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TORONTO 2019 Platform

Sarah Gavron • Director of Rocks

“These girls really love the banter about their different experiences”

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- We met up with British director and producer Sarah Gavron, whose new film Rocks world-premiered in the Platform section of Toronto

Sarah Gavron • Director of Rocks

Sarah Gavron is a British director and producer. She has directed the documentary Village at the End of the World (2012) and the feature films This Little Life (Entering Blue Zone) (2003), Brick Lane [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2007) and Suffragette [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
(2015). Her new film Rocks [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sarah Gavron
film profile
]
, which world-premiered in the Platform competition of the Toronto International Film Festival, and will vie for the Golden Shell at the upcoming San Sebastián International Film Festival, tells the story of a group of teenage girls in East London, centring on a young girl, Rocks, who must take care of her younger brother.

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Cineuropa: Rocks is different in style from your adaptations Brick Lane and the period drama Suffragettes. What made you want to make a more contemporary film?
Sarah Gavron:
I was talking to a lot of the creative team who are involved, about making a film about young people, but I’m far removed from that world. When I was growing up, there were very few films about the teenage girls that you see on the street, at bus stops and in schools. It felt like I met a lot of them as I went around promoting other films. They were engaging, and they had stories to tell and I wondered, how do we do this? How do we make a film about this younger generation? The way to do that seemed to be to make it with them, working in a different way.

What was that different way?
We wanted to build the film around the girls, so we went into schools, we went into youth hubs, and we went into all sorts of environments where we met young people. We met young girls, we chatted to them, watched them and interacted with them, then we invited lots to a workshop. We selected the ones who were the great improvisers and who wanted to go on that journey with us, where the alchemy of their friendship just worked. Then, around them, we built this world and the characters. Then Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson wrote the script.

Did you know what type of girls you wanted going in, or was it a blank slate as you entered, and then you adapted to the girls that you met on this journey?
It was an open brief. There was a casting team, Lucy Pardee and Jessica Straker. We were like, let’s not say we have to find a particular kind of girl, let’s go into London schools. We focused on East London because we wanted to have a patch and that seemed like the right place to start and let’s just see what is out there. What was very clear early on, was that there were these friendship groups that were exciting and engaging.

Were there any particular highlights of this process?
In one class that we witnessed fairly early on in the process, the teacher was talking about cultural backgrounds. One of the joys about these girls is that they really love the banter about their different experiences, different religions and different foods, there is constant banter about that, and this teacher established that out of the 30 kids, 27 of them had grandparents who weren’t born in the UK. I had grandparents who weren’t born in the UK, who were refugees, and I was sitting there thinking, why do we not see these girls very often? They have so much to offer, their wisdom and intelligence, and they also have joy, spirit and tenacity. That pushed us forward all the time, to try and capture that.

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