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Anyone who has heard the man's boisterous laugh will themselves giggle to hear Peter Galvin described as the industry's 'quiet achiever'. But the eclectic 28 year film industry career he has carved out for himself has often been in the selfless service of others. As a film journalist, his byline has appeared in many publications, notably The Sydney Morning Herald, Inside Film and, currently, online at SBS Film; he is well into his second decade at the prestigious Sydney Film School, where he is Head of Screen Studies; and, spent three years programming the iconic Popcorn Taxi events. He kindly sat down with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss his latest short film, Kelly's Blues (he's made four), a few days after it's premiere at the iconic Randwick Ritz cinema in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Peter, the film has a strong, vivid feel for the period in which it's set, the semi-rural world of 1970's Australia. Why did you choose that landscape and decade?

The story came out of my life. As someone famous once said, all fiction is a form of disguised biography. But Kelly’s Blues is fiction. There’s no one to one relationship between me and the characters and events, the time and the setting. To take two examples, I did not grow up in the country and I wasn’t an only child. Another is that I have no sense memory of 1974 at all. But I would say that Kelly’s Blues is very much an emotional biography.

I liked the kind of filmmaking possibilities it presented. I liked the challenge of doing a version of the 70s on a low budget. But it wouldn’t be kitsch, nostalgic, and we couldn’t afford spectacle for its own sake. And it’s cheaper in the bush – one doesn’t need to ‘dress’ a paddock for 70s period!

But the setting will inevitably evoke melancholy and I think a receptive audience will respond by remembering unique, personal connections of their childhood.  

I wanted to convey the feeling that what you are watching is a memory – that the story is of an older man (a man much older than me by the way!) looking back to a formative moment in his life. There’s only a faint suggestion in the final cut, but I think it’s there.

So selection of time and place for the story is very personal in two ways; one was that I was I trying to work out certain feelings about my childhood – the need for a special friend as a refuge from a family life that was not especially emotionally nurturing (true or untrue that was how I felt). It had to be 1974 because Ray’s aggressive, abusive style of parenting would be addressed in a very different way in a 2012 setting. Indeed, in some ways it would be the plot. So it’s no accident the movie is set in an era that’s pre-feminist, pre-therapy. It’s part of what it’s about.

And it’s a child’s point of view; all events in a way are being filtered through Marty’s consciousness, which is full of fear, curiosity and a sort of severe sense of good and bad/right and wrong. It’s an ironic approach. Marty reads his parents fears and regrets as a lack of understanding and a rejection. I think it makes the audience feel a little gutted; they think ‘Gee, I wish they could just break through and help each other’.

The setting also invokes memories of the famous Renaissance period for Australian cinema; it could very easily have come from that time. Which Australian filmmakers have influenced you in general and Kelly's Blues in particular?

I didn’t make it under the sign of Oz 70s cinema. It’s an era I happen to know well. For 12 years I’ve been teaching a course on it! But I like The Devil’s Playground. I like the Last Wave and The Plumber. The Mad Max Movies. More recently I like very much The Proposition, Noise, Mullet and Animal Kingdom. None of these pics were anything to do with Kelly’s Blues.

(Pictured: Galvin, far right, with cinematographer Donald McAlpine and director Cathy Henkel, at The Australian Director's Guild Awards, 2011)

I talked a lot, during pre-production, about taking the curse off the scripts apparent ‘Aussie Drama 101’ feel. Still, I think I know what you’re talking about. On the surface, in synopsis, and even the script, Kelly’s Blues seemed to fulfill some casual expectation of ‘Aussie-ness’ and a certain kind of low-key, naturalistic, elegiac mood we often associate with Australian cinema of the late 70s and early 80s era. Though that’s a critical cliché that’s worth arguing about.

Was there a stylistic reference point to which you adhered? 

I went into it knowing the style would be very active, very aggressive. In preparing the film I watched a lot of Hitchcock and Michael Mann and some Scorsese. The idea was for me to absorb and develop visual storytelling strategy’s that would imply that what we see and hear is leaping from the psyche of Marty. I imagined a somewhat surreal, very tense, un-easy mood. The final cut is not a thriller.

I can see those influences in the film’s craft and your filming and framing choices, though the story is far gentler, more humane, than those great directors are known for.

Originally the script had more mystery and it was disciplined in a very severe way like a suspense picture; very planned, very precise. It was conceived as very subjective; the camera would be Marty in a way and I never wanted it to stop moving! Unfortunately we ran out of money and we couldn’t afford a Grip. Some of these basic ideas remained. I ended up using almost imperceptible digital zooms; very slow tilts and pans. I called the style ‘revenge of the tilt’. It was a way to get energy into the shot.

