Since it debuted at the Venice Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury prize, Alice Diop’s first feature Saint Omer has had a robust life on the fall festival circuit. An austere, tightly scripted and subtly acted drama, in which a novelist (Kayije Kagame) becomes fascinated by the trial of an immigrant mother for the murder of her own daughter, the film nevertheless draws deeply on the director’s previous experience as a documentary filmmaker.

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Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event, Diop revealed that the events depicted in the film reflect her own interest in a real-life court case that took place in the French town that gives the film its name. “The inspiration was a personal experience,” she said, “which I had when I attended the trial of a Senegalese woman who killed her infant daughter by leaving her on a beach in the north of France. I was truly fascinated by this case, and I followed, in person, the entire trial.”

Diop explained that her interest in the trial was more than just simple curiosity as to the woman’s guilt or innocence.

“This case overwhelmed me,” she said. “It changed me, and it really put me in dialogue with the darkest part of my relationship to maternity. I realized that many other women in France were marked by this trial, and I also noticed that this fascinating story had impacted many other women in the same way that it had impacted me — it made them think about their mysterious link to their own mothers and to their children. That’s what gave me the conviction to make the film.”

Check out the panel video above.

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