"Iíve aged a lot," says 36 year old Richard
Flanagan, using his waiting time at Sydney airport for one of the
last interviews before his first Ė and perhaps last Ė
feature film opens around Australia. The politics of filmmaking
have taken their toll: "I doubt if Iíll ever make
another film. Itís a savage and brutal industry, labouring
under the obligations of money."
The novelist, whose down to earth Australian accent seems at
odds with his eloquence and sensibilities, was an admired author
(for his novel, Death of a River Guide) before he turned to
films, and he wants to go back to writing books. At the airport,
he is waiting to catch a plane back to his home in Tasmania.
"Film is closer to
abstract forms of art like music than to literature,"
"I got the film I wanted in the end, but at great
personal cost." Flanagan is discreet about the details, but
suffice to say, relationships with certain filmmaking colleagues
have collapsed. "I love the process but not the politics. I
had it in my favour that I was only interested in making this
particular film. First time directors tend to cop it sweet so
they can go on to make subsequent films. I was lucky I
didnít want necessarily to have a filmmaking career."
What Flanagan says he was fighting for was his own way of
making the film, not necessarily the commonly accepted way.
Motivated by his view of filmmaking, Flanagan wanted to do what
felt right. "Film is closer to abstract forms of art like
music than to literature," he believes.
"I wanted to make the
music a character in its own right"
It was this notion that prompted Flanagan to start talking
about the filmís music with composer Melbourne based Cezary
Skubiszewski, contrary to general practice, in which the composer
is brought in once the film has been shot and assembled.
"I got him before pre-production started, because I
wanted to make the music a character in its own right. I told him
I wanted him to compose music for a new country," a brief
which Skubiszewski fulfils admirably, creating complex, haunting
music that often combines European motifs with elements that are
new Ė as in the ethereal piece, The Bath of Chamomile
Flowers. Similarly in the achingly beautiful, melancholic Leaving
"It was the most
emotional reaction Iíve had to a script." producer Rolf de Heer
The film begins during the winter of 1954, in a remote
Tasmanian construction camp of migrant workers. Sonja
Bulohís mother walks out of their hut, leaving her three
year old girl alone on the bed. Her distraught father perseveres
with the dream of a new life in a new country, but he is soon
crushed into an alcoholic despair. By the time Sonja turns 16,
she is driven to leave him. Nearly 20 years later, single and
pregnant, she returns to Tasmaniaís highlands and her
father, in an attempt to put the pieces of her life into some
coherent framework. Initial awkwardness and pain notwithstanding,
she slowly unravels her familyís history, especially a
secret she never knew about her vanished mother. She also learns
about love Ė not the romantic kind, but the bonding love of
Flanagan first showed the screenplay to filmmaker Rolf de
Heer, hoping to interest de Heer in directing it. De Heer turned
him down: "I told Richard he was the best person to direct
it, not me. Itís such a strong, individual vision."
This was not a cop out, for de Heer undertook to stay with the
project to see it got made, and took on the producerís role.
The script had got to him: the first time he read the script, de
Heer broke into sobs: "I was a mess for four days," he
recalls. "It was the most emotional reaction Iíve had
to a script. It triggered something deep in me. It speaks of the
best and worst in human beings, of what can be avoided and what
"I like enigmatic,
Flanagan grew up in a mining town on the West Coast of
Tasmania and spent time at the hydro-electricity power plant
construction camp, where some of his story is set. He married a
Slovanian, "and a large part of my life has been spent in
that cultural environment. In fact, much of Australian culture
has been dealing with this experience," he says, referring
to the large number of migrants who were enticed to Australian in
the postwar years.
"I like enigmatic, evocative titles," says Flanagan;
he first read it in an essay about feminist influence on the
early English co-operative movement, of all things.
"Iíve since discovered itís a Buddhist
The Sound of One Hand Clapping was invited to the Berlin Film
Festival in the main competitive section, along with another
Australian film, The Boys. Following its release in Australia
(through Palace Film, April 23, 1998) it will be launched on the
international market at Cannes, through Southern Star Sales.