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BLAIR, WAYNE - THE SAPPHIRES


CANNES – A LEARNING CURVE 
The first time at Cannes is a major event for any filmmaker – especially when their film is getting a Special Screening in the midnight slot, as Wayne Blair discovered when he accompanied his feature debut, The Sapphires, to the world’s highest profile film festival. He talks to Andrew L. Urban.


Wayne Blair was walking across Southwark Bridge over the Thames in London (with his girlfriend who was doing a show there), when his mobile phone rang. It was Tristan Whalley from Goalpost Pictures, executive producer of The Sapphires. “Can you talk?” he asked. “Yes, what?” Are you sitting down?” Wayne was getting itchy; “No, what is it.” Tristan wanted to build up to the big news, but Wayne was impatient. “C’mon what is it?” Tristan finally blurted it out: “We’ve got in… we’re in Cannes, special midnight screening!”

“It was like waiting for someone to pull off the band aid,” he says wryly. 

Wayne was happy but the call had been half expected; besides, he’d resigned himself to take a yes or a no, confident that his film would make a great entry for Toronto, say, or another festival. He (and his GF) kept walking towards the Tate Modern for a tour of its treasures – and a celebration lunch. He also rang his friend and collaborator, Warwick Thronton, who had shot the film.

“My phone bill for the trip was like a thousand dollars,” he says ruefully. “That’s something I learnt …”

"nothing prepared me for the drive to the red carpet"

And once he got to Cannes and joined the welcome party that Harvey Weinstein threw, his learning curve about the Festival de Cannes itself had begun. “Harvey was very generous and helpful giving us advice on how to manage the Cannes experience.

“But nothing prepared me for the drive to the red carpet … we were all there together, it was lovely…. But all these chatter boxes sat in silence as we were driven up.”

None of them had even been to Cannes, not even the high profile Irish born US actor Chris O’Dowd who plays the talent scout and the girls’ manager, Dave. “He was really chuffed,” says Wayne, as we sit in a large empty meeting room at Sydney’s InterContinental Hotel, as part of Wayne’s busy media schedule unfolds.

“Yeah, but this is nothing compared to the madness at Cannes,” he says smiling. “I’ve never been so tired, hardly got much sleep. But it was thrill, walking the same footpath where people like Tarantino and Greta Garbo had walked…”

Wayne has had several professional highs in his career, amongst which he lists working with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Steve Soderbergh as well as many Australians. “I’ve been lucky in that regard and I don’t want to downplay Cannes – It’s definitely up there. It was great - and it’s infectious; you want to make another film. I think there’s an audience for indigenous films; people love the point of difference.”

As evidence of that, he cites the two films that were screened at the previous two festivals: Ivan Sen’s Toomelah last year and Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah the year before, and points to films like Bran Nue Dae and Beneath Clouds as further examples of indigenous stories on film that have captured audience attention.

"At Cannes I realised that filmmaking is such a big business"

One thing that made a big impact on Wayne at Cannes was ‘the biz’: “At Cannes I realised that filmmaking is such a big business – it’s about money, but it’s also about the filmmakers. Cannes is such a strong reference point for all filmmakers; and everyone’s always after the next big project...”

Whenever possible, many of the Australians at Cannes would meet up for drinks at The Grand, slap bang in the middle of the Croisette. 

Wayne’s world is the filmmaking process and he loves the editing; “but the best moment of all is when you’re on set and everything is just working and everyone is just great, doing their jobs; it’s such a moment of total freedom.” 

The demands and challenges make filmmaking a vast process – but even when you are part of a great team making a film for the world’s cinemas, the key motivators may be quite simple: “Ultimately, says Wayne, “I just wanted my mum to like it.”

Published August 9, 2012.

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Wayne Blair ... on set


... at Cannes

REVIEWS

World Premiere: May 19, Cannes 2012

Australian Premiere: Melbourne International Film Festival, August 2, 2012

Australian release: August 9, 2012

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THE SAPPHIRES
Dir: Wayne Blair. Script: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson

In 1968, four Aboriginal girls from a remote mission, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsekll), Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Kay (Shari Sebbens) are discovered by Dave (Chris O’Dowd), a talent scout with a kind heart, poor lifestyle and bad habits - but a great knowledge of soul music. He convinces them to drop country & western in favour of a soul driven repertoire and gets them an audition with the American entertainment agency. Dave sees them as Australia's answer to 'The Supremes', and the girls get their first true gig, in the middle of the war zone in Vietnam to sing for the American troops. Based on a true story.








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