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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Phantom Boy

by writer and co-director Alain Gagnol

Allow me to tell you a little story. A true story.

When I was eleven years old, I was fascinated by New York. A big poster of Manhattan hung on my bedroom wall. The previous year, I had discovered Spider-Man and Marvel comics. My biggest dream was to make a trip to the U.S. I grew up in a monotonous little town in the middle of France. As an only child, I was very solitary. All of the conditions were present for me to either die of boredom, or to begin inventing stories. Out of an instinct for self-preservation, I chose the second option.

At that age, I also had a dog named Brutus. He weighed about five pounds soaking wet, but in his mind he thought he was a big ferocious hound. He barked at everyone, and pulled on his leash as if he had to pull a cartload of bricks behind him. I was bitten several times by this terrible creature, and if you see Phantom Boy you will understand why I am telling you this.

I think that the boy who is able to leave his body was born at that moment in my childhood. New York, superheroes, a formidable little dog, all of the ingredients were already there. And here I am, almost forty years later, telling you this story.
Leo, the main character, is a figure that we rarely see in film. He is suffering from a serious illness and hides his bald head under a baseball cap that never leaves him. In film, characters suffering from an illness are most often portrayed in melodramas. Phantom Boy is the complete opposite. It’s a detective story full of color, action, humor and suspense. Leo is sick but he is not a victim, he is a hero.

The French love cooking—this is not a legend—so here is the recipe for Phantom Boy. Take one injured policeman, immobilized in a hospital. Add one mysterious gangster with a broken face and a child gifted with the power to leave his own body. Mix gently, delicately. Complete by adding an entrancing score. Savor it all in a movie theater, if possible. It’s the best place in the world to see a film.

We mustn’t think that children are not good viewers. Making films for them should require us to be even more demanding. We have the opportunity to help them dream. Once they are adults, they will remember the films we have made for them. They, in turn, will make use of them one day to tell their own stories.

Now, after six years of work, I am letting Phantom Boy fly towards you. Do you feel it, that little shiver? It’s called “cinema.” It’s the dream of an eleven-year-old child who was dreaming as he gazed at a poster of Manhattan on his bedroom wall.

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