Born of Frustration: Jela Hasler on Her Critics’ Week Short ‘On Solid Ground’

·3-min read

Swiss director Jela Hasler’s first fiction film “On Solid Ground,” one of the shorts to have been selected for Cannes’ sidebar Critics’ Week, charts the micro aggressions experienced by a woman living in a city, following her peaceful morning swim.

While some of the incidents could be read as minor annoyances, a more dangerous encounter that occurs toward the end of the film, which renders the protagonist powerless and angry, invites the viewer to re-examine these earlier incidents.

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“The idea started with a feeling of frustration and wanting to escape but not being able to. I developed it further to make it about a woman being continually harassed which leads to this feeling of wanting to defend herself – but not really being aware, at least to begin with, of what she is defending herself against,” Hasler explained.

The director is a graduate of photography from the University of Zurich and of cinema from the Lausanne School of Art and Design, and she first hit the festival circuit in 2015 with her dialogue-free documentary short “The Meadow,” which premiered at Locarno before going on to screen at IDFA and HotDocs.

Like her most recent work, “The Meadow” starts in a seemingly peaceful place, with cows grazing on dry, baron landscape, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that the field is on the edge of a warzone.

While the film was set near the Israeli Syrian border, Hasler adds that it could represent any such area of conflict.

The one feature that she believes ties these two shorts together is the power of observation. “The reason I’m so interest in documentary is to make observations and with ‘On Solid Ground’ I found a way of doing this through fiction,” she added.

Her Cannes-nominated short was developed last spring and filmed last September in Switzerland at a time when there were fewer restrictions, but Hasler made a decision to keep her characters in masks for a scene filmed aboard a public bus.

“We thought about applying for a special permit to remove the masks – but it’s clearly just set in this time. I didn’t want to make a film about the pandemic but it’s clear that it’s there,” she said.

The short was made through Swiss production company Langfilm with Olivier Zobrist, whom Hasler had worked previously as a creative director on a short film project the company produced in 2019.

Hasler also received support from Swiss broadcaster SRF (the film will have a broadcast premiere after its festival circuit) with further finance coming from a regional funder and the benevolent fund Migros Kulturprozent set up by Swiss supermarket chain Migros, which donates a percentage of its revenues to national arts and culture projects.

World sales are being handled by Short Film Agency Hamburg, while festival distribution is through Netherlands short film distributor Kapitein Kort.

Next up for Hasler is a switch back to factual with “Les Nouvelles Eves” (“The New Eves”) a feature-length documentary co-directed by a collective of filmmakers comprising of Anna Thommen, Wendy Pillonel, Camille Budin and Annie Gisler.

The film, which about to enter post-production, examines what it means to be a woman living in Switzerland a year on from the country’s national women’s strike in 2019.

On Solid Ground - Credit: Courtesy of Cannes Festival
On Solid Ground - Credit: Courtesy of Cannes Festival

Courtesy of Cannes Festival

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