Andrea Arnold on “Painful Journey” of ‘Bird’ Film: Cannes

On the eve of the world premiere of her new film Bird at the Cannes Film Festival, festival favorite Andrea Arnold revealed that the shoot was the toughest of her career.

“It was the hardest film I ever made,” Arnold said from the stage on Wednesday while accepting the 2024 Carrosse d’Or, or Golden Coach Award, at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes. “There were many challenges, more than usual, and there seemed to be more restrictions than I’d ever known. Lots of things I’ve put on the page and cared about got lost, so the edit was really hard. It was proving really hard to carve from the rushes something of the film I had intended. I was grieving the losses and I felt pretty vulnerable.”

The competition title, Bird, stars Barry Keoghan, Franz Rogowski, Nykiya Adams and Jason Buda star in the film which follows a 12-year-old (Adams) who lives with her brother (Buda) and single dad (Keoghan) in a squat in North Kent. As she approaches puberty she seeks attention and adventure elsewhere. The drudgery of everyday life is thrown off kilter when she meets Bird (Rogowski).

It’s unclear where the challenges were coming from or who was imposing them, but Arnold said in the middle of the emotional process, she received an email informing her that she had been selected to receive the Golden Coach. The honor is bestowed by the Society of French Directors, the governing body of the Cannes sidebar, to filmmakers showcasing “innovative qualities, courage and independent-mindedness.” Arnold has received many trophies during her career, including jury prizes for her films American Honey, Red Road, and Fish Tank.

“With their words of support and recognition, and it was awarded by the French Society of Directors, people who know what mounting a film is [and] people who would understand what I was going through, at that moment, I found the words to use to talk about my work,” she continued. “It made me feel that others were standing with me. It renewed my energy and determination to keep at what I was doing, to try and find the essence of the film that I had intended. It made me think, too, about what it means to be supported and encouraged, and how crucial it is.”

Arnold continued her revelatory speech by looking back on her winding road to the director’s chair, growing up with a single mom and a “very wild childhood.” “Film of any kind and art was not part of my life growing up,” she said. “The only films I can remember seeing as a child are Mary Poppins and my ambition was to be a dancer. At 18, I ran away to join a roller skating dance group called The Roxy Rolls.” Then “randomly,” she auditioned for a TV acting job and got the gig. “I was actually really bad at the acting job, but I was fascinated by the process, the way images got put together to make story.”

This fascination led her to filmmaking. Looking back on the email she received about the Golden Coach honor, Arnold said it praised her as someone who reinvents herself every time she takes on a new film.

“I’ve never thought about it before, but it’s so true. Every time I make a film, I feel like it’s the first time I’m doing it. My curiosity for the journey the film brings is as fresh as the first time, and I never feel like I know what the hell I’m doing,” she continued.

As for what happens this week when Bird takes flight, Arnold, who fought back tears several times, closed her speech with this: “As I mentioned, it was a painful journey. I took a lot of risks. But since I first showed the short here called Milk over 20 years ago, I’ve always felt welcome and embraced here at Cannes and in France. Whatever happens, whether people like it, don’t like it, understand it, don’t understand it, I know all my efforts will be appreciated. That I’m standing here now is something of a miracle. I feel so blessed with my life. It has been a really amazing life.”


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