Kid-In was pleased to discover American Autumn – Albert Moya’s highly original and subtly-surreal melodrama that, while set around thoroughly adult intrigues, features a cast straight out of elementary school.
At a bourgeois-posh foodie inspired dinner party with high-art direction to match, seven and eight year old actors wrap their minds around alarmingly sophisticated themes and their mouths around some scathing one-liners. For the viewer, the result is unique; a bemused state of amusement that is difficult to name but is no less satiating.
The devices – of unreal stylization and a cast composed of innocents – establish equally the chimera realm that is American Autumn, access to which requires a stroll down the razor’s edge between adult ‘society’ and child’s play.
However, the parallel – between a debut film as impossibly polished as this and its young director’s precocious choice to skew age-appropriate roles – is the real take away.
Some good people worked on the film, how did your paths cross?
I began the film right when I arrived in the city. At that time I didn’t know many people in New York. I decided to write to some that inspired me – the minds that I admire and respect as creatives. Some of them got back to me and we started sending mails back and forth until we found a real connection was happening. That’s why I like New York so much . There’s lot of creative traffic. People are constantly looking for new ways to express themselves and that helps to create powerful connections.
What is the relevance of the title for your film?
I’m a huge fan of all the sixties/seventies American films, films like Kramer vs. Kramer, and especially early Woody Allen. I’m very sensitive to color and beauty – it always meant the first thing in my work. No matter what project I do, I always have that as the starting point. American Autumn to me means melancholy; trees are changing – I have this image of a couple walking around a park in the morning in trench coats, with all the different colors on the trees, that state of mind of being lost that you have after August. There’s something very classic and elegant in the cinema of that time – the hairstyles, the clothes, the dialogue.
Could you discuss your background in fashion and how it informed the aesthetics of the film?
Fashion has always been very important to me. It’s one of my favorite visual stimuli. I worked for two years in a young arty fashion brand based in Barcelona, called El Delgado Buil. It was an art/ fashion project all blended together. That was my school. I was doing the art direction and creating the music for each runway show. I always worked every collection as a story. That was the way fashion made sense to me. Thinking there’s a story behind the aesthetic. The two designers of the brand are like sisters to me, they taught me much about the inside of that world.
What are some other aesthetic influences? The food scenes often resemble paintings – the domestic still lifes of the Old Masters.
Goya still lifes were a very special reference for all the art staff – that way to show something rough and sometimes unpleasant and convert it into something beautiful. Also, Dustin O’Halloran’s music really inspired that melancholy that I felt was very present in the piece. His music has that incredible elegant, subtle and delicate tone that helps to situate the children within adult lives.
In the tagline, the characters are defined as the Bourgeoisie – once a politically loaded term. Is your film in any way a comment on Western values or consumerism?
Of course it comments about both. We live in a greedy and selfish, materialist time. Talking about our present is discussing this wild memento.
On the topic, how did the cooking/foodie movement inform the characters/plot?
Yes! The food has an important place in the story. We structured the script as if it was Catherine’s menu. Starting with appetizers, first dish, main dish, deserts and drinks. That was a funny way to build the story. When you’re doing a short you really have to figure out the way you want to explain the story. There’s not much time and as it is difficult to feel attached to the characters in such a small time it’s always nice to find funny ways to communicate the story in order to have the viewer excited.
From where does your aptitude for the surreal derive?
In fact, I’m not crazy for fantastic and unreal things. I’m attracted to all kinds of real, rough human relationships, especially family relationships.
Still, there’s something inside that automatically comes up when I’m writing. When a piece is finished I feel like: despite the gravity of reality that inspires me to express it, it’s the world that exists inside of me that takes precedence. I’m all day on the moon with my own paranoia, feeding these daily. I guess that’s what I in fact express in the end – this messy nonsense world that goes on inside of me. I never can explain it. I feel it’s just magic. I don’t know how to describe it. In fact, maybe there’s no way to describe it.
The dialogue references Lars Von Trier, was he an influence for writing/directing?
