A neglected young girl steals from pregnant women at the local swimming pool, buying her the attention she desperately craves.

This film quickly captures us with an unusual setting and some sharp visual contrasts. Writer and director Melissa Anastasi gives us rich and complex female characters in Chlorine, in which she sought to represent their stories in an authentic and honest way that is emotionally resonant. With a child actor and complex underwater elements the film was certainly a big challenge to pull off, and Melissa gracefully answered some questions for us to tell us how she pulled it off successfully.

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

Chlorine evolved out of writing backstory material for a feature film script entitled ‘Soft Rain’, which focuses on a teenager who is released from juvenile detention and seeks to reconnect with her estranged mother.

I was writing some moments from the protagonist’s childhood and exploring the beginnings of her life of crime – which began with small petty theft at a very young age. Whilst writing these exercises, I had started swimming at a local pool and noticed an aqua-natal class.

The visuals of these pregnant women in the pool collided with the materials I had been writing, and came together in this very strong and specific vision in my mind, of a neglected child stealing from pregnant women as an indirect way of seeking a connection with them, and a subconscious hope at being caught for the attention and connection that would afford her. It seemed like the perfect cinematic metaphor to carry all of the ideas I was interrogating.

The visual juxtaposition of a seemingly motherless child, and pregnant bodies in water was a very strong driving force for the piece that informed the writing and visual approach all the way through development.

Your cast did an incredible job, how did you go about finding them?

In casting the film, we spent months searching via youth centres, schools, and on social media, searching for our Keira, and saw hundreds of kids through open casting calls and with the assistance of a local casting company, Chicken and Chips Casting, who were amazing. Once we found Clementine, I worked with her in an improvisational rehearsal process to build up the character of Keira – her little rituals, her way of stealing, the stories she would make up about the objects she stole from the women. For the sister/mother role, I cast Marlo Kelly, and incredible actor who had fantastic chemistry with Clementine. It was so exciting to watch them improvising as two kids together, playing, fighting, negotiating with one another for love.

As a writer/director are you open to changes or suggestions when you start shooting or do you like to stick to what has been written?

I’m always open to capturing magic that comes up on the day, and when I see the opportunity, I do capture additional improvised moments with actors on set. Having said that, I prepare a lot in advance, with rehearsal with actors, and visually doing in depth shot lists and reference images for each scene so that my team and I have a clear tangible reference for the shoot. But yes I always remain open and flexible to adapt to the ever shifting reality of a shoot day. I find that having that solid foundation makes it much easier to navigate the challenges that come up without compromising the integrity of the vision for the piece.

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

The scene in the pool office was definitely the most challenging. It was an oddly shaped space to shoot in with several lines of action and several characters involved in a heated argument. It was the only scene where i needed multiple floor plans to map out a number of blocking options for both actors and camera, to try and figure out the most natural movements to capture the intensity of the scene. We actually had to trim down how much we shot to keep the running time slim, but man did we get some incredible moments in that scene. It all paid off.

What has this film thought you about filmmaking?

Always work with the people who have values that align with your own, rather than being bamboozled by shiny showreels. I really trusted my instincts with this team and they all delivered in ways that made my creative heart burst with joy.

What do you hope people will take away from Chlorine?

I hope people can connect to the two female leads and share in their struggles and feel what they go through so that they can walk in their shoes for the running time of the film. I’m not trying to push any message with this piece at all, but to create a sense of compassion and understanding.