Livia De Paolis introduces us to a world where reality meets the imagination. The Lost Girls follows four generations of Darling women — Wendy Sr. (Vanessa Redgrave, Siobhan Hewlett), Jane (Joely Richardson, Tilly Marsan), Wendy Jr. (Livia De Paolis, Emily Carey, Amelia Minto), Berry (Ella-Rae Smith) — who struggle with reality in the aftermath of their adventures with Peter Pan (Louis Partridge) and Captain Hook (Iain Glen). The power of storytelling is unleashed from the very first words that appear on screen, those of American, feminist poet, Muriel Rukeyser: “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
The Lost Girls fully captures the thin line that separates daydreaming and living, the self and illusion. Born to British parents in London, 21st century Wendy was raised in New York City by her single father, Clayton Braverman (Julian Ovenden). He’s a gentle man who decides to homeschool his daughter in the hope of protecting her from the imaginative trips that made his wife drift away. Another knight in shining armour who will cross Wendy’s path is Adam (Parker Sawyers), the man she will fall in love with as an adult, who will also try to rescue her from what seem like hallucinatory episodes.
This picture, available on Apple TV, marks Livia De Paolis’ second feature film. Her directorial debut was Emoticon 😉 which she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, opposite Michael Cristofer, Carol Kane, Sonia Braga, Diane Guerrero and Daphne Rubin Vega. Just like in her first film, the filmmaker who was born in Italy and forged in New York City, explores the juxtaposition between the fictional and real world. Whereas in Emoticon 😉 De Paolis’ characters were navigating love and intimacy in the digital realm, in The Lost Girls the exploration expands to the world of the fantastic, that has no boundaries.
In this Exclusive Interview, Livia De Paolis, shares her creative process in her latest film:
Q: The world of James Matthew Barrie inspired many films like Peter Pan (silent film, 1924), Peter Pan (Disney’s Animation, 1953), The Lost Boys (1987) Hook (1991) Peter Pan (2003), Finding Neverland (2004), Pan (2015). Besides focusing on the book The Lost Girls by Laurie Fox, how did you explore Peter Pan’s world and the previous adaptations of this character?
L.D.P: I have been a fan of Peter Pan for as long as I can remember and was very much aware of how this masterpiece has been inspiring writers and filmmakers for the last century. I wanted to focus more on the darker undertones of the story and at some point while writing the script and researching the Llewelyn’s brothers I fell into a sort of rabbit hole of very dark Peter Pan backgrounds which I actually decided to get away from as it would have brought the movie in a direction that was not resonating with the themes I wanted to explore — or in other words: it was just too dark for me. The main point that was always clear to me is how the Peter Pan story is centred around the absence of mothers and the themes of abandonment and longing that are associated with that — that was my real starting point for both my Peter and my Wendy, they understand each other and develop a very special bond as they are both kids missing their mum.
Q: You are the screenwriter, director, producer, and lead actress in the film, something not so common for female filmmakers. What was the greatest challenge of wearing multiple hats in this production?
L.D.P: I had done the same in my first feature and in my short so in a way I was aware of the challenges that working in this way imply. It’s a pretty intense process where, especially during the shoot, there’s really no time for anything but the work. In a way I very much enjoy that intensity but I’d say the biggest challenge is probably to lead the rest of the production team the way they would expect from someone who’d be just directing. The relationship with the DP becomes even more crucial when you’re both in front and behind the camera and sometimes it can be difficult to communicate to the production team as ‘the director’ while they might look at you more like one of the actors. I think this is the trickiest part of working in this way.
Q: You managed to cast some outstanding actors like, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Iain Glen, Louis Partridge. What surprised you the most while working with them?
L.D.P: I’m still in awe at how fortunate I was to be able to work with such extraordinary talent. I was and still am incredibly inspired by Vanessa’s mesmerising ability to expose herself to the degree she does. I was also happy to discover that Iain Glen is not only one of the best actors I’ve met but also an extremely lovely and kind person — even though you would not guess that by looking at Hook. Lastly I was completely amazed by how professional and serious about the work a very young Louis Partridge was -– I have no doubt his star will continue to rise as besides his undeniable talent he is also very dedicated to the craft.
