Ahead of the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival, directors Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai join us to talk about Rookies (Allons Enfants).
The film looks at the complex relationships and social dynamics at a dance school in Paris. There are injuries and deficits, but also hopes, dreams and inner transformations.
What interested you about the dynamics of a hip hop dance academy?
TD: What we liked about this project is the idea that hip hop brings together young people from very different social backgrounds around a common passion. The dance is there to train those who have dropped out, those who have arrived from sensitive neighborhoods, those who are failing at school and in trouble.
Hip hop is there to give a boost to a social elevator that has broken down, it is there to wake up the school through dancing.
I saw a clip from the film which focused on the male-female politics in the dance studio. Can you tell us more about this and why a dance studio is an interesting space to explore these issues?
AT: Even though they are still in the minority in the hip hop world, we see a generation of young girls who are not afraid to face the guys in the battles and fight on equal terms. From this point of view, they have even more fight and lead the troupes more than the boys.
Hip hop suffers from a misogynistic image, too often conveyed by rap music. But in dance, relationships are becoming more and more egalitarian. We didn’t hear a single sentence or see a single inappropriate gesture during this shoot and it was better not to. The boys would have paid a high price…
What surprised you most about the dance studio and the students themselves?
TD: How hip hop was the language of their generation and how these dance classes awakened them. How the amorphous high school student, yawning in math or English class, suddenly became a bomb of energy, desire and determination. Hip hop appeared as a therapy for the shy, the flayed, the school dropouts. The dance studio became a place where diversity, social mixing, skin color and body shape were unified, breaking down all prejudices.
Can you tell us about some of the dancers’ stories and what drew you to them in particular?
AT: As always in our documentaries, we took the time to listen and interview each of the dancers. Charlotte’s story particularly moved us. Abandoned in an orphanage in Africa, they had to invent a date of birth for her because she was so skinny. Charlotte does not accept this false birthday and dances to forget and overcome the drama of her origins.
Erwan dances for an alcoholic and bipolar mother who may never come to see him dance. These intimate dramas are felt when we see them dance.
Can you tell us about your approach to the cinematography and capturing the energy of this intense setting?
AT: With MOVE, our dance series on Netflix, we were already confronted with this question: how to film dance? How to capture the gesture, the energy, the moment of grace? It’s not enough to just plant the camera and take a wide shot while waiting for it to happen.
While filming the battles we quickly realised that as much was happening in the circle as around it. So we chose to be with them, close to the dancers, in the middle of the spectators and let the camera be heckled or pushed around, otherwise we would risk losing that pure energy. This subjective point of view gives the viewer an almost sensory experience of what the indescribable atmosphere in the arena might be like.
What are your hopes for the film at Berlin and beyond?
TD: That our film will find its audience, that other principals and teachers will want to make their students dance, and above all that the audience will get back into the habit of going to the cinema to see documentaries after the Covid years. Our film opens the “Generation” competition and it is precisely the portrait of a generation that we make in ROOKIES: we could not dream of a better release!