Opening Raindance film festival has to be virtually every up and coming filmmakers dream, (well that and actually getting their film funded). For director Kai Barry (Stem, Splinter) that dream came true, opening this yes festival with his latest, nitty, gritty spy-thriller, Newcomer.
Newcomer follows many twists and turns after rookie agent Alex (James Floyd) makes a drastic mistake on his first mission, forcing his entire team to be jeopardised. Forced to go on the run, he his helped by the courageous Anja played by Noemie Merlant. With a great script, solid direction from Barry and an abundance of satire, Newcomer holds its own when it comes to the spy genre. We managed to catch up with Kai and ask him a few questions and here it what he said…
Thank you. Opening Raindance was an incredible honor. It’s not something we expected when we set out to make this film. When I see the list of films they’ve programmed over the past 23 years it feels incredible to have Newcomer be a part of that group. We always hoped it would have a chance to reach the largest audience it could. But when you’re sitting with a packed house on opening night you still have to pinch yourself.
Have you always been a fan of the spy genre and was it a great feeling to put your own slant on it?
Absolutely. I’ve loved the spy genre since I was a kid. Who doesn’t? I wanted to make Newcomer a more intimate spy film. James Bond and Jason Bourne are big far-flung stories where the location and action is just as important as the character. In Newcomer I wanted to focus all the cinematic energy on Alex. I tried to put the audience in the story directly with the main character so they could experience the tension and confusion as he experienced it. In the film the audience never knows more than the main character. We discover the twists and turns as he discovers them. I always wondered what it might be like to work as a spy in a mission gone horribly wrong. Newcomer puts the viewer directly in the driver’s seat of this multilayered world of deception.
You also had a hand in writing the script with Iqbal Ahmed who you have worked with before. From a director’s point of view, do you feel it helps you having that extra insight when it comes to shooting?
Iqbal and I shared an idea for a spy story years and years ago but unfortunately that was as far as the collaboration on this project went. I wrote this script mostly alone.
But to your point, collaboration was a key in creating this film. Every key crew member had a hand in pushing the story forward and creating the best possible version for the audience. I’ll take any note that makes the story better. My editor, Dominic LaPerriere, became my strongest story ally in the process and even joined us for reshoots in Serbia. Having another person who knows the story as well as you do on set, or any time during the filmmaking process, is extraordinarily helpful.
The film certainly has very serious undertones, but there is a clear element of comedy that works well on screen. Was it always your intention to bounce the satire off of the harsh reality of your characters situations?
I wanted to build a world that felt like a real place. Real life can be both humorous and harsh within a single day. Adding small bits of humor to the film give the world a depth that it otherwise wouldn’t have. I believe the craft of filmmaking is all about telling a story with contrast. If you want someone to notice an object in a white room, paint it black. I tried to use humor in this way at select points in the film to give a benchmark to which the harsh reality could be compared. If the audience laughs right before a torture scene it makes the torture that much more visceral.
Finally, do you have any advice for all the aspiring filmmakers out there?
Just keep making films. Big or small. Long or short. It doesn’t matter. All the fundamentals of filmmaking, telling a story with pictures, are easily available to everyone. Learn them and the larger budgets and resources will find you.
We also caught up with leading lady Noemie Merlant, and here is what she had to say…
What enticed you to Kai’s project?
It was a different genre, a thriller but with a psychological depth with more realism. This truth seduced me, without artifice, a story without heroes. And also the challenge of playing a Serbian woman in English.
Can you tell us a bit more about your character? She’s a very strong and interesting woman, isn’t she? But she also clings onto the memory of her mother.
Yes, she is a strong woman, but it doesn’t mean she is without emotions. There is modesty, a protection to her character as well. I try to contemplate, to observe the Serb women, to immerse myself. Well sure they are all different, but as in every culture we feel something present that emanates. There I felt that strength, that determination, “franc-spoken”, which can seem brutal when you’re not used to it. But this franchise can be light, because you feel the truth in their words and behavior and they can laugh about it. They seem like very rooted people. Anja keeps her femininity, sensuality, and maternal side which I really tried to resonate. She finds herself mixed up in this matter, without asking anything. We imagine that he knows this criminal world already and she does not want to be involved and therefore gets defensive. But protection is very important to her. She tries to keep the distance to the point where she finds strength to mingle all that and she wants to protect her only family: her grandfather. The loss of her mother drives her to protect.
Is there a particular scene that stands out for you. One that was really hard or really funny to film?
Really funny was the one in the car. I didn’t have my license, the car was small and old and I had to drive in Belgrade. Wasn’t that easy! Everybody in the car was scared. But in the end of was all fine. The one other scene I can’t tell you otherwise you will know how the film ends!
How was it working with James Floyd as Alex?
Really funny. Like we were too kids having fun between the scenes. He was so relaxed and cool, and really professional during the scenes. A perfect partner you can have during filming.
Finally, do you have any other projects lined up at the moment. Anything that’s coming out soon?
I am currently shooting a French movie directed by Marie Castille Mention Schaar. I have worked with her before in her last movie ‘Les Héritiers’ last year. I can’t say any more about it but it’s going to be a very interesting lead role. I have two other French movies coming out pretty soon: A Road movie ‘Demain nous Appartiens’ by Christophe Lioud, and ‘Dieumerci’ by Lucien Jean-baptiste. And I’m also writing a script with Kai Barry.