Interview by Andreea Boyer // Edited by Chris Charles of Idol Features
French filmmaker Julien Botzanowski says he wants to create things all the time and so far, he has done a great job of that on both sides of the camera. Two of his most recent films, Slices of Vi and Rutabaga, have been nominated for awards at notable film festivals in Europe.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about yourself and where are you from?
Julien Botzanowski: I am a 26-year-old French guy and I create things. Sometimes I make films, sometimes I tell stories, otherwise music and poems mostly. Recently, I have also been working on a few live performances and plays, as a director or an actor.
Andreea Boyer: Have you been working in the film industry mainly in France or also somewhere else around the globe?
Julien Botzanowski: For the moment, in France only. Beforehand, I studied the image technique, then I was an editor, or a first assistant on independent projects, such as short or feature films, series, and music-videos.
Andreea Boyer: How did you start your career as a filmmaker and what has your motivation been?
Julien Botzanowski: When I was a teen I used to make little films in my room. I was doing stop-motion animation with toys and objects because I felt to shy and inexperienced to look for actors. When I was 17, I co-directed my first short film with my friend Maria, with real people in front of the camera. Even though it was exhausting and purely amateur, I found this great. One year later, after another short film co-directed with her and a difficult personal phase, I decided to direct my first feature.
In our very first experiments, we were both writing, which was great, but limiting at the same time. Then from the moment I started to write my own scenarios, I thought; ‘‘That’s what I want to do all my life.’’
Andreea Boyer: What has inspired you?
Julien Botzanowski: I had always been fascinated and inspired by dark stories, thrillers, and horror films. My inspirations are mainly literary; Edgar Poe, Lewis Carroll, Pierre Gripari, Stephen King, Perrault, and cinematic; Wes Craven, Jan Svankmajer, Murnau, Pascal Laugier, Tobe Hooper, and Alexandre Aja.
Andreea Boyer: When did you start with your career as a filmmaker and has filmmaking always been your main focus?
Julien Botzanowski: I don’t even know if my “career as a fimmaker” has really begun. If so, when? At the time of our first short films in high school? When I directed my first feature? When the festivals received my work. I think I started to send my films from the fourth one? When my films were bought? I couldn’t say.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. Growing up, I learned that I could tell stories with several mediums. Filmmaking is a very complete one, so I tried it, and fell into it, but if I knew how to paint, for instance, I would do paintings too. I just want to create different things all the time.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about the cast and story from your movies Slices of Vi and Rutabaga?
Julien Botzanowski: Slices of Vi (Tranches de Vi in French) was the first time I made a film with main actors who weren’t my friends at the start. I wanted to look for new faces. I cast Fabien Ara and Tanguy Mendrisse, and offered another main role to Olivier Bureau, who had acted in a French gore film I had enjoyed a few years ago. Some other little characters were cast too, but I also re-invited a few persons who were important for me. My technical crew has been extended too. Concerning the story; I wanted to create a hybrid film, to start with something and make it turn into the extreme opposite. So I began with a dramatic minimalist story, a guy bored in his life, and asked myself; “What if his mind rubbed off on his flat?” Then, bit by bit, the story became an absurd horror thing, in the 80s Italian style like Lucio Fulci’s films.
Rutabaga was shot more than one year later. This time, the story is a simple macabre tale: A journalist has to write an article about a new guest house, and meets the owners, who apparently want him to stay. He’ll join the young housekeeper to discover what’s the secret of the place. At first, I had written something very experimental. “The Inn” was the first title, but then I opted for something more classic. I had cast Capucine Lamarque for a secondary character in Slices of Vi, and I wanted her in a more important role on this new film. I called Serge Barbagallo, thanks to Fabien Ara, the main actor of my previous film, and Anouchka Csernakova, I found her on a casting website, to play the owners. I didn’t know, when I wrote the script, that I would finally play the journalist. But the pre-production was very fast. I wrote it in the summer and wanted to shoot it in the autumn, and when the actor I’d first chosen told me he wasn’t free, I decided to do it myself, as the character resembled me a lot.
Andreea Boyer: Where did you film both movies?
Julien Botzanowski: Slices of Vi was shot in Marseille in south France, where I lived at that time, as the majority of my crew did. Rutabaga was shot in Auvergne, where there were the forests that I love, and of course the house.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about your other films and work?
Julien Botzanowski: My first films, before Slices of Vi, are entitled Shooting (2012), Expressionnism (2013), The Crests (2014) and Back to the Crests (2015). They explored different sub-genres of horror, with very precarious conditions of shooting.
My very new film will have its first screening at the end of October in Marseille. It’s entitled Tea Party with the Living (Au Thé des Vivants). I came back to my first conditions, for this one. It sounds odd, but I wanted to go back to something “poorer.” The story is; three people are lost in a cold no-man’s-land, they meet a strange fourth character in ruins, everyone has his or her own personal hallucination. Well, it’s strange, surrealistic, and theatrical. (See the trailer at end of this interview.)
I have, as usual, several ideas for future horror films, that I hope I’ll do one day, but I think my next one will be very different from anything I’ve done before. I started to write a few scenes, a love story maybe. But for now, I can’t say more.
Andreea Boyer: What can you tell us about your best experiences and which moments in your career have been the most influential ones for you?
Julien Botzanowski: The “Best Atmosphere” prize won at the Independent Horror Movie Awards for Rutabaga was a great reward, and made sense, but actually every moment has been important somehow. From the lonely moments writing or editing, to the collective times of shooting or screening. At any step, I realize that I meet so many interesting and motivated people who come and help me to do my things, and it’s wonderful. And then they call me to help them to do theirs, or common projects. I am very lucky.
The last strong moment is of course, Rutabaga being released in Southeast Asia and North America. Another country is coming and it’s something very exciting. I’m happy when my films just exist, and to see them from far away. Having a humble life in other countries is a very strong and unexpected new experience for me.
Andreea Boyer: What is your advice for all young independent filmmakers on how they should work on their goals and reach the best audience for their individual work?
Julien Botzanowski: After several feature films, I still have no idea how you reach an audience! I don’t think I’m a good example for this point. All I can say is; independent filmmakers, or creators of all kinds, should always do what they want, without thinking about what ‘‘works’’ or what people expect them to do. Surround yourself with kind people, tell your stories only the way you want to, and trust yourself. No matter if you’ve got no money or not enough popularity; if you really want to create, then the creation process and the final result are your main pleasure, right? What could come next is bonus. Well, that’s what I tell myself to keep on creating. Thanks for the interview!
Thank you, Julien. We wish you continued success.
See more of Julien and his works at:
His IMDb Page
Au Thé des Vivants (Tea Party with the Living) Trailer