“In the shell of a high-paced action thriller, lies hidden an intimate portrait of a human trafficker trying to provide for his family in one of the most dangerous regions of our world.” Filmmaker Daniel Carsenty on THE DEVIL’S DRIVERS which is playing at the 2021 edition of TIFF.
Hey! You have a movie at TIFF! Is this your first Toronto experience?
Yes, there are no words to express how excited I am.
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past!
I’m currently graduating from the American film Institute in LA. I shot ‘The Devil’s Drivers’ together with my Palestinian co-director Mohammed Abugeth over the course of nine years. Once I arrived at the AFI I studied by day and edited by night remotely with my Spanish editor Laia Prat.
Before coming to Los Angeles I shot ‘After Spring Comes Fall’ in 2015, a film about a young Syrian woman coming as a refugee to Berlin, where she is forced to work as an informer for the Syrian secret service. It is a character driven story about a woman trying to guard her moral compass under most difficult circumstances and it’s a deeply emotional investigation into the origins of violence and the price we pay to keep our human values.
How did this whole project come together?
After meeting the human trafficker for the first time in 2012, we started to visit them once a year and build up a relationship of trust. We filmed for the first time in 2013 with them. Just me and Mohammed as a small crew, I did camera and he did sound. We continued to film like this once year up until 2019. We visited the smuggler in his village and he took us in his jeep – like flies on the wall we documented his life.
After 2018 screening selected scenes at the Film Market in Cannes we received a post-production grant from the Doha Film Institute. In 2019 we finished filming. We started editing in early 2020, little did we know the world would stand still. During this break we finished the editing process. Our editor Laia Prat was pregnant in the same time, we picture locked on the last day she was allowed to work, that was very exciting.
Our material has been shot over the course of many years on small camcorders, old-school HD broadcast cameras, an array of DSLR’s and finally on a Sony 4K camera. In order to give this film a consistent look, Christian Kröhl, one of the best colorist in Berlin stepped up and transformed our wild material into a cinema production with a consistent look and feel.
What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?
My projects are often deep dives into vulnerable communities. Telling the stories of people whose voices would go unheard, this motivates me to stand up every day and work on my films.
What was your biggest challenge and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
My biggest challenge during the production of ‘The Devil’s Drivers’ was to continue filming when an armed conflict broke out. We could have easily walked away and waited, but the support we got from the community showed us how important it was to stay and continue.
I must get on the technical side! I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was made. (This could include, but not limited to; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.)
We worked in a cinema verité style. We would never give our characters directions, but would follow them and try to make ourselves as ‘unseen’ as possible. We could’ve easily saved us five days of production, if we would have just staged certain scenes. For example we needed a scene when our main protagonist returns from one of his dangerous smuggling tours. It would have been possible for us to go with him and on return ask him to drop us off, drive away again and return. But instead we staid at his home that day and only filmed his kids waiting for his return. I believe we have recorded much rawer and deeper emotions by not telling people what to do, but by patiently waiting for reality.
And this earned us the respect of our protagonists. I believe respect and trust is the most essential human value during a documentary production. A film-maker needs to have integrity.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at TIFF?
The reaction of the audience. We have never screened our finished movie before. In fact i haven’t seen the finished DCP in theatre myself. I can’t wait to see all the film-making elements at play and feel the emotional responses of the people in cinema with me.
Clearly this is such a different time with hybrid festivals and online screenings, and TIFF is no exception as some are attending in person and some are doing it virtually. How do you feel about the future of film festivals?
I believe film festivals will always have a future as a place to explore cutting-edge cinema from all over the world. Even if cinemas will open and close depending on the situation, the power of the story-telling will never go away.
Where is the movie going next? More festivals? Theatrical release? Streaming?
We are looking forward to it’s Asian, US and European festival premiere, but I’m not allowed to say yet where.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or work in the business. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into filmmaking, especially now as things are evolving at such a fast rate?
Have patience, and trust, in your own abilities as a story-teller.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
I watched both parts of ‘HOMELAND – Iraq Year Zero’ at the GIFF in Göteborg. Nine hours with only a small break. Abbas Fahdel’s portrait of his homeland belongs to me to one of the greatest documentaries ever. But more recently I watched ‘Atlantiques’ at the AFI Fest in LA. That was a great experience too.
This is one of the many movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on this movie and all of this year’s lineup, point your browser to www.tiff.net! Special thanks to TIFF PR for helping us out with coverage this year!