AFF Short and Sweet: "The Yellow Dress"

Alex Ko on his French tale of a boy and his dress

Welcome to Short and Sweet, our look at short films playing at Austin Film Festival. This time it's "The Yellow Dress," director Alex Ko's story of a young French boy, Raphael (Jules Leyendecker), whose mother rejects his interest in women's clothing.

Austin Chronicle: I was wondering about the decision to shoot in Provence, and especially in the lavender fields, as it's such a precise and visually unique location. Yet, at the same time, filming away from a production hub always carries its own challenges. How was the experience of filming in Apt?

Alex Ko: We actually discovered Apt on Airbnb! We tried finding a rural, traditional yet visually intriguing home near Paris (where my cast/crew were all based), but it proved to be quite difficult. We ended up finding this small, ornate house down in the south of France and immediately fell in love with Provence. From the second I arrived in the Luberon during the last of many location scouts, I knew Apt was the perfect setting for this story. Color plays a large role in my film thematically and the visual story of Apt added another point of view which I felt was vital.

Regarding the filming experience in Apt, it was definitely rock n’ roll. We relocated about 35 cast and crew six hours away from their homes, in the middle of a forest, and decided to make a movie. It was more guerrilla than one would think.

AC: Stories about acceptance by a parent tend to revolve around a father figure being the antagonist, but you switched that so it's Raphael's mother who has these issues. It's a subtle but significant difference, so how did that come about in the writing?

AK: I grew up in a household similar to Raphael’s, with a similar relationship to my parents. So in a way, writing about this aspect of their relationship felt natural, as it was somewhat autobiographical.

AC: The central image of the yellow dress itself is so pivotal, so eye catching, Where did that idea spring from?

AK: I wish I had a more interesting answer for you. But I tend to write story after developing a relationship with my characters. I like to sit down, explore my characters’ psyche, and let them speak to me. In a way, after getting close to Raphael on paper, he was one that dictated the narrative. All I had to do was listen, respond, and write.

The notion of making a yellow dress for his mother in an attempt to change her point of view towards his connection with women’s clothing was just something I thought he would do. Visually and thematically, it just made sense.

“After moving to Paris aged 18 for university, I picked up a camera and held it against a French world that surrounded me. I was more inspired than ever.”
AC: How did you go about casting Jules, and how important was it to find a young actor who can sew (I ask, because every time I try to use a sewing machine I end up with a stitched thumb)?

AK: I always knew finding the right kid was going to be one of the most difficult tasks in making this film. And it took a long time. But I eventually found him, and he turned out to be brilliant.

Because the role of Raphael is quite a demanding role for such a young kid, I couldn’t limit myself to young actors who knew how to use a sewing machine. And after I found him, he had no clue, like most of us boys at that age; but luckily his mother did. And like MOST mothers do, she was able to teach him. So in that respect, we got lucky.

AC: This is your third short as a director, all in France. What's the experience been like, finding this new scale of your artistic voice in another country?

AK: I think it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass. After moving to Paris aged 18 for university, I picked up a camera and held it against a French world that surrounded me. I was more inspired than ever. I could have shot films from the American perspective in Paris, like my piers, but I decided to do the opposite. So I learned the language fluently in about a year, and made as many films as I could. I was infatuated with French cinema and French actors. Everything about France was so romantic (being an 18 year old boy in a city driven by art might have aided this aspirational thinking). But the more I committed myself to being a filmmaker, the more I committed myself to being an American who made French films, told from the French perspective, which is something most filmmakers don’t get to do.

The Yellow Dress

Screening as part of Shorts Program 3: Change Short Locations
Screening links available until Oct. 29 at

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Austin Film Festival, Austin Film Festival 2020, Alex Ko, Jules Leyendecker, The Yellow Dress

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