Discovery Young Ambassadors interview the director of Sleeping Giant

Our Discovery Young Ambassadors interview Andrew Cividino, the director of Sleeping Giant

1 November 2016

Discovery Film Festival is all about putting together a programme specifically chosen for and by young people. Every year our Discovery Young Ambassadors carefully select films from around the world that resonate with teen audiences and Sleeping Giant is one such pick. An engrossing and stylish story of hurtful secrets, teenage pranks and the results of peer pressure, our Ambassadors were curious about how much of the film was based on real life and what it takes to get such natural performances. Who better to ask than the director himself, Andrew Cividino. Theo, Erasmus, Molly and Sean put their questions to him and here's what they found out...

Q. Theo: How much of the film was based on real life experience? 

Hey Theo, the film was a mixture of real life experience and fictional storytelling. The real life aspect isn't just from my life, it's from observations I've made in other people's lives as well. Each of the characters is a compilation of character traits from myself, friends I had growing up, and the actors themselves who helped to define their roles. It was a lot of fun to collaborate with the actors to work in the kind of details that would allow the film to feel alive. The setting is 100% real though, I grew up spending my summers on that beach and we would do a lot of the crazy stuff that happens in the movie. Todd's cliff is also a real cliff and the footage from Brad's trailer of him jumping the cliff when he was a teenager is actually footage I filmed of someone jumping when I was sixteen. Nobody was hurt badly though, so it had a happier ending in real life.

Q. Erasmus: How much does the film's setting play a crucial role in the film?

There was something about that specific location that always stuck with me.  It’s an incredibly beautiful area and it can be quite calm and serene, but there’s an underlying tension and sense of looming danger that comes from these massive granite cliff faces and the incredible storms the lake kicks up. I saw a parallel to the way I felt and acted as a kid growing up there. We were more or less left to our own devices without much supervision and that created a lot of room for us to get ourselves into trouble.

I think tone was something that was very important to me from the genesis of the project. There’s something that I saw mirrored in the tone that I wanted to convey that’s inherent to the landscape up there. It’s beautiful, but it’s also foreboding. Massive granite cliffs rise hundreds of feet from a cold water lake that can whip into a mighty storm in a hurry.

There was this tension between it being like a romantic postcard view of nature and something much more menacing, or at the very least indifferent to your existence. I thought that setting mirrored with what adolescent boys are like, the kind of tumult, the lack of empathy and that energy.

Q. Molly: Was the cliff-jumping scene as suspenseful to film as it was to watch?

I'm glad it was suspenseful! We were filming at the top of a real cliff so we were all definitely very cautious that day but we had a lot of safety practices in place to ensure it was safe, including ropes and rock climbing harness for cast and crew. Nobody actually jumped the big cliff, we had them jump very small cliffs and then shot an empty shot of the big cliff and used visual effects to create digital versions of them falling. The end effect looks real but nobody was ever in harm's way. 

Q. Sean: How did you achieve the shifting dynamic between the three leads? The performances are so natural - were they improvised or tightly scripted?

Thanks, Sean! I definitely wanted the film to have that naturalism and a big part of that was letting the actors bring their own voices to the characters whenever possible. We had a tightly woven story and character arcs / narrative threads to follow closely but beyond that we really let the actors riff back and forth and try to make the scenes their own. It made for a lot of footage in the editing room and it's a lot of trust to put on young actors without a lot of experience, but it really paid off in the end and was a rewarding process to work with.  

"I wanted to capture the inferno of this stage of youth... the sting of unrequited love, the joy of true friendship, the excitement of pushing boundaries with reckless abandon."

Q. Erasmus: How do the family relationships we see on screen contribute to the themes of the film overall?

In making this film I wanted to capture the inferno of this stage of youth, before the transition to adulthood, when day-to-day experiences feel incredibly chaotic, volatile and vulnerable. I wanted to capture the sting of unrequited love, the joy of true friendship, the excitement of pushing boundaries with reckless abandon.

Adolescence to me is the awakening of strong creative and destructive impulses. An intense longing for connection comes online at the same time that we recognize a world larger than ourselves, and we discover our place in it by testing its boundaries. In the film, the boys are aggressive and get up to things as simple as vandalism, and things that are more cruel, and I think all of that is part of figuring out how one fits in the world.  I think young men tend to explore violent impulses first because the power of destruction is easier to harness. I think it's sometimes easy to see boys in this space and to oversimplify the relationships that they have, and I wanted to show the subtle and often complex dynamics that play out beneath the chaos.

When we're kids we see our parents as being omniscient forces of good. And then comes the day you realize that they're actually human beings full of all the flaws and complexities that anyone is. I think for Adam in particular, having his father, who is the centre of his world, do something he feels is so wrong and lie to cover it up really turns his world upside down. His moral compass is thrown out of whack and it sets up a parallel with the betrayal he feels when Taylor and Riley connect, and that's what puts him over the edge.

If you're aged 12+ and fancy trying your hand at filmmaking then join us for our Discovery Film School Taster on Sat 5 November, 14:00 - 16:30. This free workshop will give you the chance to learn about key industury roles from professional tutors and have a go yourself! Book your place now.

You can catch Sleeping Giant as part of #DiscoveryFilmFest on Sun 6 November at 11:00 in our Cine Sunday slot. Enjoy the screening with a hot drink and breakfast roll for only £7. Alternatively our festival prices still apply.