Swim Little Fish Swim

Swim Little Fish Swim

A scene from SWIM LITTLE FISH SWIM, a film by Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar. Picture courtesy Les Films de la Fusee. All rights reserved.

Swim Little Fish Swim

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Swim Little Fish Swim (2013/2014)

Opened: 09/19/2014 Limited

SXSW03/11/2013 - 03/13/20133 days
World Premiere03/11/2013
Cinema Village09/19/2014 - 09/25/20147 days
Arena Cinema09/26/2014 - 10/02/20147 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Rated: Unrated

Full of art, music and everyday magic, Swim Little Fish Swim is a dreamlike journey from childhood to adulthood depicting three intertwined characters at turning points in their lives.


Swim Little Fish Swim is a comedy-drama depicting three intertwined storylines. Maggie? Rainbow? Leeward and Mary cannot even agree on their three year old daughter's name anymore. Mary is a hardworking nurse who dreams of only one thing : changing her life around. She resents her husband for being an irresponsible, overgrown adolescent incapable of holding down a job. Leeward is an atypical, idealistic musician who fancies himself a misunderstood artist and a New Age visionary. Enter Lilas, a 19 year old French artist and daughter of a world famous painter, who's trying to make it in New York and get away from her overbearing mother. When the bubbly young woman moves into the couple's tiny Chinatown apartment, their already fragile balance is upset even further.

Director's Statement


Swim Little Fish Swim was inspired by New York City, where we've been living for almost three years and where we had already directed, written and produced several short films.

We've always been passionate about the work of powerful independent New York filmmakers including Jim Jarmusch, John Cassavetes and Spike Lee. We're also fascinated by the city's magical atmosphere, its energy, and its undeniable cinematographic potential. Ever since our "immigration" to New York we've never stopped filming our surroundings and scenes from our everyday life. The result is a diary made of short scenes we call "snippets."

Meanwhile, we spent time in Brooklyn and Manhattan's independent movie theaters and at film festivals promoting Checkpoint, our latest short film. That's where we discovered a growing independent cinematographic trend whose energy and spontaneity immediately appealed to us for the way it takes advantage of the recent technological changes and its tendency to fully involve actors in the creative process.

Although at the time we were both in the middle of developing feature screenplays whose production required time and hard work, we suddenly felt a huge urge to shoot a film inspired by the surrounding energy. Very soon the idea of Swim Little Fish Swim emerged and we didn't hesitate to set aside the scripts we were working on and rush to J&R to buy a camera.


Inspired by scenes from our "snippets" as well as our personal experiences, we began to write the screenplay. After two weeks we had a 50-page, dialogue-free treatment depicting the intertwined story of three characters, all at turning points in their lives and forced to make certain decisions in order to grow and evolve. We strove to avoid giving into sensationalism and to realistically depict snapshots from the unembellished lives of these somewhat lost characters.

Leeward and Mary are a 30-something couple who have both lost sight of what brought them together in the first place. Mary, a nurse who spends most of her time at the hospital, sees Leeward, a marginal musician, as an overgrown adolescent unable to handle his responsibilities. Leeward, on the other hand, sees himself as a revolutionary and misunderstood artist. They can't agree on anything anymore, not even on what to call their still unnamed three-year-old daughter.

Lilas, a 19-year-old French artist, follows her boyfriend to New York in the hope of escaping her overbearing mother, whose career as a world-renowned painter is an impediment in her daughter's personal development. When Lilas breaks up with her boyfriend she moves in with Leeward and Mary, who rent out their living room to help pay the bills.

The main idea was to get these characters to live together in order to observe them closely, using the camera as a microscope. We wanted to create a situation that would favor experimentation and lead to moments when the lives of these lost people would finally fall into place. We wanted to show how their proximity could trigger a synchronized epiphany that would enable the characters to move forward.

Swim Little Fish Swim is about the difficulties of achieving personal and artistic fulfillment and the desire to be accepted and recognized by the people we love. This is a theme we feel close to as filmmakers.

Working with the actors

Our meeting with Dustin Guy Defa was a decisive one that inspired us to bring the actors into the creative process. We were captivated by his prosody, body language, and personality, and we immediately felt he had the potential to play a character who was both dramatic and comic. We offered him the role of Leeward, a complex and somewhat zany musician.

We set up what would become our main source of inspiration and adrenaline: filmed workshops. In these workshops actors actively took part in the creation of their characters through improvisation and role-play.

