“I’ve become very attuned to the troubled expression some folk in the film industry display when I describe to them one of my animated documentary concepts,” says Sophie Raymond. “What? Animation! Documentary! Aren’t they the antithesis of each other? I think the idea of a recorder virtuoso inspires a similar perplexed reaction. So, when Genevieve [Lacey] and I met while filming Mrs Carey’s Concert, we knew we were kindred spirits. A few years later Genevieve applied for an Australia Council for the Arts fellowship to develop some work. One of the projects was simply, some kind of collaboration with me. After much chatting and sharing of things that inspired us, we started to spark on the idea of portraying the feeling of being a creative person, of choosing a creative life, where you are driven by heightened senses and the imagination. We weren’t sure we’d really seen work that had quite done that. Upon reading some of Genevieve’s writings about her time in Europe, I suddenly had this vision of Elizabeth I dressed iconically with a collar made of recorders and manuscript. It’s hard to recall for sure, but I think it was that image that then spurred us forward to harness Genevieve’s singular story and delve deep into her world to find that expression for how it feels to be a musician. She already had that essential cinematic element of transformation going on – every time she put the recorder to her lips.”
Because Recorder Queen does not fit easily into a box, was it challenging to get it made due to that?
“It was definitely one of those films that was devilishly hard for the powers that be to see what it was we were proposing to make, until we had virtually made it. We gratefully secured development funding early in 2014 from Screen Australia, based on interest from the ABC 30-minute Artscape. Once we made our taster, ABC Arts deemed it more of a festival film than TV. Suddenly, we were ineligible to even apply for production funding, as a broadcaster had to be on board. That conundrum simply got tighter. Arts programs were being axed, ABC funding was progressively cut, and we were falling between the gaps of State screen agencies guidelines too. We had little choice but to back ourselves, so we had to work around other gigs and life, making time for it when we could. We were encouraged by the in-kind support from our fellow creatives – Doron at Music and Effects, BIG hART, Flinders Quartet – along with the other wonderful array of composers and musicians whose performances and work are layered throughout the film. We had volunteer camera operators and drew upon our friends and family for locations and help with props and logistics. We did a couple of crowdfunding campaigns through Indiegogo and Documentary Australia Foundation that helped keep the wheels in motion. Most importantly, we had each other and Clare Sawyer our fearless producer, who was the first to see the intention of the work and join us on this long distance journey. While very drawn out, in truth it was the perfect set of collaborators and project to dip in and out of as I also entered into the typically conflicted world of being an artist and mother. My daughter is now 5, and I have been making this film all her life.
“With a work in progress assembly, we reached the point where we really needed to employ another animator, plus sound and visual post-production services. So, with the assembly in hand, the first champion who answered our call was Kim Williams, who philanthropically got the ball rolling via the Documentary Australia Foundation platform. Jessica Douglas-Henry at Compass became interested and the combined effect made us eligible for Screen Australia Production funding. With some wheeling and dealing with equity and deferments, we squeezed that budget for all it was worth and managed to stay true to the full vision of the work. That felt like a minor miracle.
“We love that we are screening on Compass, which is part of the Religion and Ethics unit at the ABC. It’s an opportunity to reach an audience we may not have normally had access to. It also says a lot about the ever-diminishing space for arts programming in Australia now.”
Has it been difficult to get it into the current distribution landscape, like film festivals?
“It’s been a big push to get the film completed in time for the final slot for the year on Compass amidst the Covid situation, so we haven’t put our distribution plans to the test. But we do feel quite confident that the film will find a happy home in the festival, arts and education environment. We can’t predict when festivals will resume in a theatre context, but we have a festival version of the film, which has a longer animated postscript at the end and is mixed for the cinema, which we intend to re-launch when the time arrives. At the start of 2019, Clare Sawyer (producer) and I flew to Berlin and pitched the program to European broadcasters and distributors at the Avant Premiere Music and Dance film market that runs alongside the Berlin Film Festival. Again, at 30 mins there was no upfront money to be found, but there was a genuine buzz around the vision for the work and we look forward to following up on those connections now that we have a completed film.”
What’s your personal experience with the recorder?
“Before making this film, I had very little experience with the recorder. I had one as a kid but never learnt it. There was precious little music in the public primary school I attended. Mrs Carey’s instrument is in fact the recorder, so prior to meeting Genevieve, I did get a broader perspective of the historical context of the instrument and the beauty of some of the early music works written for it, in its prime so to speak.”
In your director’s notes you say that Genevieve’s story provides the framework for a bigger story about creativity and the creative artist; does that mean that you plan to do more with this film?
“What I meant by that statement is that Genevieve’s story, while quintessentially hers, has universal application to any creative artist. The initial aim of the collaboration was to create something that gave audiences access to how it feels to be a musician, and to live a creative life. Each scene in Recorder Queen strives to portray Genevieve’s very personal sense of moments where she discovers the power of music and is driven to reach the mastery of a virtuoso, but then seeks to find her own voice within her craft. I think most creative people will have their own version of this: being captivated by a creative process of expression early in life, how family or maybe a teacher may have been encouraging or become something they rebelled against in further pursuit of that wonder. Also, going to the heartland of your instrument or craft is a common pilgrimage. Leaving and returning renewed is the classic filmic “hero’s journey”. I think it’s a rite of passage not exclusive to Australians, particularly prescient given the colonial, multicultural experience.”
Beyond Compass, how will audiences be able to see the film?
“The film will be on ABC iView for a month post the screening on Compass. Once we’ve scoped out our international broadcast options, the Music Films vimeo on demand site will be its home. https://vimeo.com/user60546387.
“Psst… that’s also where you can see Mrs Carey’s Concert too. It will of course be available as an educational resource too.”
Recorder Queen airs on ABC’s Compass on Sunday 23 August, 6.30pm, and will also be available on ABC iView