Ben Brand • Director
"A story about growing up and making mistakes"
- We talk to Dutch filmmaker Ben Brand, whose first feature film Find This Dumb Little Bitch and Throw Her into the River just had its world premiere as part of Warsaw's Competition 1-2
In 2010, a video showing a girl throwing puppies into a river went viral and an undertaking to find her and punish her spread across the internet. Ben Brand’s Find This Dumb Little Bitch and Throw Her into the River [+see also:
interview: Ben Brand
film profile], world-premiered in Warsaw Film Festival's Competition 1-2, takes this incident and builds on it, imagining what could have happened to the character called Lizzy, a 13-year-old girl from a small town. Her father imports puppies from Eastern Europe and sells them on eBay. Her 15-year-old brother, Remco, upon noticing that one of his friends' YouTube channels is popular, posts a video of Lizzy throwing three sick puppies into the river, and things spiral disproportionally out of control.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to make a film about this story?
Ben Brand: When I first saw the video in 2010 it was shocking, but even more shocking were the reactions of people all over the world, who wanted to find and kill this little girl. I started talking to [co-writer] Ilse Ott about the idea, but it was hard to find the right entrance to the story. At first, we thought the girl would be the main character, so we started the script from her perspective.
But we realised that the girl has no real motivation, she is not the one who posts the video. So we came up with the brother’s character. He is more fascinating - he makes the video and puts it online, and it is even harder for him when his little sister gets confronted by the problem he has created. That seemed to be the most emotional way of entering the film, and it personally connected me to the story because of my youth. I did a lot of stupid things, like most kids do. I also had the chance to make those mistakes and learn from them and to grow into a, hopefully, better person. We wanted to show what goes on behind the video and tell a story about growing up and making mistakes.
Tell us a bit about the angle relating to the puppies in the story?
In many Eastern European countries there are farms which breed these expensive dogs and ship them to Western Europe. The younger and cuter they are, the better they sell. But this means they are taken from their mothers too early, so a lot of them get sick by the time they reach their destination. They then can't be sold and it's too expensive to put them to sleep, so they smash them against walls, put them in freezers, or drown them.
It gave an additional layer to the film. There is this world with a cute puppy face on the outside, but there’s also a multimillion euro business of really nasty stuff going on.
How did you choose the actors?
Wim Opbrouck, who plays the father, is a well-known Belgian actor, he has a great face and he plays a harsh father, but he also has kindness to him. I did not want him to just be violent and strict, I also wanted us to see that he can be a nice guy.
For the kids, I held castings for a year and a half. Nino den Brave, who plays the brother,literally came to the last auditions, just when I was losing hope, and he was perfect. He was just like I imagined the character to be. He could be angry, but also vulnerable, and he was funny. The humor that he brought was key because it is a heavy subject and I didn't want it to be too dark a film.
For the girl, we found Senna Fokke, she was a perfect actress but she could not sing, and we needed that for her talent show scenes. She would sometimes start crying before the singing scenes, and we had to convince her that we would dub the songs with someone else's voice.
How did you create the mise-en-scene, and how exactly did you shoot the film?
I was really lucky to work with cinematographer Paul Özgur, who only wanted to shoot with natural light.I wanted to give the kids as much freedom as possible, and we built all sets to be used on 360 degrees, which also helped with the light. There was a lot of improvisation, but not so much in terms of the text, but more in terms of how the actors moved within a scene.
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