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FLANAGAN, RICHARD : Sound of One Hand Clapping

THE SOUND OF ONE MAN FILMING
His first film may be his last, a disillusioned Richard Flanagan tells ANDREW L. URBAN; yet this debut work was invited to the Berlin Film Festival.

"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 of Maria.

"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 humanity.

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 canít."

"I like enigmatic, evocative titles,"

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 saying."

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.

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"I doubt if Iíll ever make another film. Itís a savage and brutal industry, labouring under the obligations of money."

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"I told him I wanted him to compose music for a new country,"

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"I got the film I wanted in the end, but at great personal cost."

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