From the first pre-production meeting to its recent premiere (at Eastern Sydney's Randwick Ritz theatre), how long did you spend on the film?

About seven years. I had the basic plot outline by mid 2005. But the roots of the piece go way back to my University days. Then I wrote a very similar story. It was about a little boy, about 6 years old who forms a friend ship with the old man next door. The old man turns out to be a war criminal. But its premise was near identical to Kelly’s Blues; a child and his special friend; his attachment to a character that is on the surface toxic. The irony is that this unlikely friendship is a form of liberation for both characters.

Describe the down-times experienced by a short-film maker, such as when finances dictate that production slows or the commitment or intensity wanes? 

The intensity never waned for me. There’s no down time. Post-production slowed on Kelly’s Blues because it took a long time to find the right editor and there was no money. Ultimately we found Anthea Hewett who was perfect. I think you might be talking about the major thing that pursues any so-called ‘no-budget’ filmmaker – the need to lead and encourage enthusiasm from colleagues, crew and third parties.


That’s not a trial. It’s just a question of managing people’s expectations and understanding their needs. One can tell from the start when one is meeting crew or a service provider and laying down the production scenario we use; that there’s no money or little money – whether they’re going to stay the course. When people ask me, once they learn there’s no money, “what’s in it for me?” I do not have an answer. That’s such a personal thing. They’re talking about their lives…what they’ve done, what their aspirations are…only they can see whether participating in the production of the film will make a meaningful contribution to their personal and career development. But I don’t find these issues troublesome and difficult. I’m a very practical filmmaker.

Where did you source the obviously accomplished crew and technicians that have resulted in such a quality visual work?

Right now its practical to make movies with my pals, many of them graduates of Sydney Film School where I’m Head of Screen Studies and have taught since 2004. Some of the crew were film students, or had only recently graduated. Some of the crew though were pros; like art director Hayley Stephens and production designer Paul Finch. So was the Gaffer. The cinematographer Ross Giardina, an AFTRS grad and SFS grad, was I suppose, then, right at the beginning of his professional career as head of the photography department. But he was very experienced, had worked in the pro environment.

Most of the crew and post-production crew were friends and by the time we shot I was very close to the actors, too. It’s a nice way to work. What I’m saying is that in most cases everyone not only wanted to be there; they found they’re own personal way to contribute to the work. They were involved. And that involvement was not based on cash reward. I can’t tell you what it was that drove them, I can’t speak for them.

So the cliché of the low-budget film-maker suffering for his art didn’t manifest over the many years of Kelly’s Blues’ production? 

It’s self-indulgent to talk about how ‘tough’ this is. No one asked me to make it. There’s no sponsor to answer to, no patron. I wanted to make a film and I will keep doing so in these terms until I feel the need to pursue a more conventional path. I cannot go on forever relying on my own finances! But it’s unseemly to complain or even to talk about ‘struggle’. Also friends contributed to the budget. I had invested, as had producer Ulysses Oliver and associate producer CC Williams, a lot of money and time and effort. It has been and remains a major pre-occupation; even though since shooting it I’ve made another film, Shanghai and am in pre-production on a new film, The Outskirts of Love. Shanghai will be ready in August. I hope to start shooting Outskirts in October this year.

I'm intrigued as to the nature of the on-set relationship you formed with your two leads, Alana Ferris and the boy Hugo Larsen (pictured, above). They are called upon to invest in some very intense scenes; what role does the director play when those shooting days finally arrive?

It’s interesting the way you phrase that question; I tried to avoid too much talk and too much ‘relationship negotiation’ on set. By the time we shot my role was actor management; having them prepared and ‘real’. In a way the ‘directing’ as I think you are imaging it, happened in pre-production, rehearsals, conversations long before the shoot. This was a directing method that grew out of an understanding of how the film would be shot; in only a few days. I knew there would be the desire to move quickly from shot to shot since the script was long and complicated. So in a way the on-set experience was simpler than you might think.

The degree of information about Kelly that Alana conveys in her screen time suggests a great deal of back story was afforded her character.

I started working, loosely at first, then with great intensity as time wore on, with Alana (pictured, left) a full year before we shot. I wrote an entire biography, thousands of words, for Kelly. We both learned what we could about Borderline Personality Disorder - the malady that afflicts Kelly – with the help and assistance of Dr. Gary Galambos. Though it’s never named in the story BPD was crucial; one of our ambitions was to create a sympathetic portrait of a mentally/emotionally disturbed character; the sort of character who in movies, is often seen as a ‘problem’ or some sort of ‘savant’. Indeed the title is ironic – her ‘blues’, her BPD, enables Kelly to see Marty’s agonies with tremendous insight; and of course Marty has great empathy for Kelly. But Kelly has no understanding she’s made a difference to Marty’s life; and Marty being a child is not conscious of the role he played in enabling Kelly to get on with her life.

