Can you tell us about the genesis of the film, by the looks of things it was made as part of your course at IFSS, which is sadly no longer around, I believe?
I shot A Private Matter in 2014 as the first of two films I made in my graduating year at IFSS (International Film School Sydney). IFSS fully immersed its students in all facets of the filmmaking process from conception through to post, so we were constantly wearing a lot of hats; writer, producer, director, casting, production and costume design and finally editor. While I certainly wouldn’t try to balance so many roles again (as obviously, something has to give and quality is unavoidably sacrificed), it is a fantastic way to grasp and familiarise yourself with all the different roles, which is an invaluable tool and education as a director.
My understanding is that IFSS has actually recently joined forces with the former ACTT (Australian College of Theatre and Television) to create a collaborative school for filmmakers and actors, which is now called AFTT (Academy of Film, Theatre and Television).
Have you been surprised by the success of the film, even though, seemingly it was made as a film school short? Was it always your intention that the film travel beyond film school?
I honestly had no idea that the film would enjoy the festival life it has. It was one of my first films and was made on a very modest budget, with a small student crew of around four people. It’s a twenty-minute short and was quite ambitious in many respects. So I do feel very fortunate that it has done as well as it has. I learnt a lot making this film, and equally so in regards to exploring the festival circuit. It seems to me that films often pick up a degree of momentum, as with A Private Matter, it was initially accepted into a few smaller festivals in the US and won a few awards. Then soon enough, it began to get into some bigger festivals and then festivals started inviting me to submit the film. So I definitely think there is a degree of luck involved at the outset and that once one door opens, others invariably follow.
You’ve got a great cast, with two cast members of the feature film Wyrmwood in major roles. Were you surprised at their interest in your film? How did they come aboard?
I was incredibly fortunate to work with an extremely talented cast. I actually trained as an actor initially, before I made my switch to the other side of the camera, and I know Bianca Bradey and Giselle Van Der Wiel from those early days and knew how gifted they both were. I auditioned over twenty actors for the two lead female roles, and in the call-backs Bianca and Giselle were the best fit and had an incredible chemistry and dynamic from the outset. Bianca was also in one of my earlier films, so we had worked together before and had both enjoyed the experience. The role of Dave demanded a versatile actor with very specific characteristics and I was having trouble finding the right actor for the part. Bianca actually suggested Cain Thompson, who she had worked with on Wyrmwood. Cain came in and auditioned and was able to inhabit the character and his subtleties with little direction. Norah George (who plays the mother), was recommended to me by a lecturer at film school. She had just come off the back of a feature, Backyard Ashes, and she was fantastic to work with and brought a real intelligence to the role.
The actors were all wonderful to work with. It was an intense, but fun, five-day shoot, in a small rural town, five hours South of Sydney, called Tilba Tilba. We all stayed in the same house on the property, which was a great bonding experience. I definitely believe that any success the film has had is largely, if not entirely, due to the cast, and in particular the beautiful tenderness and vulnerability that Giselle and Bianca brought to their characters’ relationship.
Who are your inspirations as a filmmaker?
Always such a hard question, and I feel as if my inspirations are constantly changing, or at least broadening. Inspiration comes from so many places too, from books I read, people I meet, experiences I’ve had. But in terms of other filmmakers, I generally really respect directors who take risks, have a unique, bold and uncompromising vision and aesthetic style and are versatile and fearless in tackling different genres.
I also greatly admire directors who explore controversial characters and subject matters. So I would say my favourite directors are (and in no particular order): Pedro Almodóvar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Xavier Dolan, Sofia Coppola, Sam Mendes, Darren Aronofsky, Jane Campion, Park Chan‐Wook, Michael Haneke, Joel & Ethan Coen and Stanley Kubrick. From Australia I really respect the work of Justin Kurzel, David Michôd and Neil Armfield (both in film and stage), in particular for the raw and gritty performances they are all able to evoke from their actors and their brilliant use of tension. All of these directors’ films have affected and/or disturbed me deeply and stayed with me long after the film’s credits, which is what I always hope for when going to the cinema.
