American Society Is Hidden in Motels

Interview with the documentarist Alexandra Kandy Longuet about her film called Vacancy, which was given the Best World Documentary Film Award at the 22nd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.

The dark side of American society is hidden in motels, where you can find all sorts of people: indebted individuals, junkies, ex-prisoners... All of them have one thing in common – they have lost everything and have to live in a motel, where they look for consolation and way out of their vicious circle. Vacancy by the French director Alexandra Kandy Longuet tells a story of these people and portraits both their fears and hopes. Ji.hlava showed it in its world premiere in Opus Bonum competition. Where did the author find inspiration and how does she herself look at problems of people living on the edge of society?

Your movie is very similar by the topic (depiction of lives of lower social class) to other movies like American Honey or Florida project. Were you inspired by these movies? Or is the similarity just random?
The similarity is actually random. I started writing my film 4 years ago, and started filming 3 years ago. I had been interested in motels for years, and I was aware from my previous trips and shootings in USA that the population of motels had changed due to the 2008 crisis, and that numerous families were now living there.
I started my researches in Anaheim, California, which is located next to theme parks like Disneyland, because I knew a lot of daily workers lived there, which is also another similarity to Florida project. But in many ways, our approaches are very different. I wasn’t interested in kids (Florida project) or teenagers (like in American Honey) especially, I wanted the movie to take place in West USA because it’s a place you can reinvent yourself more easily (at least it’s the cliché of it).
My inspiration came more from cinematographers like Gianfranco Rosi or Roberto Minervini.

What do you think about social system in USA? Should the government provide some kind of support to people who need this? (we see ex prisoners who are trying to leave the motel)
There is no social system in the USA as we can expect it from a European perspective, and especially French perspective. In the USA you can lose everything in a day, what happened to numerous people that I met and sometimes filmed. Which makes the country full of tragic stories. It’s frightening.
For example, one of the ladies I started filming but is eventually not in the film was the mother of 4 kids. She had a good job and was doing fine, until her ex boyfriend beat her up so bad she had 19 surgeries. Of course she wasn’t able to work for a while. So she couldn’t pay her rent anymore. She ended up evicted with her 4 kids. Waiting for a social affordable housing, she started living in motels, and spent all her savings there. The apartment never came, she didn’t know what to do.
It’s a different mindset and conception of what government should do, and I am not in a position of giving any advice, considering that I am not American, neither am I a politician. That being said yes, to me a government should provide a safety net to its citizens, so they do not wake up in the street suddenly one day, and should also provide more support to homeless people to have a second chance. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the political line of the new president.

Characters in your movie are dreaming about (for people) "normal" stuff like building a home, being with their children but in some point they are still in the vicious circle. Is there any chance that they will break the circle? 

It is so hard. Once you’ve exit the system it’s incredibly hard to get back into it.
Living in a motel is a vicious circle. Because living there is not cheap, it’s actually more expensive than renting a flat. You have to do everything you can every single day just to survive, and pay your night. And it’s going on and on every day. So it’s very hard to have visibility on a week, or a month. To save money for a deposit for a flat. It's dizzy, you almost lose notion of time because you're so focused on your daily survival.
You’re trapped.
But sometimes, with the support of friends, family, and organisations you can break the circle.





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