Film director Stéphane Carrel: The making of ‘A Resilient Man,’ featuring Steven McRae

Steven McRae in 'A Resilient Man'. Photo by Stéphane Carrel.

For the past 15 years, Stéphane Carrel has captivated audiences as a documentary writer and director. His films reflect his deep passion for people, culture, cinema, and dance, characterised by the human element of each story.

In his latest project, A Resilient Man, Carrel turns his lens on Steven McRae, the principal dancer at The Royal Ballet. McRae’s illustrious career is abruptly halted when his Achilles tendon ruptures mid-performance. Determined not to let this injury end his career, McRae embarks on a formidable journey to reclaim his position at the top of his art. This film not only delves into the rigorous world of professional dance but also offers an intimate look at a 35-year-old man’s relentless fight – both physically and mentally – to regain control of his destiny.

Stéphane Carrel. Photo courtesy of Carrel.
Stéphane Carrel. Photo courtesy of Carrel.

Join us as we explore the resilience and determination of Steven McRae, whose story captured by Stéphane Carrel is a testament to the human spirit’s ability to overcome even the most daunting challenges.

Stéphane, tell us about your background in the industry and how you found filmmaking.

“I have been working as a documentary filmmaker for 15 years. I’ve made a lot of films for French TV Canal+ and Arte.  Such as the portrait of the English designer Paul Smith in Paul Smith, gentleman Designer, a series of documentaries about Chefs which is called Planet Chefs, and another series called Seule la Danse (Only Dance) where I followed a few students who were part of a prestigious dance school in Paris for two years. 

What I’m attracted to is powerful human stories and what people are willing to do in order to reach their goals. 

It was not obvious at first that becoming a filmmaker was what I wanted to do. However, the first time I touched a camera, I realised that I was made for it. The camera is my way of expression. Cinema changed my life when I was 11 years old and was a way to escape my reality.”

How did the concept of the Resilient Man film transpire? Was there a professional connection with Steven pre-existing?

Steven McRae in 'A Resilient Man'. Photo by Stéphane Carrel.
Steven McRae in ‘A Resilient Man’. Photo by Stéphane Carrel.

“The first time I heard about Steven was during the film I was making on Paul Smith. Paul did a series of photographs of The Royal Ballet’s principal dancers. During the exhibition of his photos that I was filming, Paul told me about Steven and his personal story. That immediately made me want to make a film about him. I contacted Steven, and we stayed in touch. 

When the injury happened, I thought it was the right time to make the documentary and Steven thought the same. We both wanted to talk about injuries in the dance world, which is a taboo subject. We had the intention of creating a film that could impact future generations of dancers and help change minds. The film also shows that this is a deeply human story that everyone can relate to because everyone falls and has to get back up.”

What was the initial process for mapping out the story as it follows his journey?

“I didn’t want to make a simple portrait of a dancer, as I felt there was something deeper to capture. When the injury happened, I thought it was the right moment to do it because there was a very human aspect to it which isn’t shown in the ballet world. We expect perfection from dancers and we don’t want to see them suffer. I wanted to document the vulnerability of Steven’s journey, and the injury made it more profound and intimate.”

Describe what it was like working with Steven and capturing his world on camera.

Steven McRae in 'A Resilient Man'. Photo by Stéphane Carrel.
Steven McRae in ‘A Resilient Man’. Photo by Stéphane Carrel.

“Working with Steven was very easy because he really wanted to make this film and talk about his injury. He really wanted to show the whole mental and physical process he had to go through. Before shooting, we spent a lot of time talking about his journey, and how I wanted to make the film which made filming easier.”

How did this elevate the way you direct, and how has your style evolved?

“This film was destined for cinema so I tried to think ‘cinema’. I didn’t restrict myself artistically speaking. My goal was to create something beyond a documentary, closer to a feature film because it worked with the story. I wanted to blur the lines between fiction and reality. My editor and I were even more free with the creative process. It was the same when my composer and I worked on the music, as I didn’t want to create music before the editing. I wanted the music and the film to be one and for it to be a character itself.”

As a director, what are three essential components you believe make a film powerful?

“The story, the writing, the cinematography.”

Where has the film been screened, and how has it been received? 

“For the moment, the film has been screened in France and Switzerland. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the audience, as well as the French press who like it a lot.”

Steven McRae in 'A Resilient Man'. Photo by Stéphane Carrel.
Steven McRae in ‘A Resilient Man’. Photo by Stéphane Carrel.

For those following the film, where can fans expect to watch the film? 

“We are working on it. We are still looking for an international distributor, which is hard to find. We would love for the film to be seen all over the world and we hope that will be the case…”

Describe the film in three words. 

“Human. Resilience. Ballet.”

If you haven’t already, be sure to watch the trailer – click here

Film Credits:

Year: 2024
Type of film: Documentary
Running Time: 90 min
Director: Stéphane Carrel
Producer: Julia Fangeaud, Guillaume Roy, Gabriel Chabannier, Julien Loeffler, Meredith Coral, James Kermack
Editor: Florence Maunier
Screenwriter: Stéphane Carrel
Music: Sylvain Millepied
Principal Cast: Steven McCrae

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