First time film director Rosemary Myers was understandably nervous when we met her on the eve of Girl Asleep’s unveiling at the Adelaide Film Festival. She needn’t have been, with the film selling out various sessions and ultimately awarded the Audience Prize for Most Popular Feature. What might have been hometown favour was contradicted when the film was chosen as the opening feature at Berlinale’s Generation 14plus strand, one of Berlin Film Festival’s most important sidebars, screening films with a youthful flavour.
“I’d love for the film to have a life,” the down to earth Rosemary Myers told us on the streets of Adelaide. “I’m really looking forward to seeing it with an audience. In theatre, the trajectory for the premiere is so crazy, locked in the theatre til 11 o’clock at night; whereas I finished this a couple of months ago, had a few test screenings, as many as we could before the deadline for the Producer Offset – a very different model of funding to what I’m used to… But I know that our plays speak to audiences and that people enjoy them, so I’m really excited about putting it in front of an audience because that’s when it will come alive.
Up until Girl Asleep, Rosemary Myers was a theatre practitioner, first with Arena in Melbourne and now Windmill in Adelaide, both youth driven theatre companies.
Girl Asleep was produced under the HIVE initiative of the Adelaide Film Festival, which sees arts organisations and companies commissioned to produce films.
Windmill Theatre is made up of three collaborative artists – director Rosemary Myers, writer/actor Matt Whittet and designer Jonathon Oxlade. “We’ve made a lot of plays together, and a lot of the plays are teenage rites of passage stories,” Myers says. “And the language of our theatre is quite filmic. We have a lot of fun taking the devices of film, which is the predominant medium of our age. We stage things that you would do with special effects in film but bringing that language into the theatre as a kind of wink to the audience; fast edits through big blinding lights on our audience and then bam the scene is changed; slo-mo acting… It’s in our language; it’s what we consume all the time now.”
Girl Asleep was to be the third part of a trilogy of theatre works exploring rites of passage, and follows 14-year-old Greta (Bethany Whitmore) who tries to fit into a new school environment and also an unorthodox family life during the ‘70s in suburban Australia.
“Our influences are writ largely on the film,” admits Rosemary Myers when we ask her about her favourite filmmakers. “Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry and Guillermo Del Toro to some degree. They’re big references for a lot of people aren’t they? But they also inform our theatre work. We’ll look at a Bjork video clip, and they’re quite theatrical. Amongst our team the aesthetics are shared. For this film we also looked at ‘70s photography. At one point we wondered if we could even do a period film because our budget was so small, but we had amazing people.”
With its mix of the droll and the fantastic, but grounded in a truthfulness that a rites of passage story brings, Girl Asleep is sure to resonate with audiences around the world, and thankfully this may not be the last time we see Rosemary Myers or the Windmill Theatre troupe take on filmmaking.
“It was such a learning curve,” Myers admits. “We feel that we’re an organisation with a lot of content because we’ve made all these shows, and we’ve toured our work extensively all around the world, so we feel that it’s good to now leverage some of this work. Once you’ve done something you understand it so much more, and you think about the next time.
“In the end, we come to the fact that we tell stories, and how do we make them alive and as distinctive as you can within our means at the time. I understand filmmaking now because I’ve been through the process so it’d be exciting to have another crack.”