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SEN, IVAN - TOOMELAH

Toomelah was a deeply personal film for Ivan Sen and the screening for the Toomelah community – including his relatives – was “extraordinary”. But Sen is moving on in new cinematic directions, as he tells Andrew L. Urban.

At the film’s first public screening during the 2011 Cannes Festival (in Un Certain Regard), filmmaker Ivan Sen felt unaccountably distanced from his own film. “I was a bit uncomfortable but I’m not sure why. Perhaps I feel I’ve moved on … having shot and edited the film, I had seen the images a thousand times.”

By contrast, when the screening for the Toomelah community last week – a week before the film’s November 24, 2011 general release – was “extraordinary. I was surrounded by all my relatives and the community who had all been waiting to see it for ages.

"validation of their existence"

“The dialogue was so familiar to them but they were amazed to see it on the screen. They felt a real sense of validation of their existence.”

Screend on the local footy field, the event was full of cheering, laughs and cars hooting. “The kids, who wouldn’t normally sit still for a minute, stayed glued all the way through,” says Sen.

The other effect was unexpected: “There’s a lot of family rivalry in Toomelah, and I had inadvertently picked people from different families to take parts – and after the screening these families were all hugging and crying with each other. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

"a genuine ‘hand made’ film"

Toomelah is a genuine ‘hand made’ film, with Sen doing everything from writing to directing and shooting the film, lighting scenes where necessary and finally editing it. “It’s something I had get out of my system and this was the best way I could do it,” he says.

But now Sen is indeed ‘moving on’ and is about to cast his next film, Mystery Road, a dark Western / murder mystery set in a fictional country town like Mooree or Dubbo or Tamworth “all places which have indigenous populations who have come into town from the surrounding areas and mixing and clashing with the local whites.” 

Drawing on some factual elements, Sen’s film is a story that revolves around Jay, a black detective (to be played by Aaron Pedersen) who is caught between the two cultures. “I draw for inspiration a bit on the film No Country For Old Men,” he says. “I’ve been heading in that direction for some time now. I’m interested in making commercial films with a cultural sensitivity.” Shooting starts in April around Mooree.

Beyond Mystery Road is Loveland, a suspense romance set in Hong Kong (where Sen is now partly based); “it’s about an assassin whose target is his lover’s father. Both the lovers come from the mainland and the film looks at how many Chinese face integration problems in Western society.”

"I want to take audiences with me"

It was his experimental film Dreamland (2009), which screened at the Brisbane Film Festival a couple of years ago which made Sen take a a new direction in filmmaking. “It made me conscious of the film marketplace… I wasn’t conscious enough of my audiences before … people were talking about Dreamland being an ‘art film’ – not arthouse, but art, as in something to show in an art gallery. Now, I want to take audiences with me and make commercial films. And of course commercial films don’t have to be bad!”

Published November 24, 2011

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Ivan Sen

TOOMELAH REVIEW







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