Q: Did you ever feel the fear of growing up, the so-called Peter Pan Syndrome?
L.D.P: I think the process of making The Lost Girls probably cured me from the Peter Pan Syndrome. When I first read The Lost Girls in 2003 I was really struggling in figuring out how to be in the world in those first adulting years and that’s probably one of the reasons the book resonated with me so profoundly. I think one of the reasons people remain attached to youth is that maybe they feel they weren’t able to fully live some aspect of their youth, that they were somehow forced into adulthood ahead of their time. This was certainly true for me and also the fact that I moved to a different country as a young adult in a way set me back as I found myself in a setting that was new to me and it took me some time to learn how to navigate it. After making the film I noticed that some of my attachment and nostalgia for my youthful years has definitely softened. Time has not stopped rushing, but I am more at ease with it –- I’m definitely more at ease with the woman I have become and I look forward to seeing how I’m going to continue to evolve in the years ahead.
Q: The film channels a strong feminist theme, when Wendy’s grandmother tells the young girl that one day she will meet a boy and fall in love but that it won’t be enough becomes a girl needs more. What is the empowerment message you would like audiences to take away after viewing the film?
L.D.P: It is alway tricky for me to talk about empowerment because as my character asks in the film: “What kind of a world is this, where we’re not naturally empowered, where we have to grab for power? Besides, things you have to grab for are always quite elusive.” I do love the line you quote though, especially how it is delivered by Vanessa. I think the whole point of that line was to assert that even though at the first stab of love we feel that’s really all there is, as a matter of a fact a girl’s and a woman’s life cannot be defined in relation to their love interests nor a woman’s interests can be confined by or reduced to her romantic life.
Q: The Lost Girls explores various mother-daughter relationships, how did your bond with your mum inspire you to portray this kind of familial love?
L.D.P: When I first started writing the script I was more drawn towards Peter Pan as he incarnates the magnificent and wild power of the imagination and my intention was not originally to focus on the mother-daughter story the movie ended up becoming. At some point through this process though the story took over and I was forced to risk more by drawing from elements of my personal experience and how as a daughter of divorced parents I had grown up with a single father and I too had missed my mum immensely as a child. I was then somehow forced to re-examine my relationship with my mother and her own relationships both with men and with her own mother. I had to consider how my Italian grandmother lived the majority of her life in a country were women were not allowed to vote and my own mother was also born in a country were women were not allowed to vote. And while none of the women in my family were feminists I am sure that living in such strong patriarchal culture must have inevitably determined a lot of their choices and probably also their sense of worth. I can say that in the writing of this film I definitely understood some of my mother’s choices much better and I also understood some of my own choices from a different perspective. The process of re-examining my own female lineage has been a wondrous journey, it’s been essential in my own development as a woman and I hope the film will inspire other women to do the same — to look at their mothers and grandmothers and see what’s been passed on and how the women they are today are intertwined in different ways to the women that have come before them and also will be inevitable intertwined with the future generations.
Q: There is a scene in which teen Wendy is immersed in a lake and her image evokes the painting of Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais. Did art history inspire you for the look of the film?
L.D.P: Yes I do know Ophelia’s painting and you might be onto something here. When envisioning some scenes or a certain atmosphere I was trying to portray in the movie I used a number of different references, some from art history and some from pop culture. Some visual references that have been associated with the film have totally surprised me as they were not deliberate but Ophelia was definitely a conscious choice.
Q: There is an instant when Wendy traverses an underworld that evokes a Lewis Carroll setting, what was your work with the post-production team to achieve this?
L.D.P: The sequence you are referring to was actually written, just like it is, in the script. So the process of achieving that started during the location scout. Once I had identified the locations I wanted to use I then had a tech scout with both the DP and the VFX supervisor and we established how we were going to shoot the scenes in order to have the best footage to work with in post. The whole sequence was constructed quite deliberately while shooting and I am still amazed it actually ended up working as planned.
