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ROTTERDAM 2019 Limelight

Sacha Polak • Director of Dirty God

"I find it important to fight for what you want, even if it’s difficult to explain what you have in mind"

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- We chatted to Dutch director Sacha Polak just after she opened the 48th IFFR with her tremendous third feature, Dirty God

Sacha Polak  • Director of Dirty God

Sacha Polak’s third feature, Dirty God [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sacha Polak
film profile
]
, has just world-premiered as the opening film of the 48th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). After Hemel [+see also:
trailer
interview: Sacha Polak
film profile
]
(2012) and Zurich [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(2015), she tells the story of Jade, who has fallen victim to an acid attack and is forced to deal with her scarred appearance. The movie has also been selected as the first-ever Dutch candidate in this year's competition at the Sundance Film Festival. We had the chance to sit down with Polak to talk about the film, its intense soundtrack and her international ambitions as a director.

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Cineuropa: Where did the idea for Dirty God come from?
Sacha Polak:
I was attending Lowlands, a Dutch music festival, and saw a woman with a scarred face. I noticed that everyone passing her was trying not to look, but they still did. At that point, I decided to make something about a person who has to cope with that kind of attention. My initial idea for the script was that the character had done it to herself. Later, in London, I learned about the acid attacks. I found the fact that you can’t hide it very dramatic, and it’s also something very visual. You can’t just put a bag over your head; you have to find ways to deal with it. That became the story of Jade. Later on, I found Vicky Knight, who is a burn victim herself. She turned out to be perfect for the role. I gave her the script rather late, and I don’t think she read the whole thing, but she managed to bring the story to life. She wanted to show people that there is hope – even when you have scars like that. And that was in line with my goal of making a film that would empower people and allow them to be inspired by the protagonist, who is a true fighter.

What did making this film mean to you as a director?
I wanted to take part in writing this film myself and really make it my own. After all, I’ll be the one who’ll be dealing with it the most. It was very good to co-write the film together with Susanne Farrell and to be able to share ideas. I also find it important to fight for what you want, even if it’s difficult to explain what you have in mind. It’s important because I love improvising and adding things on set. It’s a non-stop process. In addition, the music was important. I wanted to make a film that would represent youth culture, so it had to have a great soundtrack. My boyfriend, Rutger Reinders, composed some of it, as he has done for all of my feature films so far, and he has a real modular synthesizer obsession. Some of the other music is by artists like Shystie and Roxxxan. I also let some of them act in the film as Jade’s friends, so everything got mixed up a bit, and that worked well. 

This is your English-language debut; are you aiming to reach an international audience?
My aim has always been to make films that would do well internationally. It was not very easy for this project to take off like this, though. Every other Dutch producer would have wished us luck shooting a film like this in London, but Marleen Slot and I went for it. The United Kingdom is generally very orientated towards itself and the United States – or not so much towards the Netherlands, in any case. But we just went there and slept in youth hostels. At one point, the BBC and the BFI came on board, and they don’t offer much financial support to international co-productions. And then there was the Sundance selection! I had made a deal with Marleen that she would visit me with a bottle of champagne if she heard anything. And there she was, during our holiday in the woods!

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