Melissa Ramos: Your recent dance film The Last Children is such a beautiful piece that speaks about a reform that has taken place in 359 rural French schools, from which closures of schools have taken place resulting in the desertification to many rural villages in France. It also speaks to the metaphors of a fable, can you talk more about the metaphors and what was the fable you connected the story to?
Fu Le: The closure of the primary schools is the result of a political decision to mainly save money on the educational system. It comes in response to the desertification of rural areas, but other decisions could be taken. The school was the last social and dynamic location in the village, its closure act literally the death of the village. The children were aware of it, and we worked about the notion of no return connected to a fable of a story-teller I met and who was a former pupil of the school 60 years before. But the goal was to not make a political documentary instead to offer a poetic fable that can touch everybody by its universality.
Melissa Ramos: It certainly touched me very much, for me the innocence of a child's fantasy world and their connection with nature brought many associations on time and I was drawn to empathise with the notion of extinction. The story-teller you met from the village, how did you meet him? How did his story come about?
Fu Le: As I was working with the children with the topic of no return and passing time, I wanted to include some elderly people to get a transgenerational angle. The schoolteacher knew a man living in the next village, who was a former pupil of the school 60 years ago. This person, Michel, is a professional story-teller and fitted perfectly for the project. He gave me a lot of precious anecdotes about the history of the land, and we quickly made friends. The story in the film is a mix between his own experience as a child and a new story he was working on from an ancient legend. He said: "It may be ready in 1 year", and I answered, "You have 2 weeks". We then finished writing together word by word to fit exactly with the choreography.
Melissa Ramos: This is your fourth dance film that uses the single-shot technique, and when we spoke last time about how you created MASS, your process with developing these kinds of projects starts off with workshops with the performers, from there compose choreographed scenes. Was it a similar process when making The Last Children?
Fu Le: The process was exactly the same developed in MASS but on a longer process. We had a lot of writing, dancing, acting workshops, we were rehearsing in a classroom or in the schoolyard. We first rehearsed for a 10 minutes scenic show that we performed in a theatre, then we adapted the choreography on the last week to fit with the shooting spot, that was up the hill 1-hour walk from the school.
Melissa Ramos: Why do you like to approach dance filmmaking this way?
Fu Le: For many reasons, but first of all, because it involves all the team in the choreographic process, and transmit the excitement of a live show during the shooting.
Melissa Ramos: Can you reflect on the process & were there any similarities or differences working this time with children?
Fu Le: I was working with young children that are usually unable to focus more than one minute on anything, thus to shoot 8 minutes long shot was a real challenge. The rehearsal time and pedagogical process was much more important this time.
Melissa Ramos: What was your process when exploring the rhythm for the film?
Fu Le: The rhythm of the film comes mainly from the space, and how the camera travels in it. That is the key of single-shot, to change spaces and plans with enough contrast to substitute editing cuts. Of course, the choreography has its own rhythm as well, and music composition adds a lot too.
Melissa Ramos: The children choreographed with a rock, can you describe the ideas you were exploring with this choreography?
Fu Le: The Lot county is a rock land, the soil, the houses are made of stones that define the identity of this territory. We then built fake stones in styrofoam to have more playful possibilities, and to give some fantasy taste to the film. A big part of the work with the children was to embody the sensation of weight when they were carrying the stones.
Melissa Ramos: Was it a direct link between weight and memory?
Fu Le: That is a nice idea, and it is great if you receive it like that. But the work was much more pragmatic: we simply tried to manipulate the stones in the most realistic way. Then the viewer makes his own travel.
Melissa Ramos: When the filming was completed, did you notice a change with the children?
Fu Le: Hard to know, I met them once after to make in the village a public screening of the film with the help of some parents. They were always children, playing in every direction at the same time. Some parents told me their child became more mature and confident. I guess participating in such a project - working in groups, holding responsibilities, confronting the camera, the stage, being involved in all the process of making a film (writing, stage design, dancing, sound design), being immersed in a professional environment - was difficult but benefits them a lot.
The Last Children Credits:
DIRECTOR & CHOREOGRAPHY : Fu LE
DOP & EDITING : Alexander VIOLLET
MUSIC : Julien LANGLOIS
STORY-TELLER : Michel GALARET
DANCERS : Pupils of the school of Saint-Martin-Labouval
PRODUCTION : Imagista, Le Films du Texmex, Tetrapode
"A big part of the work with the children was to embody the sensation of weight when they were carrying the stones."