Saving lives

"We're just making films. We're not saving lives."


It's a saying you hear on film sets when the shit is hitting the fan. And I get it—a sudden onset of torrential rain might be incredibly stressful during an outdoor film shoot, but it's not the end of the world.

I had reason to re-think this, though, when I was in Munich last week attending the Munich International Festival of Film Schools, or Filmschoolfest Munich as it is also known.

For a week I got to sit and watch 44 of the best student films from around the world. It was inspiring on so many levels, but it was also deeply shocking. There was a pronounced and recurring theme that rose above the many insightful explorations of current issues: the abuse of power against women.

After each film screening there was a Q&A with the director, and so I heard directors from Austria to Israel talk about how being a woman so often means feeling unsafe in this world. These films were all made pre-#MeToo but feel incredibly relevant in this post-Weinstein age.

And then it happened to me. Twice.

Late one night a group of us were walking through the streets on our way to a night club. My friend, also Australian, and I had fallen a short distance behind when two men propositioned us. They'd clearly heard us speaking in English with foreign accents and so their jeering open was: "Have sex with us."

Where once my instinct would have been to avoid and to ignore, I turned around, looked them directly in the eyes and stood my ground: "Get fucked!"

This was clearly not what they'd expected and they immediately left us alone, cowed by the encounter.

The next night, it was after 11pm and I was walking on my own through the city centre of Munich on my way to meet the other filmmakers at a party. I was on the phone to my father in Australia when I was approached by an attractive, well-dressed man more than 20 years my senior. I tried to communicate that I was on the phone and not interested, but he was very persistent.

So I ended the phone call ("Dad, I'm going to have to deal with this.") and responded, "Do I know you?"

I wasn't sure if perhaps he'd been at the festival and had recognised me from my film screening and Q&A a couple of hours before—maybe he just wanted to talk to me about my film (which is, of course, about this very abuse of power).

"No, but we go to that bar down there and have a drink and then we know each other..."

I declined, and he persisted. I held my ground.

Three or four times I had to say very firmly, "You're making me feel uncomfortable. Leave me alone."

All the while, he invaded my personal space, took advantage of me being out of my comfort zone in a foreign country, and looked like someone who should have known far better.

Eventually he seemed to realise that it was not up for discussion. As I walked away from him, I saw a text message from my father: "Let me know that you are ok"

Then I got lost and spent the next 20 minutes looking over my shoulder until I eventually found my way to the venue. By the time I arrived, I was near tears and the other filmmakers greeted me with hugs.

That second incident, in particular, affected me—especially in the context of the films I'd watched that week and the many conversations about these issues over recent months. The men from the night before were just your average late-night sleazes, but here was a man who looked like he should have known better.

I've thought a lot about these encounters in the week since and the thing that strikes me is this: the films I watched at Filmschoolfest Munich, and the subsequent Q&As, changed me.

Historically, my instinct was to avoid, to ignore, to disengage. Instead, in these instances, I felt empowered. I turned. I made eye contact. I held my ground. I told them that they could not use their power against me. Those films changed me.

It was a reminder: films matter. They can save lives.

Six months later

It's been a fair while since my last post. I've wanted to write before now but these last few months have been so full that it has been hard to wrangle the mess of thoughts into sentences.

Incredibly, this film that has been consuming every waking moment, is almost done. We head into the sound mix at VCA tomorrow, and will submit the "final" film for marking on Friday. Of course, it's not exactly the final version as we'll be completing an external grade and sound mix in October. But it's pretty close...

Quite simply, I've grown enormously making this film. Having MEAT as a point of reference this time around meant that I was able to gain significant insight into my own process, my own patterns, common threads.

Making a self-reflexive film about actors and their director also forced me to be critical about my own approach and examine my weaknesses and strengths. (And yes, a number of our cast and crew have suggested that Helmut, the fictional director in the film, is my alter-ego... what a scary thought!)

Most of all, I feel hugely grateful to have found such close and wonderful collaborators. Finding my people is something that's really important to me—and this film has driven home to me how lucky I am to be surrounded by such good people who have given me so much of their time, their talent and their trust. 

The film's not done yet, but we've come a long way since I first had the idea for the film, sitting in Hamer Hall at Sufjan Stevens' concert on Friday 26 February 2016. (Thanks for the ticket, Mum and Dad. I owe you one.)

Six months later, we're almost done.

Simon Annand & The Half

I first came across the work of British photographer, Simon Annand, back in 2010 due to the publication of his book, The Half. The book documents the 25+ years he has spent photographing theatre actors in the 30 minutes before they go onstage (a period of time known as "the half"). As a poor university student then, I leafed longingly through its pages in bookstores, admiring the insightful and intriguing view he gave us of the backstage world and actors' processes.

Years later, his black-and-white photos are a key reference when thinking about the visual style and approach of TOMORROW. I'm particularly intrigued by the way he talks about exploring the relationship actors have to themselves, rather than the camera; in TOMORROW, one of the things I'm keen to explore are those transitional moments as an actor moves between self and character.

Unfortunately, the book appears to now be out of print (oh how I wish I'd bought it when it first came out!) but I continue to be drawn to his work, a lot of which can be found scattered across the web.

I was also interested to watch him at work, and hear him talk about his approach in this video.

Four-and-a-half weeks out...

Last week we launched TOMORROW online with news of the project and our tax-deductible crowdfunding campaign, which is being run in conjunction with the Australian Cultural Fund (if you haven't yet had the chance to check it out, please do).

This week I'm diving into the masses of research I have to do in preparation for directing the film. While I am planning on re-drafting the script this week, I'm now thinking about the project much more as a director, than as the screenwriter.

With my last film, MEAT, it seemed more straightforward. I think this was, in part, because I didn't quite realise what I was getting myself into... But also because I knew the world of the film implicitly, having been inspired by my time at boarding school. And as the screenplay was adapted from a monologue I'd written at the Australian Theatre for Young People the previous year, the project had been in development for a considerable period of time. 

This time I'm far more aware of the challenges of directing a film of this scale and, in the case of this particular project, the challenges I've set for myself in terms of style and form and tone. It all fills me with great excitement (and a healthy degree of fear). I think this film is going to be something quite special, but there's still a lot of research to do first.

At the moment, my to-watch list is growing at an ever increasing rate with recommendations from various heads of department and collaborators... These are some of the films I'll be watching or re-watching over the coming weeks:

  • Opening Night (1977) directed by John Cassavetes
  • The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) directed by Olivier Assayas
  • Throne of Blood (1957) directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • The Dresser (2015) directed by Richard Eyre
  • My Brilliant Career (1979) directed by Gillian Armstrong
  • The Insider (1999) directed by Michael Mann
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000) directed by Darren Aronofsky
  • The Piano Teacher (2001) directed by Michael Haneke
  • Black Swan (2010) directed by Darren Aronofsky
  • Network (1976) directed by Sidney Lumet
  • Topsy Turvy (1999) directed by Mike Leigh

Plus a whole heap of other different productions of Macbeth in its various forms! Lots to do...