Vladimir de Fontenay is a writer, director and a graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He is a laureate of the Spike Lee Production Fund and his short films have been awarded and selected for numerous festivals.
De Fontenay’s first feature film, was Memoria, which was released in 2015 and starred James Franco. He also directed What Lies Beneath The Sky, a short documentary featuring the voice of Chantal Akerman, selected at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015.
His latest film is Mobile Homes (originally a short film of the same name in 2013), starring Imogen Poots (Green Room, 28 Weeks Later) which is about a young mother suffering from financial burden, who discovers a different way of life for her 8-year-old son and herself.
As a quintessentially American story, did you aspire to portray an accurate depiction of life in America?
Mobile Homes is first and foremost a work of fiction. Obviously, there’s a lot of research being made throughout the making of the film to make the environment feel as believable as possible. But being a foreigner in America, all I can share is really just my outsider’s perspective, my subjective point of view, and focus on what’s universal about what these people go through. I lived in France, Italy and the US and have always proceeded that way. I find it extremely freeing and inspiring. The film handles themes like motherhood, family, love, home, mobility, freedom… themes we can all relate to.
What sources of inspiration did you use to write the screenplay for Mobile Homes? (i.e.literature, film, life experience)
I once was passed by a mobile home towed to a truck on the highway as I was driving upstate NY. The vision was striking and it made me think about the different meanings of a home and our changing relationship to it. At the time I was living in the US far from my family and home and it resonated with a lot of personal questions I had. It then became a metaphor for what our characters are going through. During the writing and the shooting, I looked at the work of photographers I love like Jim Goldberg’s ‘Raised by Wolves’ or the portraits made by Brenda Ann Kenneally. I rewatched films I love like La Strada, Fitzcarraldo, Paris Texas, The Panic in Needle Park that sometimes dealt with similar themes. I also spent a lot of time on the internet looking at documentaries and youtube videos of cockfighting.
What message or idea would you like audiences to get from Mobile Homes?
I like films that make me step into other people’s shoes and simply help me understand them better. Through the cinematic experience of what the characters in the film go through emotionally, I hope you have more empathy for them.
Was it ever daunting to work with talented actors, such as Imogen Poots?
Not at all. All of our cast was great and very fun to work with. Imogen and Callum were extremely nice and committed to the role right away and I learned so much from them. With Imogen, we talked extensively about the film and her character before shooting and I think she trusted me by the time we started filming.
As someone who writes and directs during the filmmaking process. Which role do you prefer, and why?
I love directing a lot more, but I think that’s because it comes after writing. The role is more fulfilling somehow. Because you’re dealing with the same elements as when you write but it suddenly becomes alive as it happens in front of you in an extremely limited amount of time. There’s a lot more pressure and adrenaline, and it really becomes a collective effort at that point as opposed to a long and sometimes solitary process.
Did the film help in developing a sense of how you would handle future films you make?
Definitely. Every work does. With Mobile Homes, I think we were extremely ambitious (or unconscious) trying to make a road trip with animals, water, kids, stunts… fit into our 24-day schedule. For the next one, I’ll try to be more conscious of the fact that some of these elements have a direct impact on what’s the most important on set, your shooting time.
If you had infinite resources and budget, what is a fantasy project you would like to tackle?
Hmm… it’s hard to say. The story would most probably take place in a bunch of different countries and we’d shoot 70mm film. That would be a start.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently adapting Legend of A Suicide by David Vann a book I fell in love with years ago. I’m hoping to shoot next year in Alaska.
Mobile Homes hits theaters on November 16 and On Demand / Digital HD on January 22.
Watch Mobile Homes in a cinema near you