Home Turf is an unlikely sisterhood that forms in the half-basement of a foster home for “problem” teenage girls in the year 2000. Soon after arriving from Africa, Sahara, a mixed-race 15-year-old, is driven by CPS to a foster home in the suburbs. At the house, run by “Auntie,” she finds four teenage girls who object to her presence and make her life miserable. But little by little Sahara makes friends with the girls, turning enemies into allies against the ostracism of those around them.

We were able to talk with screenwriter and director Mara Joy to get a deeper look into Home Turf (CAN) and how the story was created.

Why did you decide on the web-series format?

I wanted to create really close rhythm variations to emulate the rollercoaster of emotions teenagers can feel during turmoils. There were more reversals and pivot points, resulting in more dynamism and intensity in 8 short episodes of 12 minutes than in a big 96-minute block. The series can be binge-watched, but its short episodic rhythm contributes to recreate the breathlessness experienced by the characters in their lives.

What is your favourite part of the series?

There are so many! If I had to choose only one, it would be Fauve’s dance in episode 5. I think I managed to create contrast both on the form and content and that my stage setting is withdrawn enough to leave all the place to the actress’s emotions which are powerful and authentic. Alexandre Oakley did an amazing editing to find the right number of cuts and to organize & articulate them leaving the emotion shine while keeping everything organic and withdrawn.

The song, on which Fauve is performing, is a sentimental pop song from 1999, emerging from the turn of the century boys and girls bands era. To dig out this song from the grave of a forgotten past, which “a priori” is now unfashionable or “kitch” but to use the lyrics and divert their meaning towards something more tragic was something I enjoyed very much. It was a gamble that could have easily failed or fallen into over-sentimentality but happily everything fell into place and the contrast provides a strong moment.

Home Turf trailer

What made you interested in wanting to tell this story?

My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and I have all been placed in foster care when we were kids and I remember that every representation in the media I saw was condemning me to a life of misery and abuse. I grew up being shameful of being abandoned and mistreated. As if the fact that not being properly loved by your parents made you a social defect lowering your value in the eyes of the privileged.

The representations that were available to me gave me the impression that I would be messed up all my life and I found unjust and dangerous that adult artists created representations which had the effect of discouraging me from fighting and being successful in life. I felt this was a form of artificial exploitation and privileged sensationalism from their part and it created in me a great feeling of injustice during my teenage years. This series is a bit of a “Fuck you” to all of that. A gift to that girl that I was and a love letter to everyone that had to go through the same experience. A bit like the Christina Aguilera song that came out back in the day which touched me greatly: “You are beautiful, No Matter what they say” I told this story in a way to present these girls and women as fighters, as role models.

I also made sure to respect the Bechdel test, to have girls lead and women between 8 to 50 years old, with different accents from different French-speaking places and backgrounds, to have a main character mixed race, to have a Gabonese actor play a Gabonese character and to divert from the presumption of heterosexuality. In short, I created what I felt was missing in the media and I had fun with it.

What is the most interesting element of your series for the audience?

I don’t know. I am not the audience and every audience are different and composed of diverse human beings with diverse backgrounds. But since I did a lot of travel with the series and met a lot of people who experienced it, I can share that what comes oftentimes is the authenticity of the work and of its aesthetics.

Has the end product strayed far from your initial vision?

Absolutely not. It is both very different and very faithful to my vision. I knew what I wanted, and I had the privilege of working with extremely talented artists and artisans who all contributed to the success of the artwork. So, this gave me the flexibility to help optimize and steer their input and their talent in order that their contribution remained intact while we kept the objective in sight. That’s not an easy task, it was very vertiginous to be in this dance between flexibility and direction, but all the fun is there.

What was the process for writing the different characters?

I created mashups from people I knew and Pierre-Marc Drouin, a scenarist from Montreal, gave me a character table to fill out and challenged me greatly in creating contrasting and complementary characters. There were questions on that table that I would never have thought of otherwise, like “If she was a song, which one would she be?”, “Does she have a fetish object?” or even, “She would cut her finger for…?”. I must have spent one or two weeks on that table, creating different versions and refining the characters. It felt like an eternity but in the end, everything was useful in creating the plot and the dialogues.

What was your greatest challenge creating the series?

Everything! Hahahahaha! If I had to choose only one challenge, it would be to stay in shape and healthy. When you’re in shape and healthy, you have the energy to move mountains and your vision is clear. So in order to survive and be successful in the triathlon comprised of the financing process, scriptwriting, pre-production, production, post-production as well has the promotion of the show in a very short amount of time, my biggest challenge was to maintain my energy and motivations levels high while maintaining my anxiety as low as possible.

Creating requires an enormous amount of energy and a “make it happen” drive. And to “make it happen”, one needs rigour and enjoyment to surmount one’s fear. And to have all of that, I need a lot of energy which means keeping in shape and healthy. Everything comes from that and at the same time it is a real challenge for a filmmaker. It really is a craft that can destroy your health.

How did you come to decide on your subject matter?

I had read a sentence a little bit prior to starting the project from the incredible African American poet Nayyirah Waheed that left a mark: “ the thing you are most afraid to write. Write that. – Advice to young writers” So I did it.