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In Conversation with Emmanuel Tenenbaum, director of Free Fall

‘Free Fall’ follows Tom, a young trader in London whose recent performance at work has put his career at risk on the day of 9/11, as he realises that it was a terrorist attack and not an accident. This knowledge influences him to make the biggest trade of his life, but not everyone is convinced by what he is saying…

Strand spoke with director Emmanuel Tenenbaum to learn more about his motivations behind making the film as well as his sources of influence outside the realm of cinema.

Credit: Emmanuel Tenenbaum

Lydia Leung: In your own words, could you tell me a bit about yourself, and what the film is about?

Emmanuel Tenenbaum: I’m Emmanuel Tenenbaum, a French filmmaker based in Holland, and for a few years I’ve been working with a scriptwriter, Guillaume Fournier, from Quebec. Together we’ve been doing short films about money and greed in corporate environments - we’ve done two comedies and now Free Fall.

Free Fall is based on a true story about a young trader in London on the day of 9/11, who was losing a lot of money. He figured out what was going on before anyone else, after the first plane hit the tower, and he used this information to make a lot of money. It’s a film about the limits to intelligence, greed and morality within the trading world.

LL: What was the inspiration for the film?

ET: The film is based on a book by Dutch author Joris Luyendijk, called ‘Swimming with Sharks’. He spent two years in London, talking to insiders in the banking world, collecting stories and this was one of those stories in which the protagonist completely forgets about his friends inside the tower, because he is so absorbed in the money game.

LL: On your website you mention that you’ve had experience working in a corporate environment - have any of these experiences influenced the film?

ET: I think that it influenced almost everything- especially the topics that Guillaume and I choose, because I know the reality of the corporate world and our films are made in a way that is truthful to this world. To some extent it helped me with directing; I saw how people behave, how they speak, how they interact. In a strange way, directing a film is like being a project leader on a very large project, and having professional training in project leading helped with filmmaking as well.

LL: And what made you want to become a filmmaker?

ET: I don’t really know, it kind of just came out! I was studying Biomedical Science in Spain, and I registered for an evening film school. I don’t know why. Then gradually one day I thought “Okay, I just have to make a film”. I wish I had a better explanation, but it just naturally happened like that.

LL: What do you think Tom’s motivations are? Is he trying to save his career, prevent his investors from losing money, or something else?

ET: Traders have one job and that is to make money, in any way. Tom is trying to save his career before anything else, and be a good employee. He wants validation from his boss and his colleagues and to be admired even more than the money itself, because for these traders, the status comes with the money, and the more you make, the more status you have. That’s his motivation at the beginning, and as the story progresses, he gets lost and forgets about reality and the human beings around him.

Credit: Emmanuel Tenenbaum

LL: In a way, would you say that you are trying to criticise the emphasis on money and status in this industry?

ET: Yes, of course. The idea is to show how you can get absorbed in the money game. That’s why in the beginning there is a scene of the boss going around and putting this immense pressure on his employees. He’s trying to put them in a ‘bubble’ where they don’t think about anything else but money, even while something really tragic is happening. So we’re showing how there is a lack of human emotions and humanity in this job, and the way it’s handled by senior management.

LL: Given the sensitive nature of the film’s setting, what challenges did you encounter, either while writing the script, during the shoot or in post-production?

ET: We wanted the film to be truthful as it’s inspired by a true story. It had to be real, down to how the traders conduct themselves, so it was especially important for us to come to a truthful and plausible conclusion. Another challenge was getting the rights for the archival footage, because it was extremely expensive and difficult to acquire. After that, I don’t think we had that many challenges, because it’s down to the audience to watch it and react in their own way - it’s not really my decision anymore.

LL: Has anything surprised you about the audience reception to the film?

ET: Because of COVID, we haven’t really been able to be in the same room as the audience. We did expect people to be shocked and to ask questions about this world after seeing the film. What we didn’t expect was to win quite a few awards from a number of festivals. That was a surprise because there are anywhere from five to ten thousand short films submitted every year and we didn’t expect that ours would be selected for awards.

Credit: Emmanuel Tenenbaum

LL: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

ET: Don’t worry if you’re not doing an art degree! When we’re young we want to secure our future or make our parents happy- we have a lot of these pressures. It’s okay to just go for it, but don’t forget the art. Do projects with your friends, start small! I started super small and then my next film had a bigger scale, and the next one after that, and so on. We started small, and it’ll come out if it’s what you’re meant to do. So just do something, don’t worry!

LL: What are you working on next?

ET: Currently we are working on a concept for a feature film. Right now Guillaume and I are in the countryside of Holland working on a concept for a feature film. It’ll also be about money and greed, and how we can get carried away by greed. I'm not totally sure what the story is yet, so unfortunately I can’t share much about it right now.

Emmanuel Tenenbaum’s utterly compelling ‘Free Fall’ has won multiple awards internationally, including the Grand Prize in Canada’s ‘Festival Regard’ 2021.

Edited by Saffron Brown Davis, Film Editor


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