Kazik Radwanski's Anne at 13,000 ft. is exclusively showing on MUBI in many countries starting September 29, 2021 in the series The New Auteurs.
I’ve always written films about the places and people I know. Initially it came from a practical and pragmatic approach to filmmaking. In my early films, I wrote scripts that could be set and shot in a friend’s apartment, or an uncle’s house, somewhere I could have easy access. It was a necessity! It was all I could afford, and all I had access to.
Anne at 13,000 ft is set at a daycare that my mother had run for the past 40 years. She joined me on set when we shot a staff meeting scene. There were about 15 actors in the scene. Deragh Campbell, the lead of the film, was in the scene and we had cast someone to play a supervisor that leads the meeting. Essentially, the actor playing the supervisor was playing my mum. I brought her on set as a consultant to advise the actors playing teachers, but after my mother demonstrated for everyone how to authentically lead a daycare staff meeting, it became abundantly clear that the film would benefit most from her playing the part of the supervisor. My mother had never acted before but I realized there and then that I had to re-cast her in this role. So, that’s what we did!
As I reflect more, it’s clear that we were using the daycare for more than mere practical reasons. I attended Children’s Circle Daycare as a child from the age of two to seven. It stayed a part of my life for years after as my mum continued to work there. I would meet my mum after she finished work, and when I got a little older I spent summers earning extra cash by repainting the classrooms and playground equipment. The typical turnover for employment at a daycare is a couple of years, but many teachers who work at Children’s Circle have been there over a decade, and some even remain from the era when I was a child. I had scattered, hazy memories of them as teachers from childhood, but the process of re-regarding them anew as an adult instilled such a dramatic contrast of viewpoints in my mind. The first stirrings of a child’s nascent perception of others and authority juxtaposed against the responsibilities of teachers doing their best in a very high stress job. When we began preproduction, this dynamic was at the forefront of my mind. I spent a lot of time talking to the teachers.
These conversations soon evolved into filming in active classes. A few scenes were shot in a documentary-like fashion, observing Deragh interacting with the children. The opening scene of the film—the one with the butterfly—is a good example of one of these scenes. In that scene Anne finds a butterfly and is able to get it to land on her finger. The camera pivots rapidly, refocusing and trying to keep up with the butterfly. What I love most about this moment is the palpable energy of the children at recess, some of whom fall over each other to get closer to the butterfly, while others are frozen with awe. Moments and atmospheres such as this one drove us to delve further into exploring the daycare and resulted in casting a troupe of child actors in order to creating our own “classroom of children,” whom I directed through Deragh as she passed along my instructions. Through her interaction with the children, we started to gather a real sense of Anne’s job and world.
My head was filled with so many memories from that age too. Anne’s monologue about a cat who drank mercury from a thermometer is based on a true story that my 3rd-grade teacher had told to me. Remembering it as an adult, it’s a sad story, but when we workshopped that scene with the kids in our film they laughed at the idea of cat running up a wall. My own response as an 8-year-old was just as ruthlessly hysterical.
We cast several teachers from the daycare to act alongside Deragh and explore scenes based on the stories that they shared with us. I am so happy that those teachers—Karen, Ruth, Asina, and Bernadette—made it into the film,. It was particularly meaningful that my mother got to appear in the film because she retired shortly after production. In fact, I believe she did her ADR session for the film following her last day at work.
A daycare is a microcosm of society. I’ve realized that through my mother I learned so much about how many lives in a community intersect. Growing up I would always hear stories about difficult children, overzealous parents, and the workplace politics between teachers. Many of these stories found their ways into Anne at 13,000 ft. Some were embellished while others were toned down (though I won’t reveal which ones). What is clear to me is that the daycare was and is full of a variety of unique perspectives and points of view, ones that aren’t always reconcilable. With Anne at 13,000 ft, my goal was to create a character that was true to my understanding and experience of Children’s Circle Daycare, as both a child and now an adult.