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Q&A: Todd Haynes on making complex cinema for kids

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/20/2017 By JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
Director Todd Haynes poses for photographers during the photo call for the film Wonderstruck, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) © The Associated Press Director Todd Haynes poses for photographers during the photo call for the film Wonderstruck, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

CANNES, France (AP) — For many younger moviegoers, "Wonderstruck" will be their first Todd Haynes film.

Actress Michelle Williams, from left, director Todd Haynes, actors Julianne Moore, Jaden Michael and Millicent Simmonds pose for photographers during the photo call for the film Wonderstruck at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press Actress Michelle Williams, from left, director Todd Haynes, actors Julianne Moore, Jaden Michael and Millicent Simmonds pose for photographers during the photo call for the film Wonderstruck at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

"Depends on what kind of parent you are," Haynes chucked while sitting in a shady rooftop corner of the Cannes Film Festival's hub, the Palais.

Director Todd Haynes poses for photographers during the photo call for the film Wonderstruck at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press Director Todd Haynes poses for photographers during the photo call for the film Wonderstruck at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

The director's other options aren't quite kid-friendly. There was his transgressive cinema landmark "Poison" and his portrait of toxic suburbia "Safe." The '70s glam rock drama "Velvet Goldmine" might catch a young one's attention, but its surreal excesses certainly aren't PG. And then there's his remarkable string of period melodramas: "Far From Heaven," the miniseries "Mildred Pierce" and his last film, the sumptuous, Oscar-nominated romance "Carol."

While "Wonderstruck" is chalk-full of Haynes' touch, it's an undeniable left-hand turn. It's based on Brian Zelnick's colorful young-adult book, which tells parallel stories of two runaway 12-year-olds, 50 years apart, who have fled their homes for New York. The 1927 section features a deaf girl (newcomer Millicent Simmonds) seeking her mother; the 1977 half follows an orphaned boy (Oakes Fegley) from the Midwest.

His post-premiere party, Haynes said, was atypical for Cannes. His young cast members hit the dance floor with abandon, even busting their moves atop tables.

"They were outrageous and adorable," said Haynes.

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AP: Is it thrilling to make a film that will reach younger moviegoers you haven't before?

Haynes: "That was really the motivation for wanting to do it. And to maintain an almost stubborn respect for the ability of kids to deal with something this unique and strange and one-of-a-kind that also unabashedly looks back in time, and that really honors the complexity, the peculiarity, the uniqueness of their experience. And it does this kind of lovely paralleling with the theme of deafness, which I think speaks to a universal understanding that kids get — that they have limited abilities and they understand limits of perception and mobility and freedom.

"The movie "The Miracle Worker" was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. That movie is also very much about language and understanding what language means and how that frees us or connects us back to the world. It made a very deep connection with me."

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AP: How were you even open to a project like this?

Haynes:" I like a maybe broader range of movies than people might expect. I didn't really know Brian's books that well before. I don't have kids, but kids are all around me and my life. I have nephews I adore, and kids of friends. But this wasn't really on my radar but it came to me through Sandy Powell who became close to Brian Selznick after "Hugo." She was the one who said, "I think this is a Todd Haynes movie."

"It was just so sweet and unexpected to get the script. When I started to look at the script and I saw how much of a cinematic take he had brought to the structuring of it so that it was really an editorial experience. It spoke to me and it spoke to the cineaste in me."

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AP: It's quite a cinematic feast. There's black-and-white, vibrant '70s color, long periods without dialogue, a dream sequence and a striking section told with miniatures that recalls the dolls of your "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story."

Haynes: "It's a film that really asks for that. I used all the tools in my toolbox and I used all the personnel and the creative partnerships in my family of filmmaking.

"This movie, because of its theme of deafness, because of the silent film aspect, functions without dialogue for so much of the film that it's a purely cinematic experience. And it calls on a visual storytelling — certainly music and production design. I knew that I could immerse in the production and collect all the material, but I knew it was ultimately going to be about how we cut the movie."

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AP: What strikes me about you is how you fuse both formal, conceptual challenges with heart and emotion. You seem both academic and romantic.

Haynes: "I think cinema is that. To not consider both sides of that — in some of our most meaning movies that have affected all our lives — is to not see the whole picture. Ideas, references, languages but also emotions are always so intricately meshed."

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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