In need of characters and a setting for the story, I had the intuition that a children’s home would be a breeding ground for situations of abuse. Faithful to my ‘cinéma vérité’ style, I decided to start a process of immersion. This is how I contacted Claudia, more than 20 years after having worked with her as an intern when studying social work. She was to retire soon and agreed to help, before sharing with me her strong frustration towards the youth protection system. This immediately inspired my story.
With my first two narrative projects, TAPIS ROUGE (2015) and EDELWEISS REVOLUTION (2019), I developed a style inspired by direct cinema, based on real people and improvisation. What drives me with this method is the search for a natural performance and the fun of uncovering unsuspected talent in people who have had no previous acting experience.
The actresses became the film’s ‘co-writers’, as the access they gave me to their reality allowed me to build the story. This process offered fascinating outcomes. It started with individual interviews with each of the residents and the employees of the children’s home, which led to improvisation themes. We then carried out workshops over two years, which progressively allowed characters to emerge. I gathered all the elements that had come out of these improvisations and wrote a script. It didn’t have predetermined dialogues, but a general plot, an outline and some punchlines.
Most of the scenes take place within a real children’s home, a location full of lies, family and work drama. A place that allowed us to work in a flexible way with natural actors in an environment that was familiar to them. With this choice, the boundaries with documentary were blurred and made the setting an essential aspect of the story.
After two years of preparation, we couldn’t produce the film because the lack of written dialogues prevented us from getting classic funding options. But the girls were growing up so we decided to shoot the film anyway. In just over two weeks, the film was shot. All the dialogues were improvised and our flexibility allowed us to adapt the story to the actors’ performances. In the editing phase, like in a documentary, the story evolved again based on what was captured. A first edit made the local fundraising possible, reaching RTS, Cinéforom and BAK.
To match the realistic style of acting, the cinematography had to be minimalist. My friend and dedicated DOP Joseph Areddy and I opted for a lot of natural light and a 360° “mise en scène” to give a better access to improvisation. Everything was shot handheld, in a very reactive way using mainly a 50mm lens to be as close to the characters as possible and to re-inforce the feeling of claustrophobia felt by the protagonists.
Even though the children’s home director Lora, interpreted by Claudia Grob, was to be the lead character, my desire to show various point of views pushed me in the direction of a hyperlink film. The young girls all had equal opportunities to occupy the story, depending on their desires and their inspiration ‘in the moment’ while shooting. Alongside, all the home’s social workers also agreed to be part of the film and to interpret characters that would be close to their reality. Three professional actors were added to the group, Frédéric Landenberg (Seb), Nadim Ahmed (Malik) and Blaise Granget (François), the latter two having also trained as social workers.
They were key in facilitating the improvisations and helped with the non-professional actors’ confidence. These multiple protagonists all helped to bring other themes to the story, which is the goal of this method. I wanted to be surprised by elements and dialogues that could arise at any moment. For example, I wanted to shed light on the complexity of social work, where questions around sexuality are the source of strong disagreements. The secondary characters in the film have, for this reason, taken a more important place than I initially planned. Their values and views have all influenced the plot. This didn’t distract me from the central theme of abuse accomplices, which remains key in the story. Therefore, the plot is built around Lora’s character and is woven with the other narrative arcs developed in parallel. Through her journey in the film, Lora understands that her denial is a defence mechanism just like the young residents lie to themselves to survive.
This is what I tried to achieve artistically. Moreover, this film is a social work project. I don’t want to insist on the gender aspect which is not an issue for me. I’d rather emphasise the social aspect of such an experience. These girls with intense backgrounds had to be heard, whether they had suffered abuse or not. Therefore, I trusted them through the process of being part of the film from the beginning.
Filmmaking is a tool that I used to help them gain self-confidence, delivering a strong and simple message to the audience: we can accomplish things. Sounds corny? Yes, I agree but I can already hear the audience asking them if this experience has changed their lives. While they are trying to find the best answer, I can already hear myself think; this is not about changing them, it is all about planting seeds.
After a 7-year career as a professional basketball player and member of the Swiss national team, he enrolled at the Social Work Institute of Geneva in 1997. He graduated in 2000 and found a job as a social worker in a youth detention centre. His dream, however, was to make films and DJ. He retired from basketball, left his job and moved to New York where he worked as a PA on the documentary series THE IT FACTOR. He was working during the day and DJing at night in legendary bars like Brooklyn’s Frank’s Lounge and Madame X.
When he came back to Switzerland, he bought a DV camera and directed his first documentary SIDEMAN, about New-York-based Swiss harmonica player Grégoire Maret. He sold the rights to Swiss national TV channel RTS and started working for the city of Geneva as a street social worker. On the job, he realised there was a film to be made about Geisendorf park, where kids were terrorising the population, especially in the gay community. He left his job and found a producer for this new feature-length documentary project. GEISENDORF received the Best Documentary Award at Visions du Réel in 2006. Now an established documentary filmmaker, he spent the next 10 years directing films: He also worked for Swiss news program Temps Présent at RTS, before directing his first fiction feature film in 2010: TAPIS FROUGE, a no-budget film made with teenagers from a Lausanne suburb. The film won the GIFF Best Feature Film Award and many others. This movie was a revelation for Fred. He realised that he had always wanted to work in fiction.
He started developing his own directing technique for non-professional actors. In 2017, he directed his second feature film, EDELWEISS REVOLUTION, a comedy with Jean-Luc Bideau and Irène Jacob. As the film was released in Swiss cinemas in 2019, he was already preparing his 3rd fiction project, in collaboration with a teens care home in Geneva.
2021 - THE FAM
2019 - EDELWEISS REVOLUTION
2015 - TAPIS ROUGE
Cast & Crew
Directed by: Fred Baillif
Written by: Fred Baillif, Stéphane Mitchell
Produced by: Fred Baillif
Cinematography: Joseph Areddy
Editing: Fred Baillif
Costume Design: Lucy Mann
Original Score: Gregoire Maret, Filip Wojciechowski, Krzysztof Lenczowski
Main Cast: Claudia Grob (Lora), Anais Uldry (Audrey), Kassia Da costa (Novinha), Joyce Esther Ndayisenga (Précieuse), Charlie Areddy (Justine), Amelie Tonsi (Alison), Sara Tulu (Tamra)
Nominations and Awards
- Feature Film Selection 2021