Radical Activism

Benedict Andrews is the Australian theatre director who made his feature film debut with 2016’s Una, starring Ben Mendelsohn and Rooney Mara. He returns with his second film Seberg. A portrait of the American actress Jean Seberg, starring Kristen Stewart, the story follows her time in the late 1960s when her affiliation to the radical Black Panther movement made her a target for the FBI.

ASFF: Seberg was written by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel. Did it change at all when you came on board?
The script changed a lot during the making of it. But it was a very, very, very smart script…the writers had been living with it for around eight years. When I came on board, it altered around and changed a fair bit. I think it’s about condensing her life down. A lot of the work is about that condensation. I didn’t want to make a traditional biopic. I wasn’t interested in that. I’m also not interested in that when I go to the cinema. I wanted this to have the intimacy of a love story and in a way, the talk and tension of a thriller.

ASFF: What was your aesthetic approach?
BA: I didn’t want to make a closed period film that is nostalgic to the 1960s. We shot on film and the textures of the film are very important, and the smell of the period – but I wanted it to have the urgency of contemporary film rather than a museum piece.

ASFF: How did you achieve that practically?
BA: We used SteadiCam in a way that they couldn’t have used then in those films [from the era] and there’s some very long takes in the movie and the fluid sense of the camera. So we shoot it in a way of a contemporary film and it’s a lot more on sticks and composed in the first half of the film and it comes off the sticks as the film goes on, as it’s more hand-held.

ASFF: How did you want to approach Jean’s story?
BA: She’s not presented as a perfect, flawless hero. I think the audience recognise her fragilities and the film touches the raw nerve of her involvement [in the Black Panther movement] and of questions of white liberalism and what Tom Wolfe disparagingly called ‘radical chic’ at the time…it is complicated and she makes mistakes and does it from a position of privilege. She lives in Paris and has this great place in the Hollywood Hills and so on. But she’s trying to find meaning, and I wanted to zero in on that.

ASFF: How did you work with Kristen Stewart?
BA: She and I spent a lot of time before the shoot talking about Jean, talking about the script, sharing references, watching Jean’s movies, reading biographies, talking about the script. She’s exceptionally, instinctively smart, Kristen, and it was very clear from the get-go that she had a deep compassion for Jean and a deep empathetic understanding of Jean, and so that in a way was our preparation and our shared understanding and I felt from our very conversation, we just got it – that we were interested in the same thing. When you begin from that basis, then you’re dancing together.

Seberg is in cinemas now. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

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