He’s been very important to me. Especially all the Dogme 95 Collective work – the way he shows reality with no filters. That’s something that really turns me on. Seeing the actors in real combat, that’s brutal. At the same time, when I reference him in American Autumn, it is from the point of view of humor. I love when wealthy people try to be insiders, and start talking about all these intellectual references.
It makes sense that the Lars Von Trier reference is indirect – your visual and narrative approach in the film is actually quite slick and stylized –but the drama feels raw. How did you acquire your penchant for social/domestic drama?
Zeljko (Jerry)I had a very active family in terms of drama – of course comedy and levity too. I come from an extended family of close to forty five! Imagine all the things happening constantly: divorces, affairs, and lots of reunions, cliques, and intensity in all ways. Since I was a child I wanted to be an actor. I always felt attracted to all kind of people’s feelings and stories. That was a hobby for me, reading the lives and the dramas, the biographies and he evolution of the different people surrounding me.
What effect did you intend to achieve by utilizing children in adult roles?
I wanted to give perspective, so viewers could observe how our lives are. Sometimes we need to see reality from a new context to figure out what’s actually going on.
What, going on in society, are you attempting to dissect by casting children? And, any thoughts about how child/adult society might overlap?
I love and need to truly understand the things that surround me and my place within these. Since my parents divorced when I was very little, I grew up very close to my mother. I always had to experience a lot of adult things while still a kid – assume things that at that time I didn’t really understand, but that I had to process in order to make sense of reality. From when I was eight until twelve, every Sunday, when I came home from my dad’s, I cried. Those were the moments when things began to take on a serious reality in my life – and some of them were ugly, but that was what it was. Maybe this was unnecessary. There’s something very stupid and unnecessary about our lives – our modern life – especially the social part: full of anxieties, prejudices. I view it sometimes as a child’s game. And that is the relationship explored: how far is all of this adult drama from child’s play – or vice versa.
Have you worked with kids before and will you again?
This is my first time working with them, and yes, I think there’s always going be kids in my work. They are the eternal protagonists of my inner life.
That explains your apparent draw to them. How did you direct the children in terms of helping them grasp issues beyond their level of `sophistication`?
We did rehearsals for one full month. Some actors were only eight years old so it took time to discover the script. I worked with them trying to use references they know well – their families. We also used things from their families to build their characters. I had them watch some movies of reference also, and we really had fun exploring adult’s characters. I used lot of photographs to express the sophistication aspect.
What films, and what photos?
Woody Allen’s Alice and Interiors, lots of images from Kramer vs. Kramer, lots of Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep from back in the seventies. Madeline watched a lot of times Devil Wears Prada to become bossy, and I showed Zeljko lots of Jarvis Cooker body language…
That’s hilarious. Jerry (Zeljko) specifically had an impressive swagger. How did you find your cast?
I subscribed in all the casting websites and did lot of auditions in my home. When I saw Zeljko (Jerry) for the first time, I thought he was really unique, but he was seven at the time, so it was a challenge deciding to work with him as he could barely remember his lines. But, at the same time, he came up with such a unique flow… it was impressive having the chance to work with him.
Can you discuss the film`s life so far? What festivals is it touring and what have been the responses to the film?
We just started with the festival circuit and are looking forward to see how it will go! An Agency from Canada called Travelling Films is taking care of that distribution and is selling the piece on television. Feedback from people varies – most have fun watching and that makes me feel really happy!
So, no issue taken with smoking, drinking, and swearing children yet?
Didn’t receive any complaint yet, but I’m sure more than one internally thought about it… let’s see.
What are you working on currently?
I’m in pre-production for an art film with some friends. It’s a twenty-nine-page script I wrote about a strambotic relationship between a mother and a son. Everything happens in a timeless place – we don’t know where they are. We create that new place, and that’s something really exciting for all of us.
I’m also doing some music videos that should see the light this summer!
To view the trailer : https://vimeo.com/60264994
For more on American Autumn : www.americanautumnfilm.com