Esmée Lavalette is an award-winning filmmaker from the Netherlands. She has directed films like Missing Piece (2019), Four Hands Two Eyes (2019), and Found Family (2021). Her recent film Found Family secured about 30 Official Selections and five awards in prestigious film festivals like Europe Film Festival, Rainbow Umbrella Festival, Paris Film Festival, and many more. I sat down with Esmée to talk about her inspirations and what’s next for her.
When did you start making films?
As a little kid, I always watched many movies, but this didn’t grow into anything more significant until I started getting a little older.
When I went to middle/high school, I got a phone with a camera and a digital photo camera that my parents got me. This is when I first started taking pictures and videos of my friends. I would always be the one taking photos at every event and everything that we did. I also started editing these into little music videos. Mind you, this was all back in like 2006/2007, so the quality was terrible.
It wasn’t until 2010 when my friends and I went to see Inception in the movie theater, that I realized I wanted to do something more with it. Never before had I seen anything like that movie, and it awakened something inside me. I was like, “I want to make movies like this and make people feel something,”
When the time came to choose where and for what I wanted to go to college, it was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t have any desire to study anything else.
However, I didn’t know I wanted to direct until a few years later. At one point during my master’s program, I realized I wanted to make my own things and that I had a vision for what I wanted these projects to be.
Found Family talks about many heavy subjects, such as abuse and homophobia. What was your inspiration for the film?
I’m fortunate that I grew up in a very open and liberal environment, so the story of Found Family isn’t my own. However, it is one that we sadly still hear too many times, even today. When I sat down with my writer and 1st AD, Cassandra Burge, the story came to fruition quickly. It’s tiny parts of stories from other queer people that I have heard or read about over the years.
It’s not the first film that tackles these subjects, but way too often, the films that talk about topics such as homophobia generally don’t have a happy ending.
When I started thinking about what I wanted this short film to be, no matter what it would be about, I wanted it to have a happy ending. It’s 2023, and many of our TV shows still get canceled even though they get good ratings; still way too often, bad things happen to us, and we don’t deserve that.
I wanted to make something that resonates with queer audiences. We’ve all dealt with homophobia, big or small, at some point. However, I didn’t want my audience to watch it and get a bad aftertaste. I wanted them to watch it and feel content, happy, giddy, and in love like the two characters feel in my short.
Found Family has been playing at film festivals worldwide and has won awards too. I’m glad that this story is getting the recognition that it deserves.
Who is your inspiration? Do you have any favorite lesbian filmmakers?
My favorite director and inspiration is not a lesbian filmmaker but it’s Christopher Nolan. He is kind of why I went into filmmaking, so he will always be my favorite. His way of storytelling is amazing. His talent and love for filmmaking are so infectious, and his insane attention to detail is something I would love to master.
I also think Céline Sciamma is a fantastic lesbian director. Especially in Portrait, she perfectly encapsulated what it means to be a lesbian. Every shot was so perfectly created you just felt the lesbianism radiating through the screen.
What are your favorite lesbian movies?
One of my favorite movies of all time is Booksmart. I have watched it so many times, and it just never gets boring. It’s so nice to see a lesbian character in a feel-good typical high school comedy for once.
Also, new queer horror Bodies Bodies Bodies has definitely made it to my top 5 list of favorite movies of all time. It’s just so refreshing to see a queer couple in the horror genre just being queer, being themselves, but where the plot does not revolve around their sexuality.
I also love Shiva Baby, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Ready for more? Here are our tips for the best lesbian movies!
What’s next for you? What can we look forward to?
I would actually love to make horror movies. I’ve been a horror fan for years, but I haven’t had the chance to create a project of myself yet. I did get to work on American Horror Story, which I absolutely loved! We always had so much fun on set.
Obviously my projects would not go without adding some queerness to the story. I feel like there is still much to be explored in the horror genre when it comes to queerness.