GINGER & ROSA written and directed by Sally Potter, with Elle Fanning, Alice Englert and Christina Hendricks. 90 minutes. A Union Picture release. Opens Friday (March 29). See listing.
Small budgets and time constraints have never stopped Sally Potter from making important movies and attracting A-list actors.
Her latest, Ginger & Rosa, set in 1962 London, takes on big philosophical subjects like Cold War fears and the meaning of friendship. And the cast features some major names: Annette Bening, Oliver Platt, Christina Hendricks.
"Hendricks was already known for her Mad Men role," says the super-articulate Potter, perched on an ottoman in the TIFF Bell Lightbox green room. "She wanted to do something that showed a different part of her. I always do my homework and look at people's work, but eventually they have to love the screenplay - the actors certainly weren't doing it for monetary gain."
In the midst of the showy stars, it's Elle Fanning who shines brightest.
"Elle says she grew up during the making of the film, and she's right," says Potter. "She literally shot up a foot between the time I met her and the shoot, and she grew mentally and physically and developed as an actor. She was at ease with the camera, hungry for the process and emotionally open."
Fanning plays youthful anti-nuke crusader Ginger, best friend to Rosa. Friendship is a subject that Potter is passionate about.
"Friendships between girls - best friends - have been popularly trivialized, but these are epic relationships," she declares, drawing out the word "epic."
"At their age, young women learn about betrayal, loyalty, trust, openness. They're working out all things that have to do with appearance and insecurity as well as all the big metaphysical, political and philosophical questions - Is there a God? Will the world end? - while occupying spaces like the bathroom as their territory."
Like Ginger, Potter marched against the bomb in her early teens.
"I was out leafletting in my school uniform," she recalls. "I was extremely aware of the danger we were all in. I felt strong responsibility for the world as a whole, and I think that feeling of responsibility gets knocked out of you as you get older, when you start thinking, ‘It's up to the government - we can't make a difference.' I remember feeling that we could do something about it."
And she remembers the early 60s vividly.
"It's a fascinating period. It's before flower power and before the liberation movements. The ban the bomb movement was the first of the anti-war movements."
She's expert at making movies that disguise her tiny budgets. In Orlando, she famously made it appear that hundreds of skaters were on the ice in a scene shot with fewer than 10 people.
"It's a matter of attitude," she says, explaining how she works. "The truism is true: there's never enough time or money to make whatever you wanted to make originally. You have to decide ‘This is what I have. How can I make the most of it?' In this case, I did a great deal of hand-held work, shooting digitally and with long takes.
"I also decided to shoot locally rather than going all over the place. We put a pin on the map where our production offices are located and went deep to see what we could find, and we found amazing locations.
"You have to be adaptable and flexible and never, never, never compromise on your vision."