Was Hugo’s understanding of Marty’s emotional state as profound? Is creating a deep character history pertinent when directing a child actor?

Hugo wasn’t an actor, though he did acting at school. I just mean he wasn’t a professional. His parents, old friends of mine for some twenty years actually volunteered to take on the burden of ‘explaining’ much of the more difficult material to Hugo. He’s a very grounded, sensible, bright kid and very happy. My role was to make him feel safe. I prepared him by simply spending time with him. The intensity came out of his eyes, his stillness. Viewers feel uncomfortable because they know and understand the potential danger Marty might be in. For Hugo it was simple; I lot of the time it was a matter standing, walking and moving very slowly. It had nothing to do with an intellectual or emotional grasp of what was going on in the story. One time I asked him what he thought of Marty. He said he was – and I quote – “an idiot”. That was a relief! That kind of distance on the character told me how to direct him. On set it was about really practical stuff; keeping him focused, interested. He hung around with the crew. He was shy of Alana, though he liked her, and I used that in the movie. Though he was great, he’s a kid and in the more intense scenes he wanted to laugh! I directed him on set a lot of the time by talking him through a take; like old silent film directors!

Finally, describe the relationship you have with your film at this point.

Well, I’m quite proud of it. I think it’s moving. It’s not the movie I imagined. But it’s a good version of what I wanted to do. I love the music by Patrick Nellestein and Andrew Plain’s sound design, and the special effects and colour grade work by Lee Launay and Ulysses. The performances are touching. But I see my mistakes. But I don’t want to talk about them because now we have to get the film out to the public and it’s unseemly to jump all over your own work. I learned a lot.



A few short weeks after delivering his film's final edit, Melbourne-based multi-hyphenate Glenn Triggs talks to SCREEN-SPACE about his time-travel feature, 41.


Where did the idea for 41 come from?

The idea for '41' came from trying to source a project that really interested me and would hold some gravity of drama to it. Time travel has always been a fascination of mine, especially growing up with George Pal's The Time Machine film. I'm not exactly sure where the idea for using a hole in the floor of a motel to travel back 12 hours at a time came from, but it was manifested on paper and became the film. I wanted '41' to have an extreme realism to it, so absolutely no special effects. I really wanted the element of time travel to be a naturally occurring black hole - as boring as walking through a door!

What are the inherent anomalies associated with time travel stories you had to face in the scripting stage?
Continuity in the script was very difficult, as I was dealing with sometimes many different versions of the same event seen from different perspectives. A lot of those issues were ironed out in the script and editing the film itself presented problems that were almost impossible to see in the script yet were fixable with re-shoots and editing. The '41' script was just an idea in my head for about 2 years. I would tell people about it - "It's about this guy, and he tells himself not to go to this particular Motel but he goes there anyway and finds a time portal and then has to stop himself from stopping himself" - and I would be talking about it for 30-40 minutes. All these layers presented themselves and it continually sparked my filmmaking interest. So I sat down one day and wrote it. A year later it was finished and year after that if was shot! 

What films and filmmakers have inspired and influence your work in general and 41 in particular?

Films such as The Time Machine was where the passion for this film came from. I used Field of Dreams as a template, to deal with almost paranormal themes in the film in such a realistic fashion. Ron Howard's 'Cocoon' was a great example about dealing with death and old age which are themes in the film. I'm a huge fan of a lot of the big directors that consistently bring marvellous films to the cinema like James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Mel Gibson. 

With your first film Cinemaphobia getting festival play, was getting 41 off the ground easier?

A little bit. It was easier to deal with the whole low budget element - and realise that you really can get anything on screen if you put your mind to it. Cinemaphobia was a large ensemble horror film that I really had to get out my system, but '41' has really turned into something I hope to one day be remembered by, if anything! 

The thrill of shooting vs the constant struggle to fund - with the power of hindsight, describe the life of the independent filmmaker over the course of a production like 41?

