Isabella Carbonell • Director of Dogborn
“I never wanted this film to be just a traumatic experience for a select few”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2022: The Stockholm-based director balances light and darkness in her engaging story of despair, hatred and submission
Sister (Swedish rapper Silvana Imam) and Brother (Philip Oros) are just trying to survive – or to find a place to stay for one night. When they are offered a job, it seems that life might finally be getting a bit easier. But only if, when faced with evil, they will opt to look the other way. We talked to director Isabella Carbonell about Dogborn [+see also:
interview: Isabella Carbonell
film profile], which has been screened in the International Film Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival.
Cineuropa: It’s always curious when someone decides to talk about such dark subjects. It usually doesn’t just come out of nowhere, so where did it start for you?
Isabella Carbonell: If it had just come out of nowhere, it would have been a bit disturbing. It’s always hard to utter that sentence: “I am passionate about human trafficking.” But I am, and have been for years. It all started when I was in secondary school. We had some police officers who came to talk to us about it; they got so personal and showed us photos from crime scenes. I don’t know how they were allowed to do that, but thank God they did, as it changed my life. I am intrigued by the mechanisms of it, by how it can be so normalised. I also have to give a massive shout-out to [Lukas Moodysson’s] Lilya 4-Ever [+see also:
That’s a wonderful film, but such a difficult watch.
I recently re-watched it. It changed everything for me: as a filmmaker and as a person. I knew I didn’t want Dogborn to be overly linked to it creatively, however, because Lilya stands on its own two feet.
What is interesting about your film is that you are pretty realistic about this whole “industry”. And about how, as someone says here, people get used to it after a while.
Absolutely. You can see so many connections between this and wartime, when people commit the most horrible acts because it’s just a job. It’s a side to humanity that many of us, including me, are scared to explore. Am I saying that everyone is capable of anything? Not necessarily. But it’s scary to see, when you study what trafficking is, how “normal” those who oversee it can be. This dilemma of “rather them than me; I would rather sell than be sold” is something that most of us never have to consider. But some do. Still, for me, the main issue here is the fact that there is demand. If there weren’t this global, overwhelming demand, this issue wouldn’t even exist.
The scenes with the so-called “Johns” are disturbing, especially the one where the girls come to the party and it’s all fun and games.
It’s so normal that these situations have become humorous for the buyers. They don’t seem to understand there is any human misery behind it. I think it’s also because there are so many myths surrounding people who are subjected to having to sell themselves – the myth that they are doing it for fun, that it’s a “cute” way to make extra money. It enables people to treat it as a joke. Maybe a bit less now, though, after #MeToo.
With a story like this, it’s easy to hope for a better outcome, for a bit of revenge. How did you want to navigate that temptation?
This question has really coloured the last few years of my life. Typically, when you are making a film about trafficking, it tends to be moulded in a certain way, but I never wanted Dogborn to be just a traumatic experience for a select few. I wanted it to “entertain”, if that’s the right word – to stimulate as well as offer insight into this dark world.
It was about giving some satisfaction but not going over the top. This isn’t Taken [+see also:
film profile]. Some of these films even I can’t watch – it feels like rape porn sometimes. I didn’t want it to be the kind of experience you want to forget; I want to open up the conversation, to encourage people who don’t know anything about trafficking to go and see it. When I watch films and shows, the ones that impress me express something real, but you don’t want to drown yourself afterwards. Instead, you go: “Okay, it was hard, it was deep, but I loved it.” I think we are moving in the right direction of blending genres and expressions now.
You have a very interesting protagonist in Sister. Her bond with Brother makes it easier to understand some of her choices.
Brother and Sister came to me years ago. I knew I needed to create a story around them. She became real when I saw Silvana in a YouTube clip in 2015. She won a prize for queer person of the year and freaked out in the middle of her speech. I thought: “Fuck, that’s her.” The charisma, the way she talks, the fierceness in her eyes. At the same time, it was scary – how do I approach a celebrity who is not even an actor? I wanted to create an almost parental relationship between them. Sister is a bit of a mother; she is the one who hustles her way forward, but eventually, Brother has to make his own choices as well. And she has to learn how to fail in her role.
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