Other talented actors joined the cast, including Anne Consigny, an emblematic figure in the world of French "auteur" cinema, and Brooke Bloom, a rising star in independent American films. Every night for almost two months we would go through the rushes shot with the actors on that same day, applying the necessary transformations and additions to the script. This method turned out to be extremely productive and conclusive and created strong, lively dialogue.

On Set

Once we were done writing the script for Swim Little Fish Swim, we felt it was necessary to take advantage of the energy and spontaneity of our work with the actors: we wanted to start shooting as soon as possible. We managed to put together a talented and experienced team and we seized this great opportunity by taking over the production of the film as well.

Since we had already developed a great ease while filming the actors during the workshop period, the directing style naturally established itself.

In keeping with the harmony of the action and dialogue, the camera is often on the move in a "drawn from life" style inspired by Cassavetes. However, for a number of scenes we chose to develop a slower, wandering pace that gives the audience a more intimate glimpse at the characters.

We first intended to shoot the film using 16-mm film but due to financial restrictions and our desire to film multiple takes we finally decided to go with a digital format. With the help of our very talented director of photography, Brett Jutkiewicz, we were able to capture image quality that closely resembles film.

We also wanted to focus the characters' works of art, especially Lilas' dreamlike Super8 sequences of self-examination, and Leeward's songs, which are often performed with improvised and home-made instruments. We carefully selected talented young artists to create these works of art.

Swim Little Fish Swim is the result of intensive team work: several dozens of artists, musicians, comedians and technicians combined their skills and fully committed themselves to the project. The result is fresh and real with a hint of surrealism-- kind of like life, in the end.

About the Cast

Dustin Guy Defa (Leeward)

Dustin Guy Defa is an American screenwriter, director and actor. Originally from Salt Lake City, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Dustin has been making movies since he was eleven. His feature film Bad Fever premiered at SXSW '11 and his short film Family Nightmare played at Sundance '12 and SXSW '12. As an actor, Dustin played in Onur Tukel's Richard's Wedding (Sarasota '12; Indie Memphis '12), Kentucker Audley's Open Five 2 (La Di Da '12; Indie Memphis '12), Alex Karpovsky's Red Flag (LA Film Festival '12; Indie Memphis '12 -- Best Narrative Feature) and Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess (Sundance '13). The role of Leeward in Swim Little Fish Swim is his first leading role. He is, according to Hammer to Nail, "one of American independent cinema's strongest new voices".

Lola Bessis (as Lilas)

Lola Bessis, 23, is a French filmmaker. At the age of 11, she has been street cast for a short film. She really enjoyed the experience of working on a film set and, years later, she decided to study filmmaking. Swim Little Fish Swim is her feature film debut as a director and as an actress.

Brooke Bloom (Mary)

Brooke Bloom is a very talented actress who was raised in Los Angeles and currently resides in New York. She has worked extensively in television, appearing in over 25 shows with a recurring role on CSI:Miami. Her film credits include He's just not that Into You, Oscars nominee Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Berlin '12), Ceremony (TIFF '12) and the independent film Gabi on the Roof In July. In the theatre she world premiered « Lungs » at the Studio theatre in DCand « Marie Antoinette » by David Adjmi at A.R.T. She also won a Barrymore Award for her portrayal of Becky Shaw in the play « Becky Shaw » at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia P.A. In spring 2013 she will be appearing in NYC in Jenny Schwartz's new play, « Somewhere Fun », at the Vineyard Theatre.

Olivia Durling Costello (Rainbow/Maggie)

At only 7 years old, Olivia Costello is already a very talented actress. She began acting at the tender age of 4 in the short drama film The Sea Is All I Know starring Melissa Leo and Peter Gerety. She has worked on several films since then including Hallows Eve, a feature horror film and the short Drama A Weekend Away by director Michael Lavine. She has also played a little girl zombie for a pilot series called Z.E.R.O. She also is the voice of the Littlest Chicken for the PBS Animated show Peg and Cat. When Olivia is not acting, she is enjoying being a typical active 7 year old who loves school, dancing and playing her violin. She is an avid reader currently enjoying the Junie B Jones series. She also is a great water skier.

Anne Consigny (Francoise de Castillon)

Anne Consigny is a French film actress. She has worked for many renowned filmmakers: Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Cannes '07; TIFF '07; NYFF '07; Oscars '08, Golden Globes '08); Arnaud Desplechin - A Christmas Tale (Cannes '08; TIFF '08; BFI '08), Alain Resnais -- You Ain't Seen Nohing Yet! (Cannes '12; BFI '12; NYFF '12); Manoel de Oliveira -- The Satin Slipper (Cannes '85; Venice '85); Stephane Brize -- Not Here to Be Loved (BFI '06; San Sebastian '06; Palm Springs '06). She received three Cesar Awards -- the French Oscar -- nominations for Best Actress.

