Josua Hotz, “Nirin” director: it’s like seeing yourself in a mirror

Born on July 6th 1986 in Madagascar and Swiss by adoption, Josua Hotz has lived in Neuchâtel since 1995 where he went to school. Fascinated by video and new technologies, he has studied at ERACOM (School of Arts and Communication, Lausanne). In 2010, he started film studies at ECAL in Lausanne, graduating with honors in 2015. His short film Nirin (2015) is based on his personal story.

8249 Nirin - director

 Why did you choose this scenario? 

It’s actually based on my story. Nirin is my second name in Malagasy. I was six years old when I left my native village in Madagascar. Accompanied by my mother and my two little brothers, it was the first time we left, we were going into the unknown. For me it was the start of a great trip.

I have only vague memories of this episode. I did not know I was going to leave my two brothers and be forever separated from my mother. From these facts, I started to write a life-story.

Nirin’s happiness contrasts with how things end. Would you like this to be a kind of lesson for the viewers?

At the end of the film, the spectators feel sadness for Nirin and cannot forgive what the mother did. But we must look deeper: will he be better there? Will his future will be better there? At the end of the tunnel we see the light; I wanted to show a message.

As we see it, expressiveness of the eyes in this movie is taken into strong consideration, the images and the glances it catches are beautiful. What was the most challenging process while filming? 

The hardest part was to recreate different kind of situations (sadness, joy or discovery). I was glad to have met this child who never left his neighborhood. He discovered everything for the first time. We were able to capture with the camera all those moments. Sometimes situations have to be recreated. The most important thing is to be on the same page as the children and of course to be able to adapt. We chose the nimblest cinema equipment and we shot it like a documentary (with no light gear).

The two children are real brothers and the mother is their true mother. So we mainly focused on their connections in the family.

Nirin’s enthusiasm makes the story even sadder. Could we see this event in his life as the breaking point of his childhood, since his innocence crashes with the reality?

Something broke in Nirin. That promise his mother gave him. A broken promise. Nirin is guided by life but the reality of adulthood catches up with him. A child will know several points of rupture and Nirin will face one, this one which will become the end of innocence. I should have titled the film ‘The End of Innocence’, but it’s too dramatic (laugh).

The story is really tender and heartbreaking. What exactly did you want to focus on while filming the movie?

I wanted his look at the new world, his reactions, and moments of complicity in childhood, rediscovering a moment of life. It may seem weird but it’s like seeing yourself in a mirror. Being a reflection of his life. But on set that is another story; being with the child so that he feels he is not alone. I did not want him to revive my story. I no longer speak the language of the country and my assistant director translated everything. It was not easy at first but with children of that age, speech is not the first tool to communicate. When we edited the film, no one spoke the language. We did it without understanding what the children said. Sometimes we do not need words to explain, a gesture or a glance is enough.

Where do you search for inspiration?

Inspiration is in everyday life. What we experienced, a detail in our lives. The key is the observation, look around you to better understand our world.

What kind of projects would you like to do in the future?

My goal is to continue working with children. Childhood is an important step in the development of the child. It is the basis of our adult life. Understand and better learn the challenges of our world through training (education) and art (cinema). The film ‘Nirin’ was shown at different film festivals for children (6-17 years old). I did not know what their reaction will be but at that age they truly understand what happens.

 author: Laura Danis