South to the Jungle: An Adventure in Guerrilla Filmmaking

January 6, 2022
Hot off the acclaim garnered for his short Sengatan, Australian actor/filmmaker Frank Magree and actor/producer Paul Henri return with the tense, Vietnam POW thriller Run South, a harrowing character study that distorts the parameters of morality when under extreme circumstances, which will premiere in Australia at Flickerfest.

Showcased at this year’s LA Shorts International Festival, Run South, co-directed with the film’s DOP David Cleeve, marks Magree’s most ambitious short to date, not only in production scale, but as the foundation to what will hopefully become his first feature length work, as the writer/ producer/director seeks out an unconventional approach to filmmaking.

“[Run South] was always the first 30 minutes of a feature film,” reveals Magree from his office in Melbourne “I just knew that we didn’t have the money to make the feature itself.

“A lot of people have made short films, but then turned around and said, ‘This is just a proof-of-concept’ to get funding for a feature, but a different feature based on the original short.

“I kind of had the whole idea in my head of that bigger, broader picture, of what my film looked like. And I said to myself, ‘Hang on. What’s stopping you doing the first 30 minutes of a film, that also works as a standalone film?’”

Shot primarily on location in Indonesia with a reported budget of forty thousand dollars, Run South has to date been a self-funded project, though not entirely by choice, as Magree elaborates. “We went out to Film Vic and Screen Australia and all that, and their response was, ‘Well, it just doesn’t fit into any of our funding guidelines.’ However, we would like to acknowledge the great support from Dale Fairbairn from Screen Australia in helping us promote Run South to the international film festival circuit.”

With the ‘short’ currently finding a receptive audience thanks to inclusion in the LA Shorts program and a limited number of screening across the country, it has also begun attracting the interest of producers, leading to a scheduled meeting with a major studio, which Magree hopes will secure the necessary funding required to complete the feature length version.

“It’s just so hard to get money to make a feature,” Magree laments with sincere frustration. “The feature film script’s written. And I’ll be pitching to Sony in the US, hopefully, in the next month via Zoom.

“Then, worst-case scenario… I’ll just go and shoot how I’ve done with the first third of the film. That’s always been my philosophy. Or we can go for a bit more money, mainly with investments from in the US.

“So we’re going down both those paths with people.”

Funding aside, Run South in its current form delivers a taut, compelling cinematic experience, that effectively recreates the hell of the Vietnam War’s jungle misery. An experience that Magree reveals wasn’t only confined to the script, as he discusses the film’s traumatic shoot, raising a few eyebrows as to why he would even persist with revisiting the experience.

“Yeah,” he chuckles when the list of injuries sustained during production comes up. “It’s just guerilla filmmaking.

“Literally, on the first day, and this shot is actually in the film, I’m running through thick jungle and I actually trip over one log and land sideways on another log. And I knew I had probably broken some ribs, but I just realised I couldn’t tell the crew; I just couldn’t put that vibe on the shoot, not on the first day.

“And then in the next scene, I had to bounce down the river, in the shallows, off rocks, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. This kills!’ I also split open my elbow, and that obviously got infected in that river because who knows what was in that water.”

But, while Magree took a few significant blows during production, he explains that he wasn’t the only one to come under fire.

“[Co-producer and actor Paul Henri] had a motorbike accident with a Russian before we started shooting, which resulted in a punch on, so he’s ended up with that split on his face that luckily we kept throughout the whole film. He also tore his pectoral muscle.

“Then, in the last scene where you see him jump into the river, he came out with a nail in his foot and just proceeded just to vomit, projectile vomit, with the pain. We had to take him off to hospital.”

And while the recount of injuries and afflictions – including a broken foot and a close call with a pit viper, one of Asia’s more deadly snakes – would have an Occupational Health & Safety officer clawing at his ears, Magree’s genuine love of guerilla filmmaking is nothing short of infectious, with Run South exuding the desperation, grit and sustained trauma in almost every frame. No wonder the filmmaker has his sights on returning to Indonesia to complete his passion project.

“Yeah, that’s why we shoot a lot in Indo, it’s the wild west,” Magree explains when asked about drawbacks of shooting on a non-traditional set. “Whatever you want, you get. We have a fixer guy over there who gets us whatever we want. We say, ‘We want a monkey’, ‘there’s a monkey’. I love it from that point of view.

“Even a lot of those scenes where you see us walking through fields… just those long shots in the fields, we would literally just get in a van with our fixer and go, ‘Okay. We want this sort of look’. And would arrive someplace and we’d go, ‘Okay. That looks incredible’. And he’d go, ‘Okay, off you go. You go film there’. And of course, we’re asking who owns the land? and he’d say, ‘Don’t worry. I will sort it out’.

“And when asked ‘We want an AK-47′. Okay, they were hard to get… but he’s like, ‘Yes, I can get them. You just got to pay the right money and the right people…’”

Run South screens at the 31st Flickerfest International Short Film Festival, January 21 – 30, 2022

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