4 young filmmakers

Ghita Loebenstein

Existing almost purely in the domain of festivals, competitions and private video release, short film’s barely existent commercial screening life means that funding one most always involves independent means. As educational tools, short films are an important stepping-stone in the life of aspiring filmmakers. Whilst functioning as vignettes of creative experimentation, they also exist in a practical capacity as advertisements of the filmmaker’s skill.

The Young Filmmakers Fund (YFF) was established in 1996 by the NSW Film and Television Office (FTO) to encourage creativity and new talent in the film industry and in essence address the lack of funding for short films. In July this year the FTO announced the recipients of the 11th round of YFF grants bringing the total number of projects that have been assisted by the fund to 67. Each grant offers a NSW resident aged 13-35 up to $30,000 to produce a film (short or short feature) in any format or genre. The virtue of having the fund in place to cultivate local talent has been demonstrated in the success past YFF assisted films have enjoyed. Many have won selection and accolades at national and international festivals and have gone on to be sold to distributors and broadcasters worldwide.

The recipients of the 2002 grants demonstrate the diversity that the FTO supports. The 4 projects range in both content and style spanning black comedy, experimental and short drama. What comes across in discussion is each director’s solid sense of vision for their film and a keen sense of teamwork on their production.

Danielle Boesenberg’s The Easter Tide, produced by Sam Meikle and Rachel Clements, is based loosely on the marriage of the filmmaker’s grandmother, examining how love endures the pain of losing a child. Structured around a series of flashbacks the modern setting will have a “really contemporary look with lots of fluid camera” while the flashbacks will consist of more abstract shots that play with shallow focus to replicate the uncertainty of memory. “[The style is] very much flashes of memory and memory breaking up. With memory you remember certain details and everything else is a bit blurry.”

Boesenberg was pleasantly surprised she got funding for the film, musing that “Particularly in Australia there is a tendency to try and make a funny film. [The Easter Tide] is a little story. It’s not solving the world’s problems or making people laugh or trying to be anything other than a sweet little story.” The fact that all 4 of this year’s YFF assisted films are not characterised by glaring punch-lines is recognition enough that there are many ‘little stories’ out there yet to be told by young filmmakers.

Whilst Boesenberg has been harbouring the idea for her film for quite a while she sees it as a nice symmetry that she is able to start production in the year that her grandmother died. Having already made a few self-funded short films with her husband, screenwriter Meikle, Boesenberg is grateful she doesn’t have to go down that route for The Easter Tide. “The only way to make films without funding is to beg, borrow and steal and I think we’ve pretty much used all the calls we can make on that.”

Stray Heart, directed by Jason di Rosso and produced by Paula Jensen, was shot on a characteristically low short film budget and made use of the YFF grant entirely in post production. The story follows a lonely kleptomaniac who seeks solace in the shared experience of owning objects. Shot on a Bolex using nearly all natural lighting sources, the experience forced di Rosso’s team to be extremely disciplined in their filmmaking. Having scoured for locations where the natural light source “was as good as if we’d had all the trucks and money in the world” di Rosso concedes that “in actual fact we’ve ended up with a film that anyone would say looks stunning.”

The YFF grant then allowed them “pretty much all the resources we wanted” in post production and they finished the film on 35mm. “It was a different learning experience of not necessarily making ends meet but of learning to work on a professional level in an area of the industry I hadn’t had much experience in.”

Referring to the “dark shadowy edges” of the film’s images, di Rosso says the story was created specifically for the camera. DOP Sean Meehan wanted to do something that would lend itself to the look of the Bolex so “I immediately thought of something dark that dealt with the psychological and the metaphysical.”

For Louise Fox it was the resonance of a true story she had read that inspired her to write. A Natural Talent is about a woman living in central NSW in the 1850s who gains celebrity status by claiming she has given birth to rabbits. “I was pregnant when I wrote it and surveyed all the pregnant women I know. At some stage they’d all had weird dreams about giving birth to animals. It seemed to be quite a universal anxiety.”

As both an inward examination of grief and loss and a black comedy, Fox wants the audience’s attitude to shift through the film. She describes it as a “funny, strange and dark” drama and was intrigued by what could have driven a woman to create such a fabrication. “I’d been reading about women in that period and their level of loss (at birth)—5 out of 10 children—and what that did to an entire generation when there were no ways of speaking about it.”

Set in the “really dry but very beautiful” region of Wolca NSW, the visual style is influenced by the pastoral image of The Drover’s Wife. “I thought about the difficulty of raising children in that world and that iconographic imagery of Australian women in the bush through that period of painting.”

For Fox and producer Tamara Popper who are endeavouring to raise more money to fund what will be a short feature (26 minutes) the FTO grant has “engender[ed] a lot of faith in a lot of people” who may not otherwise have had confidence in relatively inexperienced filmmakers.

For Adam Sebire (Le Violon d’Ingres) the grant has allowed his production team to experiment with a new medium. “My background is documentary and this gives me the chance to step into a highly stylised visual and aural realm way outside of that. It will push all the crew in that sense and if it doesn’t I guess it won’t have succeeded.”

The film is a surreal exploration of Man Ray’s photograph Le Violon d’Ingres. The famous photograph depicts a nude sitting with her back to the camera, f holes super-imposed on her skin so that she looks like a cello. Using one long tracking shot around the photograph, the film is set to the music of Satie’s Gymmopedie No 1 and also references the poem said to have inspired Satie. According to Sebire it will be a “concentrated mix of music, poetry, light and sensual and surreal shapes all coming together in a tapestry.”

Sebire’s concept works against the view that Man Ray’s photograph places the woman as a passive object of desire. “In this film she comes to life and gazes directly and intensely at us, she sings us this poem and eventually metamorphoses into her cello ‘other’.” Yet rather than dealing with notions of the male gaze, Sebire is interested in debates about the depiction of ‘reality’ in photography. “I think Man Ray was playing with the idea of whether a photograph can be trusted to represent the truth. He has this very surreal image where we’re not sure if she’s a woman or a cello.”

Conscious that the idea of photographic manipulation has topical relevance, Sebire wants to “experiment with a type of 21st century surrealism to play with the illusion that Man Ray set up. Perhaps people will start to think about how we can look at an image and be sure that it’s telling the truth.”

The Easter Tide, director Danielle Boesenberg, producers Sam Miekle and Rachel Clements. Production to commence in Jan 2003. Stray Heart, director Jason di Rosso, producer Paula Jensen. Production completed. A Natural Talent, director Louise Fox, producer Tamara Popper. Production to commence in December 2002. Le Violon d’Ingres (working title), director Adam Sebire, producer Fiorenza Zito. Production to commence 2003.

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 32

© Ghita Loebenstein; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002