Melissa Anastasi: The Deep End

June 9, 2019
Premiering at the 2019 Sydney Film Festival, Anastasi’s short film, Chlorine was one of four recipients of the Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship.

Chlorine is about 11-year-old Keira (newcomer Clementine Ball), who steals from pregnant women at her local pool. The film also features Marlo Kelly, Ezekiel Simat and Tasma Walton, and is produced by Jessica Carrera for Dollhouse Pictures.

Here the film’s writer/director Melissa Anastasi shares her intentions for the film and what she has taken away from the experience.

Two young female characters are central to the Chlorine story – what themes did you set out to explore through their interactions?

Chlorine is an exploration of blood ties, and the bond between family under extremely difficult circumstances. Through the project I wanted to explore the tension between familial obligations over a reckless, youthful desire for freedom. Both Keira and Beth are kids who have had to fend for themselves without the support of a wider family network, and that has had a huge influence on them. Keira, though 11, is the responsible parental figure, and Beth, though a young adult, is more like the out of control child.

Family, sisterhood and motherhood are key themes of the film, and the choice of the pool setting, and the aqua natal classes created a unique opportunity to explore them in a visually unique way, through the point of view of our protagonist Keira. Having a strong sense of her point of view throughout was something I really wanted to push with this film also, to understand the world she inhabits through her.

Water is a constant in the film, what was the inspiration behind its presence? 

Water is the central element running throughout the film, linking the two worlds of pool and housing estate together, and symbolising motherhood and Keira’s repressed emotional needs. The use of an ultrasound image also carries the symbolism of water, rebirth and maternal connection.

The aquatic centre is a cocooned world of its own, where mothers and their children bond – it is like a womb, and the fact that we see Keira in this particular location, watching and stealing from these women is symbolic of her desire to be mothered; to have familial and maternal love in her life.

That Keira cannot swim is significant, as she has not had maternal nurturing, and she is holding down a whole lot of emotion that she dares not express in words. The final moment of mother and daughter coming together, emerging out of the embryonic pool of water, is like a rebirth providing a sense of hope for the future.

When and where did you film Chlorine

We filmed Chlorine in February this year around South Maroubra, La Perouse and Hurstville. These are really unique and distinctive parts of Sydney that I haven’t seen a lot on screen. I was really interested in creating a world that we don’t get to see often enough. Using real locations was key to building a world that felt authentic, and that had the texture we were looking for. Designer Laura Anna Lucas and myself worked together closely to create that, which was an incredibly rewarding part of the process of making the film.

Finding the right pool also took a lot of scouting – I think we saw 42 indoor pools before finding the right one. It had to be a pool that felt enclosed and comforting, whilst visually representing a nostalgic idea of an Australian pool with its simple blocks of colour and clean lines, contrasting the messier world of the housing estate.

Can you describe the casting process?

For the lead role of Keira, we auditioned over 100 young girls from all across Sydney, from inner city to outer western and south western Sydney. We reached out to schools, community centres, and youth centres, as we really wanted a child with life experiences and not necessarily acting experience.

Keira is both vulnerable and wise beyond her years in that she has had to play the role of parent and be quite self-sufficient. She is an incredibly observant character, relying on those skills quite literally to survive.

We brought on the casting agents “Chicken and Chips”, who really helped to broaden our search and see a wider cross section of people which was fantastic, and to offer great suggestions for the other key roles.

When I saw Clementine, I knew we had found our Keira. We saw her quite early on and brought her back in for chemistry tests with several other actors and she was incredible. Bringing her and Marlo Kelly together was a magical thing to watch – the two of them had a chemistry that was so genuine, it really did feel like they had known each other for years.

We were then lucky to secure Tasma Walton, and Ezekiel Simat, both of whom bought something very special to the screen also.

What have you learnt through the filmmaking process with this opportunity from Sydney Film Festival and Lexus?

The Fellowship has been a great opportunity to experiment with process, story and visual style, and create a film that is a true expression of my voice as an artist. With the resources of the fellowship, and the support of incredible creatives, I was able to fully realise my vision for Chlorine. Through the making of this project, I’ve also formed a new team of talented filmmakers who I’m really excited to keep making work with, so I’m very, very thankful for that. I think the Fellowship has taught me to trust my instincts more, and to collaborate with people who share my specific passions for cinema.

Chlorine is screening at the 2019 Sydney Film Festival.

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