Four years ago a group of teenagers from the Bronx joined a bus ride that would take them to Cannes. None of them had left America until they hit the Croisette this week with the new movie by Green Hornet director Michel Gondry.
Seven of the young stars of The We and the I, the film that opened in Cannes this week, were stunned to spend just one full day in the city.
One of them, Raymond Delgado, said: "It's so beautiful I don't want to go home."
Another, Alex Barrios, added: "There's a lot of love that I never felt before."
The film was four years in the making, and follows the story of a group of kids on a long bus ride after the last day of school. It tracks the different stories and group dynamics that emerge over the journey.
It was Gondry's brainchild, and a world away from the big budget Green Hornet. The director was inspired by a journey on a bus packed with rowdy teens over a quarter of a century ago. He discovered a number of youths at a community centre in the Bronx called The Point and spent three years interviewing them in preparation for the film that largely takes place on the bus. Delgado said: "These stories need to be told." Laidychen Carrasco added: "These stories came naturally to us – we're kind of playing ourselves. Eighty-five per cent is not acting – it's real." None had ever acted in a film before.
Gondry pointed to their tough backgrounds – "such as the kid who's lost his father, the girl who gets molested by the tough nuts". He said: "These kids' lives aren't easy; they have to work and contribute to the family's income."
One had lost his mother and had to look after his paralysed grandmother. There was originally no part for him but after working on the production side, he stepped in when another youngster dropped out.
Brandon Diaz said that acting on screen was tough: "With this project it's even worse because it's our stories. So if people say 'why did they do that?', it's actually our life stories. It's not like we're acting about going into outer space."
Yet Diaz thinks the film could help those who face similar situations. He said: "I hope that in general the movie can save someone's life. You know if you are the guy being bullied, people do care."
Jonathan Ortiz said: "Yeah, like you're the guy who always wanted to say something but kept it in..."
Michael Brodie said: "You can stand up to bullies. Don't be afraid to speak your mind."
The stories and issues are universal, Jillian Rice said. "Every bus in every country has rowdy teenagers and they all have problems."
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