‘The Debit Card’ Director Hoped Oscar-Qualifying Short Could Expose ‘System’ of Overworked Au Pairs

TheWrap Screening Series: “They are being kept from their family, didn’t get to see their own family and getting paid really badly,” says Thijs Bouman, whose film was joined by “Madeleine,” “Neighbour Abdi” and “The Barber of Little Rock”

In a chat with TheWrap’s Steve Pond, Executive Editor, Awards, for TheWrap Screening Series, four shorts filmmakers discussed their crop of wide-ranging, Oscar-qualifying films that they hope will create a splash in a burgeoning emergence of short films, a category known for not only launching bold new voices (Andrea Arnold, Martin McDonagh) but also validating the ambitions of well-established performers (Riz Ahmed, Christine Lahti, Peter Capaldi) looking to stretch.

First on deck was director Thijs Bouman, whose 19-minute short “De Pinpas (The Debit Card)” chronicles a Polish au pair feeling entrusted with the debit card PIN code provided by the family who employs her. “Me and my screenwriter read an article which stated that there were a lot of Eastern European au pairs who have to do a lot of chores in the daily life in their work,” Bouman said. “They are being kept from their family, didn’t get to see their own family and getting paid really badly. We needed to get into the system and get into the lives of parents who leave their own children to take care of other people’s children.”

“De Pinpas (The Debit Card)”

“Madeleine” director Raquel Sancinetti presented a heartfelt, partly animated 15-minute fantasia about aging, in which a 107-year-old attempts a trip to the sea with her much younger friend 67 years her junior. “I started this project five years ago,” said Sancinetti, who bonded with a homebound older woman she met through an aquatic fitness class named Madeleine. “After the class, I went to meet Madeleine at her home, and it was love at first sight, we connected and bonded right away. I visited her for five years, every week, once or twice a week. And I knew that she wouldn’t leave the house. The only way I could [tell this story] was through the animation.”

“Madeleine”

“Neighbour Abdi,” a short by Douwe Dijkstra, is a bold, 29-minute exploration of a Somalian furniture designer re-enacting his life (complete with horrific war imagery) via green screens and visual effects with the help of filmmaker Dijkstra, his neighbor. “The project started in this space where I’m sitting now,” Dijkstra said. “Once he learned that I was a filmmaker he kept saying, ‘You should make a film about my life!’ Tha was his very clear request. And when I got to know him a bit better, I thought it was actually a really, really good idea because there was an amazing story standing on my doorstep.”

“Neighbour Abdi”

Last up was John Hoffman and Christine Turner’s “The Barber of Little Rock,” a sobering look at the effects of societal racism and scraping by, as seen through the eyes of subject Arlo Washington, a Black barber who becomes an Arkansas hero when he creates a landmark, singular community bank that actually transforms the lives of his town’s residents.

“There’s tremendous wealth inequality that we see in this country today between black communities and white communities,” Turner said. “And we show this through the story of Arlo, who runs a barber college actually, that’s an important place in the community for many people. But he also runs a loan fund, something we call a community development financial institution, and through this loan fund, which began in a shipping container on the parking lot of his barber college, he’s able to provide funds to people who may otherwise not qualify for a traditional loan.”

“The Barber of Little Rock”

Watch the full conversation with all of the shorts filmmakers here.

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