Jacqueline Zünd’s Swiss documentary “Where We Belong” world premiered as part of the Generation Kplus program at the Berlinale, a section dedicated to films about children, and screens on Saturday at Locarno Film Festival in the Panorama Suisse section.
Zünd focuses on kids from five families who, through footage of their everyday life combined with interviews, give their own account of life as a child of separated parents.
“Where We Belong” is Zünd’s third directorial feature. She previously scooped best documentary at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival for her 2010 feature “Goodnight Nobody,” and was nominated at Moscow and Munich, in addition to a Swiss Film Prize nomination for her 2016 feature “Almost There.”
The film was produced by Switzerland’s Real Film, with Austria’s Autlook Filmsales handling international sales.
Zünd talked with Variety about the film’s distinctive aesthetic, documenting a sensitive topic and being surprised with the film’s appeal among young viewers.
You made some dramatic choices in music and lighting with this film. Can you talk about those decisions?
In my films I always search for images and environments that reflect the inner state of my protagonists. I develop the scenes as if for a fiction film, and capture them in tableaux. For “Where We Belong,” I decided to work with light in different colors and speed. Like an exterior force affecting the children’s faces; sometimes soft and gentle, sometimes with a hard strobe.
Why did you choose to leave the parents’ faces more or less completely out of the shots?
The conversations about separations and their consequences are usually conducted by adults—they make the decisions, they discuss and they analyze. I was interested in the children’s perspective. It was important to me not to portray them as passive victims, but to understand them and their own perception. I wanted to ask them the questions which parents avoid, due to fear of the answers, or because they want to protect them from their own reality. Maybe it also has something to do with underestimating children and their view of the world.
How did you find the kids you included in the film?
The casting process for this film was long and difficult. People don’t like to talk about this subject. Apparently, it’s still cause for shame when the idea of the happy family falls apart, even though we have long known that the classic nuclear family is the main refuge of our neuroses. I had to win the trust of the parents first, of course. Letting the children talk freely must have frightened many of them. They were worried that they would divulge intimate details or shed a bad light on one or the other of the parents. What makes matters worse is that separated parents often disagree. I was honest and direct with the kids and their parents when discussing the film. It obviously touches on a very personal topic for them.
What inspired you to document these kids’ struggles?
My son is growing up with two homes. I was always amazed how he perceives the situation. Kids see things clearly. They observe acutely and are poetic when they describe their situation. Making this film I learned a lot. I am impressed by the way they read their parents and feel whether they are doing fine or not. It touched me how much responsibility they bear.
Who did you make this film for? Was it meant for kids from split households?
I didn’t intend for kids to be the audience at first. With my arthouse background, I never really thought I was capable of making a film for kids. Only after the invitation to the Berlinale Generation Kplus did I start think about it.