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“The Last 50 Years Destroyed Our Old World”: Five Questions for Actress/Director Mélanie Laurent

Mélanie Laurent (Courtesy: Marrakech International Film Festival)

French actress Mélanie Laurent may be best known to American audiences for her role as Shosanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. But in addition to acting in over 35 international roles, Laurent has also directed two feature films. Based on the YA novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme, her latest film Breathe premiered at Cannes this year. Laurent expertly crafts the world of adolescent codependency. She claims she’s learned from every director she’s worked with: one tip she stole from Tarantino is to play music in between scenes to get people to be more comfortable on the set.

Laurent served on the jury for the Marrakech International Film Festival this year, headed by another French actress, Isabelle Huppert. In addition to choosing the best in new cinema at the festival’s 14th edition, she also presented actor Viggo Mortensen with a career tribute award. She used the time in Morocco to shoot scenes for a documentary she’s currently shooting with co-director Cyril Dion, Demain (Tomorrow). Using European crowdfunding platform Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, Laurent raised half a million dollars from over 10,000 backers for the project.

The film presents positive examples of how people around the world are working on local levels to help save the planet for the next generation. Faced with reports that civilization may be on the brink of extinction, the filmmakers aim to put a human face on the many ways that people are trying to combat this deadly diagnosis, from urban farming in Detroit to Copenhagen’s quest for zero CO2 emissions. They explore dozens of examples from countries creating local currencies to promoting equal education. We spoke with Laurent in Marrakech about her daring vision for a film that hopes to inspire people across the globe to start taking matters into their own hands.

Filmmaker: What’s the goal of Demain?

Laurent: It’s a positive movie meant to inspire people. I started to shoot the documentary last summer. We traveled everywhere in the world just to see the best initiatives regarding ecology, agriculture, energy, buildings and education. The first place we went to was Detroit. We filmed the urban farmers movement. We then went to Washington and San Francisco. We’re going to go to India next. I am going to shoot some things here in Morocco. Here there is a movement called Incredible Edible, which came from England.

Filmmaker: What was your impression of Detroit?

Laurent: Detroit was amazing. You see that the town was totally destroyed, but there was energy everywhere. We met so many people who just said, “We lost everything, so we had to create everything again.” That’s strong, and you can see both situations out there: the fact that it’s not working anymore and the fact that they have to build another world. There is that energy of doing something together which is amazing. We went to lot of farms and we went to see a big meeting with FoodLab.

Filmmaker: What have you discovered so far from shooting the documentary?

Laurent: I learned we are eating really bad things all the time, and it’s not because it’s cheaper to eat other food compared to organic food, for example. It’s just a bad calculation, because at the end of the day you are going to end up sick. It’s going to be very serious. So the world has to change, because it’s not fair that good food is just for rich people. That’s mainly why I love Detroit, because we saw people who were not rich people, and they just took the decision to go back to their roots, and just do it all by themselves. They said it’s super hard work, but at the end of the day you’re eating your own food, and it’s good food and you feel so good.

I remember one guy, Lorenzo, who told me that he was working in a bank, and had a lot of money. He woke up one day and just saw his little girl and realized he was not a good example. He felt guilty every day. He wasn’t happy. He just left his job to grow food in the middle of the town. He was smiling at me and he was just like, “I am a good example now. I am a good dad. At the end of the day I am creating my own food at home.” It’s another life, and we don’t need to have so many things all the time. We need to go back to something more simple.

Filmmaker: What other positive examples did you see?

Laurent: Well, there are amazing initiatives in the economy. For example, in England there are a lot of towns who are creating their own local money. With energy, agriculture, everything, every time the solution was the same: go back to the local, go back to something simple, go back to the old times without all that technology. We don’t have to die at 3 because of diseases. We don’t need five computers, five TVs, two cars; we don’t need that. People are not happier because they have a lot of things.

But it’s going to take time. The last 50 years destroyed our old world, completely destroyed it. The only thing I hope is that people will change before it’s going to be too late, because in 25 years with the climate change, the world is going to change and it’s going to be big. We have to be ready for that, which means learning to live in a different way. Today everybody thinks that having money is the most important thing. In 30 years, having a piece of land will be the most important thing. If you have water, not petroleum, you will be super rich.

Filmmaker: Is that your motto in life, to keep it simple?

Laurent: Yeah, kind of, and not using too much water, electricity. In San Francisco we saw an amazing program called Zero Waste. For me now with the trash, I compost everything. I have a piece of land in Paris. I have started to grow food in a little garden. I just started, but we have lettuce, celery, basil and pumpkin. Just to see things growing, it’s amazing and you feel so proud because you did it. It’s funny how we just refuse to go to something that we know it’s going to be better and make us happier. It’s strange.

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