The Last Goodbye with Samantha Rebillet

December 1, 2017
Actor, writer, director, local film industry champion, Samantha Rebillet passed away this week. Here we republish our interview with her from 2015.

In the short feature The Last Goodbye, a mother and daughter reconnect after seven years apart, where wounds from the past are torn open again. “I’ve been writing mother-daughter stories for many years, based on my own experience of being estranged from my mother from a young age,” Rebillet tells FilmInk. “In 2010, I was operated on for a life-threatening brain tumour. So, when thinking about what to write for my DCA [Doctorate Candidature] film, I asked myself, ‘If this was my last ever film, what would it be?’ A part of me wanted to do comedy and revel in frivolity, but I decided that it should be something poignant and personal.”

After a string of award-winning and beautifully crafted shorts, the time definitely seemed ripe for Rebillet to make the transition to feature films. The film set is definitely a home away from home for Rebillet, who grew up in the world of movies, accompanying her father, Chris Maudson, and her adopted father, Richard Brennan (who worked on Mad Dog Morgan, Long Weekend and Newsfront, as assistant director and producer, respectively) on shoots. In fact, Rebillet made her debut in the classic Australian film, Newsfront, as a youngster, before scoring support roles in a mix of features (Heatwave, Cosi) and television (Water Rats, All Saints). It was directing, however, that she fell for. “My parents didn’t want to openly encourage my becoming an actress, and I was only cast when the role wouldn’t have me miss much school!” Rebillet laughs. “But I loved the few roles that I got to play, so once the decision was my own, I secured an agent and became a working actor. The parts that I was being cast in were not as challenging as I hoped, which only increased my eagerness to become a director. I directed a few basic shorts and music videos. But it wasn’t until I studied at AFTRS [The Australian Film Television And Radio School] that I felt confident enough to label myself a director.”

Rebillet graduated from AFTRS in 2006, and made The Last Goodbye in her final year of a Doctorate Candidature at the University Of Technology. As such, the feature doubles as an opportunity for Rebillet to test and explore the handheld and improvisational approach preferred by a number of her favourite filmmakers (Darren Aronofsky, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Gus Van Sant), and which she had been utilising in a number of her shorts. “It’s been a developing style,” Rebillet says. “I’ve been shooting this way for my past three films. I have a connection to films that are personal, and by that, I mean the intimacy of a character driven experience.” The fact that the film was also being made outside traditional pathways allowed the filmmaker to experiment. “It would have been impossible to finance traditionally, because the script was a very loose plan on the page,” Rebillet says. “I didn’t labour over the page. I wrote the dialogue in broad brushstrokes, whereas in a script that you’re developing and showing to a funding body, you really need to put a lot more information down so they can get a sense of your vision. We developed this as we went, and let it come to life on the day.”

In line with this improvisational approach, the project came together quickly, and Rebillet seized the opportunity to get things rolling. She was spending time in Paris (where the French-speaking filmmaker was born, and always wanted to shoot) with her family working on the script, when she had the urge to pick up a camera and start production. “Initially, the aim was to take a more traditional pathway of development and take my time,” she recalls. “But having had the brain tumour and feeling that sense of passing time and urgency, I thought, ‘No, no, no, I’m in Paris right now. I don’t want to leave Paris with just a screenplay. I knew that if I could just pull it together in a more economical way, it could happen. Then my husband [Ilan Kidron] had to head back to Sydney six months sooner than we expected, so the trip was cut short, and through various pragmatic changes, I was in the position where I was in Paris without my family for a couple of weeks. Two weeks in Paris became a month in Paris on my own, so I thought that I’d be mad not to shoot!”

Originally, Rebillet’s story pivoted around a young romance, with the prickly mother and daughter relationship playing second fiddle. But pulling that relationship to the forefront, the ensuing story follows a teenage girl from Australia, Stella (Natasha Bassett), who travels to Paris and is reunited with her estranged mother, a 40-year-old DJ named Bianca (played by Rebillet), who’s never had her life weighed down by any sort of parental responsibilities. The world of a DJ was one that Rebillet had lived and breathed, given her husband’s profession as frontman for the popular band The Potbelleez, and the fact that the pair also perform together in the electronic jazz pop outfit, The Freaks In Love. “I know the world and lifestyle of a DJ,” she says. “It’s a very solo one, and it’s not conducive to parenthood. The whole idea was to find a character who goes against what the young girl wanted, so you could have that conflict. It’s interesting to open up that debate about the professions that we choose, and how they’re not always suited to parenthood. It’s about trying to find that balance, which can be quite a challenge for artists. I had a period working very full-on in feature films, and my son was five at the time, and it was a mad time. So, I do have that connection with the character in asking, ‘Have I chosen the wrong path?’”

Surprisingly, the choice to step into the role of Bianca – a complex character who sometimes painfully views her daughter as competition – was not always a given for Rebillet. “That was the last decision of, ‘Should I really do this?’” the filmmaker recalls. “It’s interesting because I haven’t been acting for years.” The decision, however, became an easy one when she recruited Natasha Bassett for the role of Stella. And if Rebillet’s past casting choices are any indication, the filmmaker certainly has an eye for talent, having cast both Mia Wasikowska and Maeve Dermody in her shorts when they were young and relatively unknown. “My casting decisions have been based quite simply on who I felt most resembled the part that I had written,” she says. “I always look for depth, truth, pain and vulnerability – mixed with a lovely smile. Mia, Maeve and Natasha all have the beautiful quality of inner calm and wisdom beyond their years.”

With the majority of the film shot in Paris, Rebillet returned home to shoot a handful of scenes in Sydney, with the city doubling as the French capital. One would assume that for a low budget project, a Paris-set feature wouldn’t exactly keep the costs down. Rebillet, however, says that given the nature of the project – which roughly cost just $25,000 to shoot, and has been gently guided by Richard Brennan on producing duties – favours were called upon. “Being a student film, we are obliged to only work with volunteers,” the filmmaker explains. “It was cheaper to shoot in Paris than Sydney, given the generosity of our interns and volunteers! That said, we also have many deferrals and favours in place. We self-financed, and then reimbursed through crowd-funding, and will do the same for post-production.”

Vale Sami

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