Dreaming of Dance in Florence Winter Hill’s Elle

People have to overcome a lot to follow their dreams. Florence Winter Hill’s “Elle” tells the story of a young woman who longs to be a dancer, a dream many young girls have, and let dance become her life, but she has a problem not a lot of girls in her position go through. When she is diagnosed with memory loss, this impairment almost takes away her dreams, and soon her sense of reality, and it only gets harder to find people who understand what she’s going through. We’ve interviewed the director, Florence Winter Hill, to get a closer look.

What was the inspiration for this story?

I started writing Elle when I was completing my A-levels, almost 2 years ago now. I had always been frustrated through my experience in education with the lack of appreciation and encouragement to do arts subjects. They are stigmatised and discouraged throughout the education system, and are being gradually completely cut from curriculums. From my experience, I felt that because of this – children are naturally forgetting what they love.

Most schools now have a system where the subjects are categorised into columns, and you can only choose one subject from each column. Which ultimately means a lot of children have to choose subjects they’re not very interested in, and are restricted in their later choices for A-level. Even Isabelle, our lead actress who played Young Cossette in Tom Hoopers Oscar-nominated film Les Miserables, wasn’t able to choose dance as well as drama at her school. She told me this in her audition and how upset she was about it, and I knew this was something she cared about sharing too.

I wanted to tell a story of what it’s like to go through this. It’s something us young people trying to make our way in the creative industry all have in common – the entire crew on Elle was made up of people between 17-25 who all felt they had been through this and believed in telling the story.

Both me and my producers (James Lane and Ed McGovern) at Indigo Productions are keen most of all in collaborative work between young people – its a tough industry but we are trying to help each other on the way up!

What messages do you want to send with this story?

Trust your gut, if you love something – do it and fight for your dreams even if they seem impossible.  Elle is my battle cry to children (especially young girls as creative industries are lacking women, even though 50% of arts graduates in the UK are female!) to inspire them to keep going in what they love – no matter what gets in the way.

Some of Elle’s teachers seem downright unsympathetic towards her condition; is Elle properly diagnosed with a condition or do they not understand her situation?

The memory loss in Elle is used as a metaphor – it is a representation of the creative arts diminishing from classrooms and how we can forget what we love as we grow up. It isn’t necessarily ‘real’. I wanted to explore having something surreal in quite a real world. It is inspired by an amazing Ted Talk by Ken Robinson, and how schools make us forget creativity.

Dance is a unifying theme throughout the film, especially, without giving too much away, connecting Elle to her family; what inspired Elle’s passion to be dance in the story?

Elle grew up with her grandmother taking her to the theatre, ballets, musicals, etc. She grew a love for it as a child, as you see the young Elle in the garden dancing around, it’s been something she loves since she was very young. It’s engrained in her. The grandmother’s death, even though this is something quite discreet in the film, I wanted it to add to Elle forgetting her love for dance – as her grandmother gave her that love.

How did you pull off the fading painting scene?

I worked for some time at Industrial Light & Magic, the legendary VFX company created by George Lucas originally for the Star Wars films. I worked as a VFX Production Assistant on Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi straight after A-levels. I worked there while I was making Elle still (I was 18-years-old), and was offered a lot of help by artists to bring it to life. Luckily, someone was able to spare some of their time for me to help make the fading painting.

What was it like working with Isabelle Allen, of Les Miserables fame?

She is incredible and a star in the making – if not a star already. As soon as Isabelle walked in the room, she had such a level of maturity and elegance about her. She is so determined and intuitive with her acting. She loves it and cared a lot for Elle as a character – she was similar to her in a lot of ways. In choosing the subjects she wanted to study, even being as talented as her, she wasn’t able to choose dance as well as drama to study. She told me this in her audition and how upset she was about it, and I knew this was something she cared about sharing too. Her audition made us all a bit emotional and we knew she was living this character.

Tell us about your future projects!

I’m currently working on a new short film about a mother-daughter relationship. It’s inspired by my own experience. I’m making some music videos in the next coming months and just trying to write and make as much as I can! I’m also in post-production for a dark-comedy short film I shot in January up in Scotland with my producers at Indigo Productions – a trailer will be released soon, so stay tuned!

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