Alice: Up Close With Josephine Mackerras

Josephine Mackerras

By Halli Burton.

Writer and director Josephine Mackerras’s debut feature film, Alice, has all the markers of a romantic drama – love, family and domestic bliss. Yet ironically, and somewhat refreshingly, Alice flips the script and instead offers an alternative narrative that is both inspiring and badass!

We had a chat with Josephine about her award-winning labour of love and making an actor out of her toddler son.

Alice was quite theatrical, with a powerful script, almost like a stage play. Was that deliberate?

Funny you should say that. I started my career as a theatre actress and spent time doing self-devised theatre. The original script was a lot more cinematic, but the lack of budget made it very intimate. I was also inspired by the small-budget Nordic style of writing. My primary focus was really all about getting inside Alice’s character.

Why did you choose Paris as the location for the film?

I’m from Australia but I live in Paris. We shot the movie in my apartment and I edited the film in my bedroom! The boy who plays Alice’s son is in fact my son, Jules.  He didn’t really understand what was going on during filming, but he’s six years old now and enjoys meeting people and talking about the film.

How long did entire project take?

I spent a long time on the writing. I wanted to find a way into this story where the audience were not going to judge Alice. If you didn’t fall in love with her then the movie wouldn’t work. I had to find a way that we could identify with her rather than judge her.

I worked on Alice for about four to five years without being paid, getting more and more into debt. I didn’t realise how hard it would be by myself. When you have a shoot at least there’s people around. In post-production there’s no one to call, and that was the hardest two years of my life.

Emilie Piponnier was brilliant as Alice. Did you have her in mind when you wrote the film?

No. I found Emilie through a casting agent and she came on board quite late. Casting is really important. There was a tonality in Alice and I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but Emilie understood that her performance was the most important thing. We’d keep going until we got everything we wanted in the edit. Every second had to be 100% right.

As a woman I felt strangely empowered by Alice’s determination. Is that the emotional response you wanted from your audience?

Absolutely! Alice is a survivor. She wasn’t going to let her husband, Francois, win. As she starts gaining economic power she became stronger and Francois couldn’t deal with this new dynamic. Alice shows how threatening a strong woman is to a man and how dangerous a weak man can be. He’s sort of like a baby screaming for his mother. It’s a dangerous mix of a fully-grown man watching his wife not need him anymore.

What inspired you to become a film director?

I’ve always wanted to make a film. Initially, I was discouraged from following that path but I travelled to London and had an opportunity to work with a big agent.  I made my first short film and then fell in love with it. The music, sound, colour and editing encapsulated everything I wanted to do. So I decided to make the leap into feature filmmaking.

How did you feel when Alice won the Narrative Feature competition at SXSW 2019?

It was extraordinary. I didn’t see it coming. Alice was competing against a great line-up of feature films and had the smallest budget. It was also a huge gamble (because you don’t get a second chance at an international premiere) but the risk paid off.

Are you a feminist? If so, what does feminism mean to you?

Of course I’m a feminist. It’s an interesting question in our time. It means choice. Everyone can live their lives to their full potential. It can apply to anyone. It goes beyond gender politics. I think Francois is interesting in that his love is sincere but he doesn’t know to love because he’s too emotionally screwed up.

Josephine Mackerras
Josephine Mackerras

Eventually Alice takes responsibility for her part in her marriage. She moves into a sort of a heightened awareness of her whole life and accepts that she attracted someone who wanted to dominate.  

As a writer I had to write what speaks to me. I’ve seen relationships where a woman dominates the man. It can exist. That’s why I feel like it’s beyond gender politics.

What are your plans for 2019?

I’m doing the festival circuit and have a UK premier in Edinburgh. I also have another project that I’m really excited about…

Who would you like to work with in the future?

I’m almost scared to answer it in case I jinx it. Obviously, there are certain actors that I’d love to work with.

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