“Alba is a very personal story,” Senie Priti confides with us. “It came out of a year of developing and writing several short films, that never quite got off the ground. I’d wanted to write and act in something, but then the idea of Alba came to me. It was the most enjoyable writing experience, I’d get up every day before sunrise and write for a couple of hours before I went to work at my day job. It was the best part of my day.
“It’s very much inspired by my childhood and my parents’ divorce, when I was a similar age to what Alba is in the story. I wanted to explore, from the child’s perspective, the experience of feeling caught between your parents. Alba is the lived experience of her parents’ marriage and in so many ways, because of how much they each love her, she becomes the battle ground of their divorce. That sounds sad, but at the heart of it, I wanted to tell a story about human resilience. Despite the obstacles we come up against, humans find incredible ways to overcome them.”
Priti didn’t end up acting in Alba, sticking to the big job behind the camera. But the early starts have paid off with the film selected to play at the Flickerfest International Film Festival.
Can you tell us more about yourself, where did you study, where you grew up, plus where your wonderful name comes from?
After high school I studied acting at VCA for a year and then I moved to Paris and trained there. It was such a perfect time to be living over there, being a broke actor in your early 20s in Paris is a hell of an adventure… including some mistaken train tickets halfway across Germany and a free Patti Smith concert in Vienna! I was living with my best mate, who’s a filmmaker and all my friends over there were filmmakers too.
I’ve always loved being a part of projects from the genesis of an idea through to completion. There’s something quite special about seeing something all the way to the finish line. So, although filmmaking is a relatively new venture for me, it’s sort of always been there on the sidelines!
I’ve been back here in Australia and working as an actor for a few years now, and I’ve been loving the duality of doing both for the past couple of years (acting and filmmaking).
I grew up in the Yarra Valley, and we moved around a lot. That’s a whole story in itself! My parents were involved in an alternative community, a beautiful group of people that are like family to me. I went to a Steiner School and my name is kind of a mystery actually. My mum “dreamed” it up, but a friend found this song by Angelique Kidjo that was released the year I was born, “Senie”, it’s a Togolese love song… I don’t know what it stands for exactly. The dream is to head over to Togo and use that French I picked up to find out what it means.
What was your relationship like with your father?
My dad and I have always been close. Both my parents are very special in the way they’ve always valued the ideas and thoughts I have, even when I was very little. They never condescended to me because I was a child, instead they listened and always made me feel like my perspective mattered. I’ve always felt a deep level of respect from them. At the same time, they had a really difficult divorce, so we’ve weathered some storms together and a bit of teenage angst throughout the years as well! One of my favourite pastimes was the late night film at the Cinema Nova. My dad always used to take me down there. He owned a restaurant, and we’d get in the car after the kitchen had closed and drive the hour into Carlton to watch something. Then we’d get coffee and cake at Brunetti’s and discuss the story in detail afterwards. I think that’s probably where my love of film came from. My dad is someone I’ve always felt like I could talk about the hard stuff with, and I’ve always felt like he had my back no matter what.
Any particular influences in the conceptualisation of Alba?
We talked a lot about the work of Andrea Arnold and Sean Baker in pre-production. I love the authenticity and truthfulness of their work.
How did you go about casting?
We spent about 6 months casting Alba. It’s really hard to find kid actors, because you have to find someone that really fits the role and has the ability to do the job as well. Maya Robinson carries the film. She’s in every scene and everything is shot from her perspective. She’s a beautiful sensitive soul, and she really felt the pressure of having to carry the story. So, it was about finding a kid who could do all that with poise and grace, which she does. Megan D’Arcy, our casting director, was instrumental to the process, I worked closely with her on all of it. I did a callback with Maya and Scott Johnson, who plays her dad, and he was really sweet with her and I got the sense from that, that they’d work well together. He’s a dad himself, so I think that helped. I’d worked with Melanie Zanetti on a film before, so I reached out to her in post-production to see if she’d be up for voicing Anna, Alba’s mum. It’s a really pivotal scene in the film, and I was so glad Mel was willing to come onboard the project, she’s so talented.
How was it working with the young actress?
As an actor, directors can be really intimidating. They’re your employer as well as your collaborator, it’s an interesting dynamic. I had this idea that being the director would be less nerve-wracking. Actually, it was way more! I wanted to give the actors the right tools and the right direction to help bring their performances to life, and it’s such a game of trial and error, learning what works for different people. If something wasn’t working, that was on me. With kids, I found you can’t really talk too much or give them lots of direction. You have to go slowly, piece by piece and at the same time you have to get them in and out as fast as possible for legal reasons. It’s a balancing act, but I loved it!
How was the experience of stepping into the director’s shoes? Which part of the process did you enjoy most?
I loved stepping behind the camera. It’s daunting having to call the shots and make the big decisions, but when you’re in your flow, well that’s seriously addictive! I absolutely love the writing process, and then collaborating with the team; the meetings with my cinematographer Sherwin Akbarzadeh, whose work in the film is really beautiful; and, the months of post-production with my Editor, Raechel Harding. Editors really have their work cut out for them!