Q: You explore the phenomenon of Hyperphantasia, the condition of having extremely vivid mental imagery, that somehow connects with Jung’s active imagination. What was your research on this psychological trait to bring it into prominence?
L.D.P: I have been an avid reader of Jung and Jungian literature for a long time so I had an understanding of this phenomenon from that perspective. During post production I then came across an article on The New York Times that actually explained this psychological trait in a very modern and scientific way. So to be completely honest I did not conduct a long research on this notion — it was something I knew to be very real as I had experienced it myself and I had also spoken with a number of people about it and pretty much everyone I spoke with confirmed to have had some kind of instance of hyperphantasia occurrence in their life. It was a similar thing with the concept of multi-generational trauma in the sense that there are numerous scientific studies out there that would validate and explain this phenomenon but my approach has been more based on my own experience and direct observation than on scientific research.
Q: The music of the film is essential to convey an atmosphere of reverie, how did you work on this with composer Marc Canham?
L.D.P: Marc was such a joy to work with. I had contacted a number of composers and asked them to temp a couple of scenes –- and Marc’s music was the one that worked best for what I wanted to achieve so it was then very easy to work with him. We talked about what we thought was the right tone and also the right amount of music for the film and then he just pretty much did his own thing. I only had to give him notes on one specific music cue and in that case I just sent him a couple of pop references that helped him understand what I was looking for. The relationship has been so easy and pleasurable and I would definitely work with him again and again. I think when it comes to creative collaborations the most crucial part is to find the person whose sensibility resonates most with yours, once that’s taken care of everything else becomes easy and fun.
Q: One character voices out the old belief that the burden of one family member is passed on to the next generation, what is your opinion on this matter?
L.D.P: As I was mentioning before multigenerational family trauma is one of the main themes I explored in the film. I did not do a very extensive research on the matter as in my experience it is inevitable to have some of the “quirks” that our ancestors had. I think lineage is something inextricable and it is very important to be aware of what’s coming from our own past and what might have been passed on from the previous generation so that we can treasure the family marbles and also evolve from what can use revisiting. And I also believe that evolving one’s own lineage is the best way to honour that lineage.
Q: How important do you feel is escapism in order to come to terms with the hardships of life?
L.D.P: It depends on how far one ventures into it. In my experience some forms of escapism can be beneficial, specifically when the power of imagination is used in a creative way. For example even in Finding Neverland the back story of the Llewelyn’s brothers is clearly offered to show how the power of imagination can really help, especially children, in forgetting for a little bit about the hardships and heartaches of real life. I do believe that considering one’s personal story it is ultimately a sense of awareness that can give real freedom, however escapism can be a first step and can definitely have its positive function in a person’s life and evolution.
Q: What was Laurie Fox’s reaction after seeing the screen adaptation of her book, also in consideration that Simon & Schuster republished her book in paperback using the poster of your film as the cover?
L.D.P: I was nervous to show her the final version of the film and was so happy to learn she loved it. I had to obviously change the story a bit as that is inevitable when adapting a novel into a screenplay, but I was so happy to learn that Laurie felt I had managed to stay very loyal to the heart of the book she wrote. This was very important to me and it was a very rewarding moment when I received Laurie’s compliment on my work — it really meant the world to me.
Q: Since the ability to fly with the imagination — and with Peter Pan — is granted by Happy Thoughts…what is your happy thought?
L.D.P: Right now my immediate happy thoughts have to do with resting and taking some time off, taking more time to do very simple things like making coffee in the morning, walking the dog, cooking a meal. I then have happy thoughts that are about diving into my next project. And ultimately I have happy thoughts for the world we live in: it makes me happy to envision it filled with kindness.
The Lost Girls was released in theatres and VOD on June 17th and is distributed by Vertical in the USA, Altitude in the UK and Ireland and Photon in Canada. It will be further available in the following territories: China, South Africa, Middle East, Germany, Italy Greece, Former Yugoslavia, Australia, New Zealand and aboard Airlines.