There is something quite unique in the darkly gothic black and white animated feature, Renaissance, which is why first-time director Christian Volkman had such a tough time getting his film made. His surreal film is set in the Paris of 2054, a labyrinth where all movement is monitored and recorded. Cut off from the world for its own protection, the city has nonetheless continued to expand.
Now, 21st century skyscrapers overlay centuries-old architectural masterpieces. And below street level, a sophisticated network of streamlined plazas push up against the city’s ancient, deteriorating tunnel systems. Casting a shadow over everything is the city’s largest company, Avalon, which insinuates itself into every aspect of contemporary life to sell its primary export–eternal youth and beauty.
When 22-year-old Ilona (Romola Garai), one of Avalon’s most promising scientists, is abruptly kidnapped, Avaloncalls on Barthélémy Karas, a Paris cop with a hard-fought reputation for finding anyone, no matter what sacrifices he has to make along the way. As the trail gets hot, Karas senses he’s not the only one looking for the beautiful enigma, and every witness he digs up seems to turn up dead.
To find Ilona and unlock the secrets of her disappearance, Karas must plunge deep into the parallel worlds of corporate espionage, organized crime and genetic research where the truth imprisons whoever finds it first and miracles can either save the world, or end it.
Eating a bowl of pasta in between a hectic interview schedule during the Toronto Film Festival, the French director discussed his frustrations getting Renaissance made, to Paul Fischer.
Question: First of all, how hard is it to get a film like this made?…
Volckman: It’s horrible. (Laughter)
Question: It’s European money, right?
Volckman: No, it’s Disney money.
Question: Oh, Miramax put money in it?
Volckman: It was Disney actually at that time. Jake Eberts. He’s a Canadian producer who really makes the link between Europe and America and studios.
Question: Now was it important for them to ensure that you had voice talents, people who did voices that were commercial?
Volckman: They didn’t really care. Actually what was really funny but we called them when we were finished with the film and they didn’t even know – I mean they’d forgot about it. Maybe not the big guys but some of the people that we had on the phone, they had trouble finding the file of Renaissance, where it was so it was a little bit scary. But I think they really invested into saying, okay, let’s try. They put 3 million dollars, which is not, I mean for them is not a huge amount of money but it’s good for us it was great because we used the name of Disney to really help us back in France. The film cost like 14 million Euros, like 20 million dollars, which is nothing for an animation film actually.
Question: But then your style of animation is very different to the usual animated films.
Volckman: It’s very different. But still it was good enough for what we had to do. It was just a little bit complex because we were learning while doing, and that’s really a bad idea because you start one way thinking that’s the good way and then suddenly there are problems that come up and the problems reveal to you that it was the wrong way, so you have to take another way, and you’re like pretty much being in the dark trying to find the toilet.
Question: Did you have the software already?
Volckman: Yeah, but it never works….
Question: So you had to be continually developing the software right?
Volckman: Right. Developing. And, of course, not just that, there was really a lot of rendering problems doing things in black and white.
Question: Especially with human beings too….
Volckman: And with human beings….
Question: Would you do it again?
Volckman: Not that way. (Laughter)
Volckman: Really not that way. I mean It’s just crazy, It’s not human, you know. In the end it’s just after five years of being on the same thing that only lasts one hour and a half you just want to kill everyone, kill yourself, shoot the movie. But you resist one way or another because you have to, because if you don’t take it to the end it’s even worse. But it was a very incredible adventure. There were 600 people, 40 actors, producers from everywhere because it’s from Luxemburg, America, France – a lot of people involved in this project. So it’s very interesting on the human side, but to hold it together and to try to bring it that way to the end is very difficult.
Question: Was it hard for you to get all these actors involved?
Volckman: The actors? Ah, we were scared that the actors we were going to meet were going to say no because we don’t see their faces in the end; but, no.
Question: And they had to trust you too, right?
Volckman: Yeah, they read the script… they saw the trailer. We made a trailer before to sell the film.
Question: Oh, that’s interesting. So they were able to see some visuals before they actually committed.
Volckman: Yeah. And it was impossible to do it other ways because we had to find the money doing the trailer. Because we couldn’t go to see the producers and say – over the finances and say – okay, we’re doing an animation film and white. It’s in the future. It’s for grown ups. It’s very dark. It’s not a happy ending. Thank you very much. Give us 14 million dollars. That was a problem, so we had to show a trailer to impress them, and that’s what we did. With that it was really helpful for a lot of people because we could show it to the actors, to the financers, to anybody that wanted to see what it looks like – a little piece of it.
Question: Now having gone through this experience, and clearly it was a very difficult experience, what lessons do you take away from that that you will put into your next project?
Volckman: Story, story, story. [Laughter] No, it’s just more on the identification level, just to put more personal stuff into it and not be scared of seeing things, you know, on the human side.
Question: Is animation your thing or do you want to venture into live action?
Volckman: I really like animation because with 3D and stuff, you can do really anything, so it’s really great for imaginative minds. But at the same time it’s very long so I’d like to make a live action film because humans are irreplaceable – I mean the feeling of someone, the emotions and everything. It’s straightforward.
Question: Do you know what you’re doing next?
Volckman: Not really, just trying to make different stuff which is interesting, even if you’re writing a story, trying to write a different story.