspired. I like to draw from many sources of references, even outside of cinema, in advertising, music videos, television. Moreover, "if you have to steal, steal from the best", as the saying goes!

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(Translated from French)

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