A Breathless Film Slate

February 7, 2022
In the spirit of the French New Wave, enterprising film producers have turned the limitations of time, money, scale and resources into a virtue, greenlighting 5 distinct new Australian films that are set to shake up the local film industry.

Innovative production company, Breathless Films, founded by producers Ulysses Oliver and Ben Ferris, and based in Newtown, Sydney, have had their first success.

Lonesome, written and directed by Craig Boreham has been picked up by Berlin based world sales agent M-Appeal, who will take the feature, a drama, to the European Film Market.

Shot by Dean Francis (JJ splice Films) who produced it with Breathless, Lonesome, Boreham told FilmInk, “is set in a very urban, contemporary and very gay Australian landscape.”

The film stars Joshua Lavery and Daniel Gabriel, with Ian Roberts and Anni Finsterer with a plot about two men searching for a way to heal deeply personal wounds.

Craig Boreham

“When I was writing the script,” Boreham, who is also a producer, explained, “I was thinking about the need for community and connection and how those things can be harder to find than in previous generations despite the interconnectedness we supposedly have through the digital landscape.”

Teenage Kicks, Boreham’s debut, made a major impact in 2016, with one prominent critic dubbing the filmmaker, ‘a strong new voice in Australian Queer cinema.’

Lonesome, which was lensed mid-2021, was the second feature of an ambitious five film production slate that Breathless spent most of 2020 developing.

“Ulysses and I have been talking about doing something like Breathless Films for years,” Ferris told FilmInk.

The pair first met at the old Sydney Film School (SFS, 2004-2018) over a decade ago. Then, Oliver was a student (and entrepreneur) and Ferris, a founder of SFS, was the school’s director. Both have since built careers that merge a broad spectrum of production experience.

Oliver produced short films, including the very successful Telegram Man (2009) and co-wrote the Steven Seagal actioner The Perfect Weapon (2016). Ferris directed the experimental feature Penelope (2009) and the documentaries 57 Lawson (2016) and In(di)visible (2021), which screens at the Antenna Festival this month.

The last decade of work for both, says Oliver, has informed a filmmaking philosophy that’s about, “experimenting with an alternative pathway to making movies.

“Other pathways are all very valid,” he said. “But [in most cases], it does lead to a very extended development, financing and marketing period… with thousands of strings attached. That seems to be the approach to making films in Australia.”

Inspired by the French New Wave – the company brand name is a self-conscious homage to Godard’s 1960 classic – Oliver says that limitations of time, money, scale and resources can be made into virtues: “it’s about making films rather than making business decisions.”

Once Breathless announced a commitment to make five features in less than a year, it did not take long for filmmakers to come knocking, Ferris said.

“We looked at anything and everything regardless of genre from chamber pieces to sci fi,” he said. “We ended up getting quite scientific about it,” Oliver adds. “We had a spreadsheet. One of the columns was feasibility – which happens to be our middle name.”

There was also an X factor column, indicating a project that had something. “Story,” he said, “was top of the list.”

Ferris says that the best thing about the Breathless model was that “every film we finally selected has its own model, with your filmmaking teams bringing in something specific. This model is about trust, not tech, not employees. We’re partners.”

Oliver had a chance to test out his theories early in 2020 with Love Road [above], the first film on the Breathless slate (with co-producers Select Field), which he wrote and directed. Inspired by the romantic films of Richard Linklater, it features Shalane Connors (A Place to Call Home) and Ishak Issa (Australian Gangster), with Aileen Beale (Friday on My Mind). Told using an adventurous narrative where the action cuts between three stages of a relationship – that is three points in time – the film is, as the title suggests, a road movie. “It’s a relationship drama that’s also a bit of a thriller,” he said.

This experience helped Ferris and Oliver to formulate an approach that’s flexible, emphasising agility, and a production style that is perhaps less hierarchical than what is common practice: “Decisions are shared, and everyone is involved,” Ferris said. “We’re offering a plan, a framework, hands-on support, a creative sounding board…”

Breathless’ attitude was part of what attracted the team behind The Longest Weekend [above] to join the slate. “I appreciated their willingness to allow us to produce ourselves,” Jorrden Daley, told FilmInk, “and the freedom they gave us to do so.” Daley wrote the comedy-drama and produced with director Molly Haddon [below] and Rebecca Yates.

Starring rising talent Mia Artemis (Sweet Tooth, Pieces of Her), Elly Hiraani Clapin and Adam Golledge, with Tammy Macintosh (Wentworth), it’s a character piece about sibling conflict. Like all the Breathless films it was a short shoot, only seventeen days in this instance, but says Haddon, preparation was the key: “It was very important for me to have time to work with the actors and allow them to develop their characters. Seeing as we wouldn’t have the time on set, we had weekly rehearsals for the two months prior to filming.”

For Tennessine [below] Breathless partnered with writer-director Amin Palangi (Love Marriage in Kabul.) This drama, set in an isolated location, deals with ‘the forces of migration and displacement,’ says the filmmaker.

Starring Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding), and featuring Robert Rabiah (Underbelly, Safe Harbour) with newcomer Faezeh Alavi, it’s about two lovers reunited after a long absence. Most of the dialogue is in Farsi.

“We wanted to capture our Persian-speaking characters against a distinct Australian landscape to tell a new and contemporary story away from urban settings,” Palangi told FilmInk.

“This meant that the entire cast and crew had to be housed in a remote location, living and working together for a few weeks.”

The last film shot on the Breathless slate was Birdeater from Jack Clark and Jim Weir. It’s a topical ‘genre-hybrid’ say the team.

For this, Breathless partnered with Fax Machine and Four Leg and Bestboy.

Produced by Stephanie Troost, Birdeater features an ensemble cast including Shabana Azeez (Metro Sexual), Mackenzie Fearnley (Operation Buffalo), Clementine Anderson (Fitting), Jack Bannister (Lysa and the Freeborn Dames), Alfie Gledhill (Lie With Me) and Harley Wilson (Threshold).

“The film pivots on a potential psychological abuse allegation that arises during the middle of a buck’s party,” Weir told FilmInk. The plot is about how each of the male friends respond to such a claim.

Birdeater’s Jack Clark and Jim Weir

The duo [above] not only co-wrote but elected to co-direct, a choice that challenges the mainstream feature production model here, but somewhat typical of Breathless’ appetite to challenge convention.

“Jack and I had spent five years collaborating since we met at film school,” Weir said. They spent a year or more developing Birdeater, which paid off when Breathless gave the pair the chance to make their first feature straight out of film school.

Adds Clark: “Our story got us through the door, and it was from the story that Breathless seemed to evaluate our potential as a project. This was antithetical to everything we had been taught about a market driven film economy, so there wasn’t much hesitation to dive in on our end.”

Birdeater

Each of the five pictures captures something special according to Ferris: “That’s the bottom line. They have managed to capture a world view that’s deeply felt and clearly expressed.”

Ferris and Oliver will be releasing the five titles from their first Breathless slate in the coming year as they develop a new raft of projects for their next slate of films.

For more on Breathless Films, head to their website.

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