There’s a certain comfort to be taken in finding that young artists are still moving to New York and trying to make it — and having a very difficult time doing so. In fact, Lola Bessis says her new feature film, “Swim Little Fish Swim,” was inspired by her and collaborator Ruben Amar’s experiences coming to the city. Bessis, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Amar, stars as Lilas, a French artist and NYC newcomer — looking to escape the long shadow of her successful artist mother — who lands on the couch of a young family facing their own battle over practicality and artistic integrity.
What was the genesis of this story?
First of it all, it came from living in New York. We moved to the city only five months before starting to work on this movie, and we were inspired by everything that surrounded us at the time, so we started shooting with our iPhones random scenes that we observed in the street from daily life. And at the same time we had a short film that was playing a lot of festivals. We met some great actors and crew, and we thought this would be a very good, easy movie to make. We wanted to make the movie in New York because we wanted to capture something from the city. As newcomers, we felt everything was very new and magic to us in New York, so many people from different countries, so much interesting stuff.
Do you think that New York has become a harder place for artists to thrive?
I think, yeah, it’s harder everywhere. I don’t know, I wasn’t there but I think it was probably easier in the ’70s or ’80s to be an artist and just not care about anything else. But now I think there are a lot of societal pressures, and you can’t only be an artist. You have to do other things. And once again, that’s similar to our own situation. Making a movie and finding the financing, it’s often a very long process — especially in France, actually, because you have a lot of grants so it seems easier but at the same time you have to wait a lot. In New York, it’s a bit different. I think filmmakers have to struggle more, but at the same time they don’t have to wait, they can just make films. That was very stimulating to us, to see so many people making great work out of nothing.
How did you find the financing to get this project up off the ground.
Oh, we didn’t have any financing. (laughs) We just had a little bit of personal savings and credit cards, and also a lot of good friends. We met a lot of amazing people here, so we just went to locations that we liked — a restaurant or a gallery where we wanted to shoot — we’d just go there and ask nicely. It wasn’t easy, a lot of people said no, but some of them said yes, so that’s how we made this movie with almost no budget. We shot the film in 2011, and the reason it’s not coming out until now is because we had to work on other projects and other things to help pay for the post-production on it. And then at the last minute last year we got this grant from France, and that enabled us to finish the movie. Otherwise it would not exist.
Working with a child actor on such a small budget can’t be easy.
It wasn’t that hard, actually. We were very lucky to find a little girl that was amazing, I think. We did a lot of auditions. She was the first one to come with her mom, and we thought she was amazing. Then we saw a lot of other girls who were clearly pushed by their parents to come and were unhappy to be there, so we knew that this one was the perfect kid.