An Interview with Delphine Girard (Oscar-nominee for "Une Soeur [A Sister]")

In honor of the recent Oscar nominations, Screen and Stage is going to feature a few interviews with filmmakers behind the lesser-known nominated films.

This interview (conducted via email) is with Belgian filmmaker Delphine Girard, writer/director of the highly intense Oscar-nominated live action short, "Une Soeur (A Sister)". Ms. Girard has previously directed two shorts, "Caverne" and "Monstre".

Joshua Handler: How did your experience directing your two previous shorts help you with "Une Soeur"?

Delphine Girard: It’s hard for me to answer that because both my previous films, and the logic in which I created them, were really different from A Sister. I think that, with more experience, I learned to trust my intuition to find what is right for that particular story and to articulate it. I learn to surround myself with the right allies and to communicate with them more precisely about what my vision is for every aspect of the film.

JH: I saw that "Une Soeur" was based on a true story. What was the original story, and how did you decide what to use and what to fictionalize?

DG: I actually came across a recording of an emergency phone call in which a woman, in a car, in need of help, called 911 and pretended she was talking to her sister. That phone call and story stuck with me for months before I decided to start working on it. I took time to reflect and think about what was at stake in the real phone conversation and then slowly pulled away from it. I realised that I wanted to do a film that would address sorority, empathy and violence. As I identified that, it helped me make the choice of what to keep and what to re-invent. I started to create a backstory so I could understand every character and find his/her own particular way to deal with the situation. Even if the idea originated from true events I needed to be « in charge » of the story in order to be able to tell it right. 

JH: The structure of the film is quite unique in that we don't even know who the woman is speaking to until it is revealed minutes after. Was this structure always your intention or did it change over time?

DG: It changed. We actually filmed the entire duration of the film in both sets (the car and the call-center). When we started editing I had the feeling that we needed to start the film in the car with Alie but I was also under the impression that we needed to see the operator in her daily routine before that particular phone call. It was my editor’s (wonderful) idea to go back in time and play the beginning of the call twice. During the editing we questioned ourselves constantly « where do we need to be at that moment», we tried to navigate between both women and of course Dary and create interest for the three of them. 

JH: Were the two actresses actually speaking to each other over the phone or did you decide to have them film separately?

DG: The two actresses were speaking to each other but were filmed separately. When we filmed in the car, Veerle (Baetens) was at her home talking to Selma (Alaoui) on the phone. As we decided that both actresses should not meet before or during shooting, when we filmed in the call center, Selma was hiding in the next room to talk to Veerle on the phone.

JH: How close is the final product to your original vision?

DG: It’s difficult to say because for me it’s truly a journey. During the process of making the film, I want the film to surprise me and question my own certainties. For me, the final film does not need to fit my original idea, I want my vision and the film to grow together. I prefer it to be an active and vibrant process. 

JH: What's next for you?

I am currently working on a screenplay for a feature film and on a series project (initiated with Veerle). I can’t wait to be on set again, that’s truly the most interesting and joyful place I know.