Sally Potter
Sally Potter

Originally posted on September 13, 2012. Ginger and Rosa opens in theaters today.

After the dust settles, Ginger and Rosa is going to turn out to be one of my the highlights of the festival.  Sally Potter, the brilliant director of Orlando has written and directed a truly accessible coming of age story set during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  It's the story of two sixteen year old girls Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert - Jane Campion's daughter) who are no longer girls but, of course, not yet women.  Ginger's parents, the academic philandering narcissist Roland (Alessandro Nivola) and frustrated painter Natalie (Christina Hendricks) are progressive parents giving Ginger a lot of freedom, and while her friend Rosa spends her time exploring her budding sexuality, Ginger on the other hand, is very focused on the fact that the world is on the brink of nuclear disaster.  She attends meetings and marches which is not typical for a 16 year old and she relays the fears that everyone was feeling at that moment. 

While this is something very serious to everyone, being a kid her emotions are heightened and all over the place, so she literally feels like the world feels is ending.  To top it off her family is falling apart around her and her best friend, the girl she loves more than anyone in the world, is at the center of the trauma.  Rosa commits a betrayal so deep that Ginger nearly has a total breakdown.  Another young actress might have allowed the intensity of the emotions to overwhelm her performance, but Elle Fanning (who just gets better and better) gives a very nuanced performance allowing us to feel the pain and emotion of Ginger.  Alice Englert is also terrific as Rosa. 

I have no doubt this will be Sally Potter's biggest hit since Orlando.

I was able to meet Sally Potter for a chat about the film.

Women and Hollywood: So, what does it feel like the morning after a world premiere of a movie that does so well at the Toronto Film Festival?

Sally Potter: Surreal.

WaH: I imagine.

Potter: Surreal, but it’s a relief.   Last night wasn’t just the world premiere, it was also for the other actors. They hadn’t seen it before, so that was an important moment for all of us.

WaH: I’m sure the feedback was great.

Potter: Yeah.

WaH: So the early sixties— talk about why you picked that time period.

Potter: It was a transition, real transition period. Between the postwar fifties— domesticity, people happy to be alive after the Second World War, wanting to build a home, make a family, make a nest.  Women were pushed back into the home after having been active in the Second World War.  It was a big Doris Day moment for women, which didn’t suit all women. And for men, I think many were deeply traumatized by war in one way or another, men were like life at any cost.  So I think quite a confusing transition in that regard. But 1962 is very much before the sixties as we think of it. Before the explosions and before the liberation movements before the music and and the political revolution.

And it was at the height of the Cold War.  Fear of the violation by these governments, these giant parents in the sky, you know, East and West.  And the dissolution of the nuclear family. It was so many things happening at once without a sort of language or kind of moral or ethical code, or even ways of thinking about what was happening.  A lot of confusion. A tough time for girls to grow up. Tough.

WaH: How did you take this tough time for girls and craft Ginger’s story?

Potter: I think, well, first of all, very interested in this period of girls’ life, where you’re still a child in some ways and a young adult in other ways.

WaH: So she’s fourteen in the movie?

Potter: No, they’re technically they’re— both the girls are sixteen, seventeen.  But Elle was actually thirteen when she was playing it.  And I think if we think of sixteen- to seventeen-year-olds at that time, they’re probably more like thirteen- to fourteen-year-olds now.

WaH: Right.

Potter: But to work with that stage of young women’s life when they both have the needs of a child and the aspirations of an adult and in a social setting, where there aren’t too many rules or boundaries where there’s a lot of freedom,  Yet there’s also a real cost to that freedom.  It was just a fantastically fertile ground to set a story.

WaH: Love and hate are this close when you’re sixteen.

Potter: Absolutely. Yeah. And it was a story in which the grownups— some of the grownups don’t really want to be grown up, either. They’re all in their own kind of adolescence.

WaH: That makes sense. Have you ever written about teenage girls before?

Potter: No. There have been teenage moments in the story, but I’ve never made it the central subject of the story.

WaH: And you knew when you were coming up with this time period that you were going to tell it from a girl’s point of view.

Potter: Absolutely.  I think we’re in a good moment for girls coming up. But in the past, anyway, friendships between girls have been sort of trivialized.  These are serious, big relationship in which girls discover their beliefs about God and politics and how to shrink your jeans and all the important things. And they’re passionate relationships. 

WaH: Did you cast Elle first and then cast around her?

Potter: It was kind of a parallel process, but I knew that the key was getting Ginger and Rosa right. I certainly knew I had to build around them. I had to get that core right or it wouldn’t work.

WaH: It’s funny, when we spoke last you said that when you used to go to film festivals you and Jane Campion were always confused you all the time. I find it so funny that you cast her daughter in her first big film role.  How did that happen?

Potter: Pure coincidence. My casting director in the UK Irene Lamb said that she saw something that Alice had done online— I think it was on YouTube or something, and saw a quality that was amazing. It didn’t come through Jane, it really came through Alice’s own qualities. And then I did a couple Skype auditions with her. That was the only way to meet her as she was in Australia. And then eventually she came over to London and I did a proper session with her and filmed it, and meanwhile I had been to Los Angeles and did a session with Elle, and filmed her, and cut the two auditions together and while they’d never met it was like they were in the same room, they were so balanced, so good. An Elle’s been acting since she was two, so she’s incredibly skilled and professional, amongst other things, and Alice hasn’t, but she’s grown up in the aura of cinema, watching and listening—