Les Grands Esprits follows an associate professor of letters at the Lycée Henri IV transferred, despite himself, to a suburban college classified as REP + (the priority education network program strengthened). As a measure of authenticity and realism, the director and his team have carefully chosen the establishment where they would pose the camera.
To start, the director Olivier Ayache-Vidal set up a 2-year observation process to better immerse himself in the system. In 2013, he went to Maurice Thorez college in the city of Clos Saint Lazare de Stains (Seine Saint-Denis) where the principal, finding the project useful, authorized him to spend time there. He tells us : “I started going to class, seeing class councils, and I followed a school year, I did all year, plus another year. All this time, I was in class at the back of the lessons. I went to class council, disciplinary council, school trip, in the teacher’s room of course.“It was moreover during this experience that he refined his scenario, permeated by the atmosphere and his observations.
And it was finally in this familiar setting that he decided and was able to shoot his feature film. The film’s students were cast within the establishment, starting with the main character of Seydou, played by Abdoulaye Diallo. A crush on Olivier Ayache-Vidal who, despite extensive research at other Stains colleges at the request of producers, has not met a better actor.
The young actor replies to veteran Denis Podalydès, who returned, in the press kit, to his discovery of the college, freshly repaired and newly named Barbara: “We went there before the shooting with Olivier. Barbara College struck me a lot. New, very modern, well equipped, and yet reminiscent from a distance, when we see it appear in the middle of this almost country area where it is built, at a detention center … I was struck by the calm that reigned, the empty of the corridors, and by the sudden and insane din when the students left. The place won me over. He bypassed all the clichés of the suburban sideboard that we imagine a priori dilapidated, tagged, depressing.“