French film grooming claims puts focus on child coaches

Allegations of child grooming on French film sets has put the spotlight on the importance of coaches to protect young actors.

Judith Godreche has helped launch a new wave of MeToo uproar with allegations she was groomed by directors as a child © Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP



Paris (AFP): Allegations of child grooming on French film sets has put the spotlight on the importance of coaches to protect young actors.

French cinema has undergone a fresh wave of MeToo controversy in recent months thanks in large part to accusations by actor Judith Godreche. Now 52, she says she was groomed and sexually assaulted by two directors when she was a child star in the 1980s.

Young actors have occasionally had coaches on set to help them with their performances.

But now, increasingly, they play a role in protecting children -- not just from criminal behaviour, but also from the general tensions and stresses of a film set.

Amour Rawyler, a pioneer of child coaching in France, said her role was vital in distancing young actors from the characters they play.

She worked on the award-winning 2017 movie "Custody", helping child actor Thomas Gioria negotiate a brutal story about domestic violence.

Rawyler said the key was to make the experience off-camera as light-hearted as possible.

"We have never laughed so much as on this shoot," she told AFP.

There are strict rules for using actors under 16, including limited hours and ensuring they have time for schoolwork, while a government body must approve scripts that involve children.

But unlike in Hollywood, there is no requirement for children to be accompanied at all times by a parent or trained supervisor.


Giving the child a say

Appearing before the Senate last month, Godreche called for coaches to become mandatory, and a commission is due to look into the issue in the coming months.

"It seems absurd that there can be a child on set and no one to supervise them," another coach, Claire Chauchat, told AFP.

"It's not something we would do in normal life and even less in the workplace," she added.

In practice, wider societal changes mean children are rarely left alone on sets as they were in the 1980s.

The bigger issue may be the lack of clear guidelines and training, said another coach, Violette Gitton.

"The tasks with which we are entrusted are highly delicate," she said. "And we often have to rely on our intuition to guide us."

Film sets can be stressful and highly emotional environments, with coaches sometimes having to intervene between directors and actors, she said.

"Since we aren't protected by any institution, it can be difficult for the coach to have any legitimacy or impose themselves," said Gitton.

The key, agreed all the coaches interviewed, is to ensure the child has a say.

"The minor must know what is going on," said coach Delphine Labey. "And say no if they think things have gone too far."