About the Crew

Ruben Amar (Producer/Writer/Director )

Ruben Amar is a French multi-awarded filmmaker. He has written and directed six acclaimed short films shot in London, New York, Paris, and Israel/Palestine. His two last shorts Checkpoint and A Girl Like You With A Boy Like Me enjoyed real success in more than 150 international film festivals, including Clermont-Ferrand, Slamdance, Palm Springs, Raindance, Leeds, Montreal World Film Festival, San Diego and Sarasota. His first feature film, Swim Little Fish Swim, co-directed with Lola Bessis will premiere at SXSW '13. In 2012, Lola and Ruben founded their production company, Les Films de la Fusee. Ruben is currently developing two new feature scripts. He lives between Paris and New York.

Lola Bessis (Producer/Writer/Director/Actress )

Lola Bessis, 23, is a French screenwriter, director, producer and actress. She directed her first short film when she was only 13 while on holiday at her grandparents'. After attending some of the most prestigious film schools -- UCL (London), The New School and NYU (New York) -- and working on a few documentaries and TV shows, Lola co-wrote the multi-awarded short film, Checkpoint. She has also directed several fiction and experimental short films.At only 21, Lola co-directed, produced and wrote her first feature film, Swim Little Fish Swim, which will premiere at SXSW '13. In 2012, along with Ruben Amar, she founded her production company, Les Films de la Fusee. She's currently developing two new feature scripts and a TV series. She lives between Paris and New York.

Brett Jutkiewicz (Director of Photography)

Brett Jutkiewicz is a New York City-based director of photography who rose to the spotlight following the success of the Safdie Brothers' movies The Pleasure of Being Robbed (Cannes '08) and Daddy Longlegs (Cannes '09; Sundance '10). His feature film credits also include Lena Dunham's Creative Non Fiction (SXSW '09). Brett's other cinematography work includes over a dozen short films, features, music videos, commercials and industrials for Adidas, Nike and Convers, among many others. He is a member of Red Bucket Films.

Thomas Marchand (Editor)

Thomas Marchand, 32, is a film editor based in Paris. Thomas started his career as an assistant to renowned editor Yann Dedet, who worked on the films of Francois Truffaut and Maurice Pialat and who is now an emblematic figure in contemporary French 'auteur' cinema. Thomas worked on the very successful Love Like Poison, directed by Katell Quillevere, which was selected at many festivals including Berlin '12; Rotterdam '11; BFI '10 and Cannes '10, where it won the Jean Vigo Award. His feature credits also include Iris in Bloom (Cannes '11); Robert Mitchum is Dead (Cannes '10); The End of Silence (Cannes '11).

Yvette Granata (Production Designer)

Yvette Granata is a New York-based production designer. She is interested in the interaction of spatial design and the camera, and in the creation of sensory environments. The first feature film that she designed, Northeast, premiered at the Tribeca film festival in 2011. Her feature film credits also include Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene (Cannes '11; Sundance '11 -- Best director; Spirit Awards '11); Please Give (Sundance '10; Berlin '10) and Newlyweeds (Sundance '13). She recently led the art direction for the New York scenes in the forthcoming The Art of Losing, by Academy Award nominated director Bruno Barreto. In addition to film design, Yvette is currently on a merit scholarship at the University of Amsterdam where she is researching film theory and visual culture with a focus on cinematic space.

Arnaud Marten (Sound recordist/Sound editor)

Arnaud Marten, 28, is a French sound mixer and sound editor based in Paris. He attended one of most prestigious film school, Louis Lumiere, where he worked on a master's thesis about sound in 3D movies. He specialized in surround sound recording and is currently researching on a workflow for 3D spaces with ambisonic and binaural technologies. He supervised the sound of the multi awarded 3D short movie Reminiscence directed by Celine Tricart. He also edited the sound of the multi-awarded short film Checkpoint. Swish Little Fish Swim is his third feature.

Nat Jencks (Colorist/VFX Artist)

Nat Jencks is a Colorist and VFX artist in NYC. For the past 10 years he has played many roles in the world of post production, always combining the creative with the technical in some form or another. He has worked with some of the best independent filmmakers around, from Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, The Girlfriend Experience, Che, The Informant) to Michel Gondry (The We and the I; Be Kind, Rewind), Spike Jonze, Todd Haynes, and many others. Nat is always learning and teaching- he has lectured and taught classes at SVA, Columbia, SMPTE, and other educational institutions. He is responsible for the zingy colour palette of Swim Little Fish Swim.