Jean Stéphane Sauvaire: interview
'Johnny Mad Dog' is the debut film from New York-based French director Jean Stéphane Sauvaire. It’s the story of a military coup in an unnamed African state filmed from the perspective of a team of trigger-happy boy soldiers
What’s your relationship with Africa and why make your film there?
‘I’d read this book by Emmanuel Dongala called “Johnny Mad Dog” – great title, eh? – and it’s a collection of stories about teenagers in Africa. It’s not about Congo, where Emmanuel is from, but the stories are set somewhere in Africa during a civil war, and I thought from this book it was possible to make a film about children involved in violence. I originally wanted to make a similar film in Latin America about the children who were fighting for Pablo Escobar, but I couldn’t get the funding.’
Was researching the film dangerous?
‘The first time I went to Liberia was in 2004, one year after the end of the war. It was difficult to find a place to stay, even. The doctors on the borders helped me find a place, but obviously they didn’t have time to help with a movie! I realised that if I was going to get anywhere I had to meet the real people from the war, so I tracked down some of the local generals and fighters, explained that I wanted to do a movie on the child soldiers in Africa and that it was a fiction. And you know, as soon as I started to talk about the film, everybody opened up – something I’m not sure they would have done if they had thought I was a journalist.’
Did the locals help out with the film?
‘They helped me with the casting. It was important for me to find the 15 boys to act in this movie. I told the first boys I met that I really wanted to do a movie on child soldiers and they told me that they had fought during the war. They said that I shouldn’t go to South Africa or Senegal and that I had to make the movie in Liberia. I said yes – but in 2004 making a film like “Johnny Mad Dog” was impossible in terms of insurance. Also, you know, there was no government, so it would’ve been very tough indeed.’
Did the Liberian government give you any money for the film when you returned later?
‘No, they don’t have money, they just gave us lots of support without which we couldn’t have made the film. Also, I didn’t just want to go in there with a script and tell everyone to learn his or her lines. It was important for me to share the script with the boys, the former soldiers and all the people whose photographs are at the end of the film and allow them to tell their story.’
The costumes are very distinctive.
‘Yes, they’re all influenced by American cinema: war movies from the ’80s, Chuck Norris movies, “Rambo”, “Mad Max”. It’s amusing because all these fighters in the Liberian war used all the American films about Vietnam as their cultural reference points. Once I had selected the 15 boys for the film and I started working with them, we got together in a house and I put on a DVD of “Apocalypse Now” which none of them had seen. They sat there stunned, repeating "Oh my God!" over and over again. It was very sweet.’
Any offers from Hollywood?
‘Yes, I’ve received some.’
Anything of interest?
‘I hope to find a project I can do over there because I want to make other kinds of movies. I’m may not be able to do romantic comedy or a horror movie, but if it’s a movie that makes sense and I can be trusted to do it right, I would happily do a movie in Hollywood.’
Author: Interview: David Jenkins
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’