When creating a short film, writing it even, what are your priorities as a filmmaker?
My priority is always to aim to create engaging, complex, flawed and ultimately truthful and empathetic characters, through which I can hopefully affect the audience or implore them to
question their belief systems. I really enjoy experimenting and taking risks, in regards to the script and subject matter as well as with shot and stylistic choices. I like to explore different and distinct worlds that often serve as characters themselves in a sense. I seem to be drawn towards the darker and more flawed sides of human beings and the process of dissecting the characters’
insecurities and frailties, and that of their relationships. So most of my films thus far have been dark psychological dramas or black comedies.
I also love experimenting with the merging of dark and light and love to play with juxtaposing the two, whether it be through shooting a dark story with a bright colour palette or contrasting score, or whether it’s exploring darker subject matter through comedy. It can be a delicate tightrope to walk, but a fascinating one, which I aimed for on two shorts that I’ve recently finished post on. In A Private Matter, I aimed to lull the audience into a false sense of security in the earlier part of the film and then slowly reveal the web the protagonists had been caught in.
I’m currently in pre‐production on another rather dark film, which plays with interlacing violence and innocence, which I’m co‐writing with the very talented actor/writer, Lâle Teoman. I’m also making a black comedy with my good friend, Laura Hughes (a brilliant comedian, actor, writer and filmmaker), later this year, which will explore father‐daughter relationships. I’m really looking forward to making these two very different but equally exciting films.
With A Private Matter in particular, where did this story come from?
I actually wrote the first draft of A Private Matter in 2012, when I was living in a small rural village in Northern Italy, called Botticino. I made a lot of friends who were in same‐sex relationships
while I was living there and none of them could ‘come out’ to their parents and in many cases even their siblings. The Catholic Church still holds a great deal of power over influencing people’s mentalities, and I was quite frankly shocked and disgusted at how one of my friends was treated once she told her family her sexual orientation. This was essentially the inspiration for the first draft, which was actually a black comedy, wherein the comedy arose from the ridiculousness of the family’s reaction to their daughter being gay. However, the script quite quickly and organically gravitated towards dark drama.
I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of people about their experiences with homophobia and a particularly horrible hate crime known as corrective rape. So while this is not a personal story
and not entirely a ‘true story’, it deals with a subject matter with which I feel very passionately about and was a combination of different people’s ‘true stories’, and of course a healthy dose of artistic license.
Have you managed to travel with the film at all to film festivals? How have you found audience reactions? Are you looking forward to the St Kilda Film Fest berth, and what are your expectations of the festival – have you ever been?
St Kilda will be the 25th festival that the film has screened at. However, unfortunately, due to being somewhat of a clichéd ‘struggling artist’, I have not had the funds to travel to any of the 22 festivals outside of Australia. The first festival I attended in person was the Flickerfest International Film Festival in Sydney, which enabled me to meet filmmakers from around the world and see a huge array of very high calibre and diverse films from Australia and abroad. I was also able to attend the Mardi Gras Film Festival, where the film screened in the My Queer Career competition, which selected eight LGBTQI films from around Australia.
People’s feedback seems to often be one of two things; either people tell me they found the film very affecting, powerful and heartbreaking, or alternatively some people find it a little too dark and shocking for their liking. I think it comes down to why people go to the cinema; some people like to be confronted and forced to question themselves, society and humanity, while others just want a sense of escapism. While it is unquestionably a dark film, it’s ultimately a story of love and courage, and I’ve been amazed by how many people from around the world who have seen the film at festivals, have reached out and contacted me to tell me their experience of the film or even their own story. That’s been a very beautiful and humbling experience for me, knowing that the film has spoken to people.
I’m really looking forward to the St Kilda Film Festival, it will be my first time attending, but I have heard great things. I’m excited about meeting other filmmakers and watching some amazing films. It will no doubt be a very inspiring little break away from the salt mines!
A Private Matter is screening as part of Australia’s Top 100 Short Films at the St Kilda Film Festival. For tickets and session times, go to the official site.