‘Mother’, a humanoid robot moving seamlessly through a stark, futuristic facility, selects a frozen embryo and nurtures it to be a perfect child. This is Perth based director Grant Sputore’s first feature film I Am Mother, a thought-provoking sci-fi set in a post-apocalyptic world.
The ambitious concept, filmed in Adelaide and New Zealand, is supported by impressive sound and meticulous set design, with references to many classic sci-fi films, from Alien to 2001, Terminator and The Matrix. It is far more than a pastiche, however, layered with deep themes on morality and survival as well as horror and thriller tropes.
Speaking to FilmInk from the red carpet ahead of the premiere screening, Sputore said,
“I love the idea of pushing the boundaries of what an Australian story is. This is Australian creativity on display in the same way Mad Max: Fury Road is. I like the idea that cinema as a tool can paint on such a broad canvas. It can bring so many different ideas and worlds and not be constrained into expectations of what Australian movies should be but actively go in other directions.
“It means everything to have made it to Sundance. You’ve found me on one of the best days of my life. I just came from the Screen Australia party celebrating the record number of Australian films in the festival.”
Other films are The Nightingale from Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Little Monsters by Abe Forsythe (Down Under), Judy and Punch from Mirrah Foulkes of Blue-Tongue film collective, and Sophie Hyde’s Animals. Top End Wedding completes the Australian line-up, co-written and starring Miranda Tapsell and directed by Wayne Blair, both working together on The Sapphires.
When asked why he thinks Australia is making such a splash, Sputore laughed, “I have no idea, but I have to give a special shout out to SAFC [South Australian Film Corporation] in particular. They supported us to make the film and four of the films at Sundance are SA productions [Animals, The Nightingale, Top End Wedding], so I don’t know what’s in the water over there, but they’re doing something right!”
At the post screening Q and A, Sputore gave special thanks to Luke Hawker from WETA Workshop, the New Zealand company famous for creative projects including Avatar and Lord of the Rings. WETA designed the Mother robot as a suit that Hawker wore and acted in over the gruelling weeks of filming.
“I supervised the building by a large team at WETA,” Hawker told us. “The brief came from the scripting which was extensive about what Mother needed to be able to do. Once I was signed as the actor, I they then had to build the suit around me.”
Shooting in Adelaide Studios and on location in New Zealand, the film looks breathtaking but in the end it’s a human story that could be set anywhere in the world. “I think the great thing about it is it makes you question what it is to be human. It transcends race and nationally,” said Hawker.
“The image of a robot nursing a child was always the key image for us,” says producer Kelvin Munro. “It’s all the themes I love like nature versus nurture and what it means to be a parent. We’re seeing an interesting phenomenon where kids are being farmed out to technology, whether iPhone or iPad or TV, as a technological babysitter and we don’t know where that’s going to end up for future generations.”
Apart from the Mother robot, the film stars young Danish actress Clara Rugaard who plays Daughter, and Hilary Swank who takes on the disruptive character of Woman [both pictured with Mother in top pic]. “The script was special, unique,” Swank told the audience after the screening. “I’m not generally a sci-fi fan but I was hooked. I think the story is timely, it brings up a lot of things that we all talk about. Then I had a conversation with Grant. It’s easy to be smart but to articulate your vision is an extra special thing.”
Sputore reiterated his interest in telling stories that are crafted in Australia while exploring universal themes. “The film is basically a study of what it means to be good and the different ways people come to the conclusion about what is the right thing to do. Developing the story, me and Michael talked a lot about our lives and problems in the world, potential disasters that technology may help us with – or expedite.”
I Am Mother is screening at the Sydney Film Festival, June 5 – 16, 2019, and will be available to stream on Netflix on June 7, 2019.
Picture Credit: Sundance Film Festival red carper photos by by Stephen Speckman. © 2019 Sundance Institute