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BERESFORD, BRUCE: PARADISE ROAD

Bruce is back: in Australia that is. And his first film to be made here in a decade is the biggest Australian feature film yet - thanks to Twentieth Century Fox money. He invited Andrew L. Urban on location in Far North Queensland to talk about the film. And a bit about Bruce.

Bruce Beresford is sitting on his director's chair, leaning back to greet me as I arrive on set. Relaxed and tanned, his black shirt sleeves are rolled up, and his white hat with a black band seems to have taken all the battering of the previous four weeks shooting in Singapore and here in the beautiful setting of the Port Douglas hinterland of North Queensland.

This film, Paradise Road, is the biggest Australian film production, and a logistical hell, with over 140 people to manage, accommodate, feed, nurture and direct.

Beresford carries the weight of this giant film factory easily, and is enjoying working with a large and largely female cast. In fact, one of the stars, English actress Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) confides to me that Bruce has been so well accepted by the actresses that when she threw a little party for the women, Bruce was invited - and made an Honorary Woman.

Co starring with Pauline Collins (taking over from a sick Jean Simmons before shooting started), is Glenn Close, joined by a long list that includes Jennifer Ehle, Cate Blanchett, Pauline Chan, Johanna der Steege, Frances McDormand, Julianna Margulies, Elizabeth Spriggs, Wendy Hughes, Pamela Rabe, Lisa Hensley, Tessa Humphries, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Susie Porter and many more, including several male roles, and of course key Japanese characters.

Dozens of the women, several 'Japanese soldiers' and teams of crew are waiting or working on the huge set, a Japanese camp in Sumatra during the war, as the temperature reaches 28; and this is autumn.

Beresford, his green fatigue trousers a suitable choice in the circumstances, is amazed at it all: "I've never worked with so many people..."

The story begins in wartime Singapore as the Japanese sweep through, interning the British, the Dutch, the Australians, nuns or nurses, paying no regard to western notions of gentlemanly conduct towards women. Several camps are established by the Japanese in various parts of the region, including one at Sumatra, where the story focuses.

Based on fact, Paradise Road is about a camp where the captive women formed a unique choir - "not singing the popular songs of the day, mind you, but these amazing, complex symphonies, reset for voice. They were rewritten by a woman missionary - from memory!"

At an earlier interview in Sydney before the shoot, Beresford played me some recordings of them, and I found them instantly moving.

The CD, Song of Survival, is a recording made by the Women's Choir of Haarlem, Holland, conducted by Lenny van Schaik, who conducted the 30 voice choir for the film, with the voice of individual actresses overdubbed.

It is not surprising that Beresford has thrown himself into this film: he loves music passionately, and has guest conducted several operas in Australia, America and the UK, as an indulgence of this passion.

The story that Beresford is telling in Paradise Road really culminates in the success of the women forming this choir, fighting internal and external conflicts, and finding this extraordinary music: a remarkable story, an unusual event, a terrific premise for a film. It is a good example of what excites Beresford as a film maker.

"His lack of hysteria and his abundance of human spirit - are the most oft-quoted characteristics about Bruce Beresford."

"A new experience...I love it. I knew nothing about this. So you find out through research and you learn a lot." We're standing side by side behind the camera, where cinematographer Peter James is looking at the sky through the gizmo that lighting cameramen use to tell them what sort of exposure to set for a particular effect.

Beresford goes over to consult: then he moves to the furthest end of the latrine trench and squats, holding up his hands to indicate where he wants the camera for the next shot, looking back along the row of women prisoners beside the trench.

In the guard tower behind the fence, a Japanese soldier is standing stiffly beside his rifle. James calls out to Beresford: "Can he lean on his arms?" Beresford calls up. "Yes, lean on your arms."

The down to earth way he handles the actors and the easy calm he maintains on set are traits that Australians would recognise as home grown. He is cool, but not cold, relates to everyone with equal generosity, without adjusting his behaviour to the hierarchical demands of movie making.

These two aspects - his lack of hysteria and his abundance of human spirit - are the most oft-quoted characteristics about Bruce Beresford. These and the fact that he is possibly the most well prepared director to shoot a film.

"Once the films are finished, I never see any of them ever again. I like to see them once - and that's it," Bruce Beresford

His next film, to be shot mid-1997, is Goodbye Saigon, about the Vietnamese community in Los Angeles. "It's a drama, but often very funny," he say. "It's about a Vietnamese woman's efforts to deal with American society, to find a better, new way of life. You see, I knew nothing about any of this, but I'll find out."

As with Driving Miss Daisy, Beresford is working again with producer Richard Zanuck, whose perseverance was the only thing that got Driving Miss Daisy made as a film. "He and his wife were so committed to it...but the kind of films I want to do are always hard to get off the ground."

And then when he does get them off the ground and makes them, Beresford abandons them like old chewing gum.

"Once the films are finished, I never see any of them ever again. I like to see them once - and that's it," he says emphatically. "After that, all I can see is mistakes. I can't bear to look at them. From the very fist frame, I can see the camera should have been a bit more to the left, I should have the actor do this, I shouldn't have started the music there, I should have had the titles bigger ... EVERYthing."

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Photography by Jason W. Boland


"His lack of hysteria and his abundance of human spirit - are the most oft-quoted characteristics about Bruce Beresford."

REVIEWS

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with GLENN CLOSE

OTHER BRUCE BERESFORD INTERVIEWS:
DOUBLE JEOPARDY (2000)
MAO'S LAST DANCER (2009)


Bruce Beresford on set


Bruce and team


with star Glenn Close


Frances McDormand and Cate Blanchett


Bruce was so well accepted by the actresses that when Pauline Collins (right) threw a little party for the women, Bruce was invited - and made an Honorary Woman.







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