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Tribeca '10 | Director Kim Chapiron Exposes Juvenile Centers in "Dog Pound"

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire April 21, 2010 at 6:41AM

French director Kim Chapiron delves into the inner workings of juvenile correctional facilities in his latest gritty feature "Dog Pound." The film will have its world premiere Tribeca, and compete in the World Narrative Feature Competition.
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French director Kim Chapiron delves into the inner workings of juvenile correctional facilities in his latest gritty feature "Dog Pound." The film will have its world premiere Tribeca, and compete in the World Narrative Feature Competition.

Angel, 15 years old (recidivist): assault and auto theft. Davis, 16 years old: possession of narcotics with intent to resell. Butch, 17 years old: assault on a correctional officer. The three are taken to Enola Vale Youth Correctional Center in Montana and placed under the authority and watch of Officer Goodyear, a strict but caring guard. Butch faces the prospect of adult prison and tries to keep a low profile… until he and Davis become the subject of ruthless assaults by another inmate, Banks. Returning from solitary after they refused to rat Banks out, Butch challenges his attacker as the top dog. Like a bunch of strays locked up in the pound, the young men struggle to keep their bodies and spirits intact, but each act of violence swells ever more forcefully.

An electrifying cast delivers blistering performances packed with intensity and emotional punch that reveals the deficiencies of a well-intentioned but ultimately failing correctional system. Kim Chapiron (Sheitan, TFF '06), one of France's brightest emerging directors, powerfully evokes the grittiness of Alan Clarke's 1979 juvie crime drama "Scum" to lend a contemporary glimpse into how more than 60 percent of the 100,000 children locked away in juvenile detention centers across North America become repeat offenders. [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]

"Dog Pound"
World Narrative Feature Competition
Director: Kim Chapiron
Primary Cast: Adam Butcher, Shane Kippel, Mateo Morales
Screenwriter: Kim Chapiron, Jeremie Delon
Producer: Georges Berman
Editor: Benjamin Weill
Director of Photography: Andre Chemetoff
Composer: Katia Boutin
Co-Producer: Sam Grana
88 min., Canada/France

[Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.]

Director Kim Chapiron on his burgeoning filmmaking career, and what lead him to make "Dog Pound"...

I was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1980 and raised in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. In 1994, I started Kourtrajme, an artist collective, with long time partner and friend Romain Gavras. “Paradoxe perdu” was our first short film. In the digital era, we wrote, directed, and produced short films and music videos. In 2004, Vincent Cassel – after collaborating with him on a couple short films – decided to produce and act in "Sheitan," my first feature.

While promoting "Sheitan," Georges Berman (the producer of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), asked me if I would like to direct a feature on juvenile prisoners in America. The topic fascinated me but I didn’t want to involve myself in such a serious issue considering that I had no knowledge whatsoever on the adolescent penal world. So we decided to start a road trip to different juvenile centers in the U.S.

Chapiron on how he cast "Dog Pound" and the challenges the cast posed to the production team...

My writing partner Jeremie Delon and I spent a year following incarcerated kids and staff members in juvenile centers all across the Midwest of America. We would spend entire weeks with the kids, got to class with them, go to A.A. meetings or anger management with them, eat with them, hang in the recreation room with them. These kids were full of energy and when the days ended, we were completely wiped out. So after these road trips, we would write, trying to slip all this gathered information into our narration. We made some very strong bonds with lots of these kids.

In pre-production, we found our main actors in Toronto but we cast a lot of kids in these juvenile centers close to our film set. None of them had experience as far as acting, so we hosted theater workshops. We also found kids in the street, in malls and even at a parole office.

"Dog Pound" was not an easy movie to produce. Adults working in the film industry don’t necessarily want to be around ex-juvy convicts over 60 hours-a-week but fortunately we didn’t have any serious incidents. However, tension was around. When you cast over 100 adolescents from three local towns and different Indian reservations, old beefs never stop stewing. We couldn’t have for instance two actors on set the same day. Three months before production, one had stabbed the other one in the stomach, resulting in a fresh thick gash on the abdomen and a deadly grudge on this boy’s mind.

Another obstacle was that since kids were freshly coming out of jail, and one unfortunately had scabies. Some kids were ganging up on weak ones for their salaries as extras. One of our main actors got arrested twice during the shoot. He was in the tombs for three days so we had to adjust the schedule. Naturally our production freaked out. Boys will be boys. But our biggest challenge was to control the riot scene. How do we convey all this bottled-up aggression and craziness without having anyone get hurt? That remains a tough one.

Chapiron on what he hopes the audience will experience upon watching his film...

My goal with "Dog Pound" is to give the same emotion I had when I went for the very first time in this juvenile center in North Dakota.

And on his biggest inspiration...

"Lord of the Flies" by Peter Brook is a reference for me. It perfectly captures the sense that these characters bursting with bravado, not by choice but by fate, are nothing but children.

This article is related to: Features, Interviews