Hot Docs Interview: Anders Riis-Hansen talks about making of The Circus Dynasty

andres riis hansen

Everything started as a love story, but ended up as big disappointment… Two of the greatest Circus Dynasties planned their biggest achievement yet – to unite their families… The heirs, Patrick Berdino and Merrylu Casselly, have known each other since childhood. Everything went well until the moment one side of this union could not control their feelings of jealousy, and it ended everything, which put the entire family into a difficult position. They asked themselves – what`s going to happen to their dreams now? Choosing between your career and life itself is never an easy choice to make. During the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting up with the director of The Circus Dynasty, Anders Riis-Hansen who talked about, not only the making of his film, but the relationship between Casselly and Berdino, which certainly must have been a fascinating experience for him.

MovieMovesMe: Where did the idea of making a film about two circus dynasties come from?

Anders Riis-Hansen: Actually, ever since I was a child, I was always fascinated by the circus and when I’m talking about the circus, I’m talking about the ‘good’ circus, with people who have good professional skills that that they turn into art. My friends and some creative class directors don`t like the circus. They look at it as bad taste, or like a cheap perfume. But personally I`ve been able to see through this, and many people I know cannot do this. Then I had this dream, ‘could it be possible to make a movie about the circus’? And you know, the difficult part about making this kind of film is that these people are very, very reserved. A lot of them have fought their way out of poverty to get where they are, so they are very reluctant to let someone into their lives. So, I went down there with my camera and started to research. The first thing I said to their director is that ‘I’m not from the animal protection organization or from the tax department’, just to avoid any misunderstanding. I wanted to make a real circus film with drama and everything. The idea came to me rather fast because I’d only been there for three or four days before I realized that they had one golden clown medal, which is like the Oscar statuette in the circus, which they had won in Monte Carlo. And at that time I also knew that Merrylu Casselly and Patrick Berdino were engaged. So that was my first turning point; this very strong, tight alliance, between the Caseelly`s and the Berdinos. So that was how it all started, and of course at that time I didn’t know the couple would break-up, or anything like that.

MMM: Can you talk about your experience working with your documentary subjects?

Anders Riis-Hansen: With this kind of documentary you will always experience ups and downs with the participants, and then they become more relaxed, and then you just have to start over again. And that was the case with this circus family. As I told you they are very much used to being in fancy and glittering magazines, with the fake, high lashes. So every time I had been away for one week or something, I had to start over again to get the behind all the perfume. (laughs). When you`re that close with them, you develop that kind of friendship… and that was a difficult task to get that close to them.

MMM: What was the thing that fascinated you most during filming?

Anders Riis-Hansen: When I was a child I had always heard that you can work with, and domesticize, Indian Elephants, but you can`t work with African Elephants. So, when I saw for the first time that he could command African Elephants, I was very surprised. I think in general the film is about how a family can be very, very beautiful, but at the same time, very difficult. And I think the movie reminds us how important the word of a family can be. Families today, are more about the individual. You do things your way, and I go my way. You can’t tell me what to do, and so on. And of course, my background, was like that. I would have never listen to my parents, especially if they were going to interfere with my dreams. But when you`re together in a circus family, you all need each other, and that is a beautiful thing. I did not know that the Danish are lost in time. When you see that, it`s like you jump back fifty years. The movie is about the modern world clashes with an old, traditional, world.

MMM: Can you talk about that moment the break up between Patrick and Marrylu happened and its aftermath?

Anders Riis-Hansen:  Oh yes, definitely. And actually, as you saw in the film, I was not there when the family clashed. I was not there when they had that dramatic fight; the day when Patrick and Marrylu broke up. I did not have access to the couple before this, but after the break, I had easier access to them. In circuses, they don`t talk much; they perform and fight when they have an argument.  It is not the type of family where they sit and express their emotions. After the break, I became a person they could confide in, especially Patrick, who had a lot to say.

MMM: What do you really think happened between Patrick and Merrylu?

Anders Riis-Hansen: They are many versions. Merryllu did not deny that she had been texting with other friends, guys. If you grow up in the circus as a young woman, you will have male friends who are not necessarily your boyfriends. Why shouldn`t you text? They had a very flirting tone though. According to Alexia, Merrylu`s mother, they worked at the circus year around. They were very close with each other. So if you can’t stand a bit of flirting then it’s very difficult to work in the Circus because you are part of a very intimate world.

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