There is a large scale of freedom when making an independent film which I am in love with. Sure things are sometimes harder to get sourced and completed and most stuff takes a lot longer to get done with the majority of people involved having to deal with full time jobs outside of the film. I wouldn't say '41' was difficult to make - it was actually a lot of fun. We spread the shoot out over about 8 months with around 30 days of filming involved in total. This is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is you have alot of time to organize during shooting what will be shot next. With limited crew this is very useful not to burn everyone out and keep funds flowing from a normal everyday job. The bad side is people change over 8 months, they get haircuts, their clothes wear out. So continuity can be an issue yet we managed to work through all those things. 

What is the distribution strategy for a film like 41? Will you go to market (Cannes, AFM, etc) or focus on Festival exposure, or both?

Festivals, festivals, festivals! Going to get the film out there internationally in a big way and really believe it will find an audience. Then hopefully we will be contacted to get the film distributed around. It could be a long or very short process - all about timing. So the post office will be my good friend for the next few months! 

What is next for you and your production company, Dark Epic?

There is a script in production at the moment. A very epic piece I've been thinking out for a few years. It will most definately require a budget so I'm keeping that one away for a another day. In the meantime I'm working on a documentary about a filmmaking friend of mine and will most likely be shooting another low budget feature in about 6 months.


A contemporary family drama offers rare insight into Australia's Indian community.

Despite holding its World Premiere at the 2011 Dungog Film Festival and travelling to Pusan in October with the Screen Australian contingent (accompanied by heavy-hitters Red Dog, Snowtown and The Hunter), Winston Furlong’s unique father-daughter drama Taj is still awaiting a distribution deal here in Australia.

The long gestation period had a lot to do with Furlong’s determination to realistically portray contemporary Indian society as it exists in Australia. He acknowledges that there was no barometer by which to measure his script’s commercial potential. “No film has ever originated from Australia which had any kind of Indian sensibility or Indian actors in dramatic roles,” he states with conviction. “There have been Chinese, Vietnamese, obviously Aboriginal sensibilities attempted (on-screen) in Australia, but no one has ever attempted to look at Indian sub-culture.”

Pitched to Film Victoria and Screen Australia for funding, first-timer Furlong (he had two experimental shorts to his name) very quickly learnt the harsh realities of film financing. “The first question that they ask is ‘Who’s in it?’”, he tells SCREEN-SPACE, exclusively. “Now, the kind of film I was making, given the Australian (acting) scene, there are no Indian actors that are recognised in any way.” Ultimately, Furlong and his producing partners at Oziinda Films sought private financing, a task made easier thanks to the generous involvement of recognizable actors such as Davini Malcolm, Nicholas Bell and comedian Mark Mitchell. 

Also easing the anxieties of those pitch-meetings was the great hook Furlong had in the form of India’s most recognisable landmark made entirely from Denmark’s most famous export. “We wrote to LEGO, hoping to get some sponsorship,” Furlong says, with a laugh, “and they said they were fine for us to do it but they didn’t want to financially back it.” The beautiful centre-piece of the film is the work of US-based constructionist Arthur Guglick, who states somewhat ironically on the LEGO-afficionado website, “I needed to remember that the model was being built by a precocious teen-ager (with the help of her grandfather who is an architect) so I tried not to use any advanced building techniques.”

Furlong flew Guglick to Australia for the shoot, though dispels any notion it introduced the American to the glamourous side of film-making. “Yes, we got him over,” says Furlong, “but he travelled economy class and he stayed in the spare bedroom of my partner’s house. That’s the world of low-budget films!”

Though frustrated that Taj’s fate is trapped in a void that doesn’t allow for easy marketing angles, Furlong is nevertheless happy to wait for the right screen partner. “There are over 300,000 Indian people living in Australia, so the distributor has to take into account how to get to those people, as well as getting into the arthouse circuit for Western audiences,” he states, wearing his producer’s hat momentarily. “I’m keen to find a distributor who knows how to approach both those markets, because they are very distinct markets.” Furlong seems almost resigned to the reality his film will be self-distributed. “It is looking like an independent distribution model of-sorts,” he says, “though it is a bit piecemeal at the moment.” The film continues to snare prime festival exposure, which will undoubtedly bolster its shelf-life; in April, it will play both the Boston International Film Festival and Northern California’s Tiburon Film Festival. 

Furlong is currently in pre-production on his second feature, a more marketplace-friendly Bollywood-inspired musical/comedy called Serena and Her Sisters. But he will continue to fight with a passion for Taj, constantly drawing strength from the reaction of Indian audiences, both here and in their homeland (producer Michelle Rourke screened it for prospective buyers at the recent FRAMES media event in Mumbai). “When it has been shown it to Indian people in India, they have been bowled over,” he says. “They see their own skin colour, their own people up on the screen and they go ‘Wow!’ It is the first time they have seen themselves onscreen in strong roles.”

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