The directorial debut from Vladimir de Dontenay, Mobile Homes follows young and strugging mother Ali (Imogen Poots), as she tries to escape her hostile boyfriend Evan (Callum Turner) in order to create a better life for her 8 year old son, Bone.
Lift-Off had the pleasure of talking with Vladimir about getting started in the industry, his personal film influences, and the idea behind Mobile Homes.
Interview by Lauren Macaree
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in the industry and how did you go about making it a reality?
I think it was sort of a long and instinctive process. I feel like in life, generally, you end up doing or becoming things that you might not have thought about. There was never a conscious realisation of ‘Oh I think i’m going to get into filmmaking.’ It was more so that I’ve always watched movies and gone to the cinema since I was very, very young, and my parents also used to show me really old movies. Cinema and film has always been a big part of my social life, so I think that is definitely one thing.
I’m from Paris and lived there until I was seventeen, and then I moved to Italy. Maybe it was because I was away from home or something, I don’t know, but it brought out an inhibition. I bought a Super 8 camera from a shop near my house and started to film things. I had got my first camera when I was 12 so had been taking photos for years. I’ve always been conscious of framing and expressing yourself through the device of a camera, you know.
Long story short, after moving to Italy, I took some film classes, 6pm until 10pm. I would do them on the side of my other studies.
I eventually started filming for VICE, specifically the ‘On the Run’ series, then meeting lots of other people in film, and it just slowly grew from there.
I moved back to France and started working for production companies but I wanted more ground work, so I then started working on film shoots being a PA, whilst also realising I really wanted to go to film school. I applied to NYU, and actually got a scholarship and got in. Whilst there I realised ‘Wow. Right, this is going to be my life.’ (laughs).
Is there a specific film that sparked your interest in the industry?
Definitely. One is like the earliest memory I have of a film in the theatre. My parents would show me old films and I remember going to the theatre for the first time, and seeing ‘The 400 Blows,’ and it was a super, super big thing for me. I don’t know why. It’s super cliche I know (laughs). I think it was just the simplicity of the film and how it told the story.
One I remember more so for learning about the craft and getting into filmmaking itself would be ‘Paris, Texas.’ I was just really blown away. That was a big, big, big one for me. I’ve always been receptive to filmmakers and observers that travel and make films in places they aren’t originally from.
Another movie that I thought was just insane, and one I still consider to be a favourite movie of mine, is ‘Elephant.’ (2013). The camera itself was just able to capture the feeling in a completely different way to anything i’d seen before.
Oh and one more, (laughs), Fitzcarraldo. That movie made me realise the deep connection between the stories you want to tell and the making and creation of them.
You wrote and directed Mobile Homes, which I saw very recently and it was beautiful. Where did the original idea come from?
Basically I was driving upstate New York for a short film, and you know when you see a truck passing you by on the highway and you feel the little bit of air that sort of makes your car move a little bit, I felt that and actually turned to have a look, and I was faced with this woman driving this giant house, a mobile home, and I was just completely struck by the image. I thought it was so poetic. I had always associated a house as something that is grounded, something that gives you roots and stability, a sense of safety, and then, suddenly, this was the total opposite. It was shaking in the wind, free to go anywhere, but also completely vulnerable to the world. It just sort of expressed something different, you know.
I thought I could relate to it, being a young man living in the United States, far away from home, and my family.
The house moving on the highway somehow symbolised the vulnerability that one might feel when he or she needs to do what is right for the people that they love, and also have that inner drive to move and build something somewhere else.
So I made a short film called ‘Mobile Home,’ and it was really just the first 13 minutes, the first act, of what would later be the feature film. After doing a number of festivals I started writing more, picking up from where I had left off, and that’s how we got to a feature.
After the initial mobile home idea, I had really been interested in the idea that a mother could be a mother without necessarily fulfilling the usual expected tasks or requirements of a mother. I thought ‘What if a young mother realises that she cannot provide a safe environment for her child?’. I think there is such a taboo about the actions of mothers, and parents in general, who are in situations such as this one, you know.
The themes in the film, such as struggling financially or trying to make ends meet for your family are very relevant and topic issues, were you worried at all about portraying this image correctly or authentically?
It wasn’t really something that I consciously thought about, whilst writing at least. The idea started from an image I had, and then I started thinking about the people I’ve seen in motels.
When I start writing, it has to be pure fiction. I need to figure out what the characters do and mean to each other, because what I care about is how they move and shift their relationship at an intimate level.
Once I have the initial narrative of the film, then I join it with reality and do my research. There is so much to do. The choice of the location, the choice of the costume, the choice of the line of dialogue, the music that the characters are going to listen to. All of these little things in part reflect reality. So, in one way, it was important for me to bring some level of authenticity to the picture, but, on the other hand, the drama and meaning of the film isn’t about the portrayal of those themes within the real world.
For us it was about telling the story of a family, a family in this sort of survival situation, and how they cope.
I don’t think any of the characters could be defined by their social environment, and that was one of the big things, for me, but I do think there are things in the movie that are universal.
As this was your first feature, was there anything about the process that surprised you in any way?
I think, for me, It’s really the amount that you can control. I feel like the production of the movie is setting up all the elements so that you can control the environment to tell a story. It’s funny because sometimes I feel like the more you try to control, the less is actually controlled. (laughs). Especially shooting Mobile Homes, what with the weather. We also had to stop shooting due to our lead, Imogen Poots, getting injured, and so we had to stop and then do reshoots.
But I also love improvising, and I love having the DP and Production Designer, and really whoever is on set, to sort of like, infuse the process with their own ideas and creativity.
But i’ve realised that a film is way more of a living thing that you try to mold.
If someone wanted to pursue a career as a writer or director, or ever a filmmaker in general, how would you recommend they go about it?
For me, what I’ve always done, or I guess my only rule, has always been to make something that you would want to see. Write something that you would want to read. You need to be the first audience member to whatever it is.
It’s going to sound super cliche but, If you’re really being yourself and not trying to make the movie that somebody else wants to make, or you’re doing an idea that really moves you, whether thats slapstick comedy, or horror, or whatever, If you are true to yourself, others will be able to feel it.
Mobile Homes is available on digital platforms from the 20th August, 2018.