“I made Little Feet to find my way back to my pure love of motion pictures” says independent filmmaker Alexandre Rockwell, director of In The Soup and 13 Moons. In its stripped back style and focus on the freedoms of childhood, Rockwell’s latest gem, Little Feet, certainly captures the pure wonder of film.
For a director whose previous collaborators include Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (Four Rooms), Little Feet takes filmmaking back to basics. Co-written with Rockwell’s eight year old daughter, Lana, who also stars, Little Feet perfectly captures the resilience and creativity of childhood as three youngsters set out on a trip to release their goldfish into the sea.
Permeated with sadness, the journey is triggered by the death of Lana and Nico’s mother. When one of their fishes also dies, the siblings’ grief is projected onto the remaining fish, Curly, and they worry about his loneliness. Watching Curly in his bowl, Lana and Nico’s imaginations give water a new meaning: that it somehow connects all things and that it can connect the living with the dead. ‘Could Curly hear us in the water Lana?’ Nico asks. Their fascination is neither spooky or sombre. To Lana and Nico water is a thing of wonder, it is magical.
Left to fend for themselves by a father who is largely absent, Lana takes on the role of caregiver to her younger brother, Nico. As she negotiates cooking fires, hairdressing and storytelling, we glimpse life’s difficulties as only children can see them, feeding imagination and often laughter. We witness the resourcefulness of children and their unconditional love.
Those who have seen Beasts Of The Southern Wild – Benh Zeitlin’s shrewd picture about nature, life and death as seen through the eyes of a child – will recognise the similarities. Yet there’s something beautifully innocent about Rockwell’s film which captures this idea without the bells and whistles of a larger budget. While Zeitlin’s acclaimed film was by no means a blockbuster (costing just a speculated $1.8 million), Little Feet is unashamedly put together on a micro-budget of just $11,000, and it shows in the film’s striking simplicity. In a move necessitated by Rockwell’s infinitesimal funds, Little Feet is shot on a Bolex camera converted to Super 16. The resulting black and white cinematography infuses the adventure with subtle melancholy without ever overshadowing it – it’s just one of the ways Rockwell’s return to pure uncomplicated filmmaking pays dividends.
Neither do Rockwell’s budget restrictions erode his very deliberate choices behind the camera. As Lana sleeps we peek inside her dreams in the only scenes illuminated by colour photography. It’s a subtle reminder that while Lana’s childish imagination is pure, her waking life is tainted by grief and the need to grow up fast.
In spite of its gloomy backstory, it’s a testament to Rockwell that Little Feet remains wildly fun and the adventure is injected with natural play. Pillow fights, chases and rapid shots of the siblings and their friend dressed in masks and halloween costumes suffuse Little Feet with a very real sense of childhood. As the gang naively set out on their journey with a shopping trolley, a dog and a sausage on the end of a fishing rod, the mood is hopeful and enlivening. Little Feet takes us back to a time when everything was an adventure and laughter is the film’s resounding score.Little Feet’s subtle and poignant take on how children deal with grief would not be possible without the perfect casting of Rockwell’s own children along with the talented Rene Cuante-Bautista. The ease of Rockwell’s ensemble in-front of the camera is tangible. In a couple of scenes the performances and emotion don’t quite match, but these are fleeting moments in a film lasting 60 minutes. Lana and Nico aren’t fierce like Quvenzhané Wallis’ Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wilds, instead they are quietly robust. It’s this lightness of touch that gives Little Feet its uplifting and carefree tone.
Now requiring the finishing touches to take Little Feet to a wider audience, Rockwell has turned to crowdfunding. On the back of a successful festivals tour, it comes as no surprise that at time of writing, with just a handful of days to go before its Kickstarter deadline, Little Feet has already garnered over 554 backers and exceeded its $35,000 target, accumulating over $69,000. For Rockwell’s film, well worthy of a much wider release, this is surely welcome news.
Little Feet received its UK premiere at the Flatpack Film Festival.