Director Martha Goddard gives us the back story on shooting her experiential short film ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’ which is vying for a Dendy Award at Sydney Film Festival.
The 59th Sydney Film Festival kicks off on June 6 and a highlight of the program is the strong field of finalists competing in the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films. A highlight in this eclectic selection of shorts vying for the top prize is Martha Goddard's independent short film, Dance Me to the End of Love.
This is Goddard's first film since completing a graduate diploma in directing at AFTRS, but the talented young director has already helmed a swag of impressive shorts including Car Pool, Carnies, and The Bridge, the latter of which saw her pick up an SBS Award at the World of Women International Festival in Sydney. Her shorts have played in festivals around the globe, but being selected as a finalist for the Dendy Awards was particularly special for Goddard. "It's really affirming to be accepted into such a prestigious award and makes me so proud of the crew and everyone who believed in the idea," she told us.
Dance Me to the End of Love is an evocative examination of the final stages of a relationship, exploring the break-up of lovers and dance partners, Mary and John. In the film, as Mary and John's dance tour comes to a close, the tense, unstable state of their relationship is encapsulated in their final dance on stage. "The dance is actually a recap of their entire relationship and a celebration of what they once were," Goddard says.
It is a theatrical, emotionally charged scene, complemented by the passion and underlying tenderness within the performances of lead actors Leeanna Walsman (Caught Inside, Jessica, Looking For Alibrandi) and Oliver Torr (A Few Best Men, Burke & Wills). As actors with little dance experience, Walsman and Torr trained extensively with choreographer Richard James Allen, who had "designed a dance to best suit their capacity and worked with them every few days to rehearse, not only the dance, but how to walk, move, sit and stretch like a dancer.
"I prioritised the emotional availability of actors over casting dancers but these two worked incredibly hard on looking and moving like dancers," Goddard says of her casting choices. "I know they were pushed very hard and the results have paid off." The dance sequence is indeed compelling, building to the implicit realisation that love and sadness are not mutually exclusive and that even when love still exists, sometimes you just have to let go.
In creating the overall look and feel of the film, Goddard took a micro-budget approach, using just $3000 and a camera package she had won from festivals in the past. "Our choice was to wait and apply for funding through the traditional channels or to jump in and do it rough," Goddard says. Taking the latter option clearly had its benefits. "Shooting with a micro crew on location meant we could respond to unscripted inspirations in the moment. One of my favourite scenes we shot while on the road was inspired by the sunset that day. We pulled over to the side of the road and shot with ten minutes left of ‘magic hour'. Leeanna and Oliver relished the opportunity to intuit something in this moment."
The film was largely shot on location in Goulburn, using rich 16mm film, which gives the film an organic, raw quality. "I always knew it was going to be worth it," Goddard says. "The colours and textures film offers far outweighs the perceived problems of cost and volatility. I felt like the natural grainy texture worked wonderfully for this story as it's all about creating textures of what's unspoken between the couple."
Similarly, the locations that Goddard used in the film echo the state of Mary and John's relationship. "The stark direction their relationship had headed into was reflected in the landscapes they travel through," she says. "It was cold and wintery and often we were working in fog, trying to capture the scenes before it dissipated around us. It created a wonderful sense of veiled mystery."
Sydney Film Festival runs June 6-17. To buy tickets and see the full list of Australian short films on offer, head here.
Picture caption: Goddard on the set of Dance Me to the End of Love.