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ABORIGINAL CINEMA HITS EUROPE

The Europeans are taking to our aboriginal filmmakers with a passion, reports Helen Barlow from Paris, where a unique week-long festival of short films is about to screen, with St Tropez and maybe even Clermont Ferrand to follow.

It was perhaps a sign of things to come when aboriginal filmmaker Ivan Sen's first feature, Beneath Clouds, made waves at the Berlin Film Festival in February, winning the Festival's inaugural prize for first film, with lead actress Dannielle Hall taking away the New Talent Award for Best Young Actress. Now in Paris a collection of 16 short films by young up-and-coming indigenous Australians has been assembled into a festival - officially to celebrate the bicentenary of French explorer Nicolas Baudin's expedition to western and southern Australia in 1801. Baudin led two ships that included scientists and artists, and spent 18 months examining Australian flora and fauna, when he undoubtedly became fascinated by aboriginal culture as well.

The upcoming festival, which takes place over a week starting August 28 at the Espace St Michel cinema just around the corner from Notre Dame, has been marketed as a gift to France from the Australian government and the Australian Film Commission. France, a country that has long supported film-making in Africa, Iran and China, seems ready to take aboriginal film-making on board, as the festival is receiving a great deal of support in the local media. To this end four of the film-makers recently visited Paris to talk up their movies: Sally Riley (Confession of A Headhunter) who is also head of the AFC's indigenous film unit, Rima Tamou (Round Up), Wesley Enoch (Grace) and Darlene Johnson (Two Bob Mermaid). Harry's War by Richard Frankland was also screened for the press and members of Bernard Bouries' Australian Embassy-based film club, Cinema des Antipodes, and reports from all sectors (at a time when lousy movies are screening in Parisian cinemas) were extremely enthusiastic. 

Bouries, wearing his other cap as director of a week-long Antipodean Cinematography Encounter in St Tropez from October 17, will devote a day to screening the Baudin Gift collection on the Riviera as well. A huge fan of Ivan Sen's work, Bouries is also encouraging the world's most prestigious festival of short films in Clermont Ferrand to show a collection of Sen's shorts. (Ed: A program of films by Australian indigenous filmmakers – including Ivan Sen - is also being curated for the 2003 Rotterdam film festival, following fest director Simon Field’s Australian visit in July 2002.)

"born-again Australian, Hollywood director Phil Noyce"

Another supporter of indigenous talent is born-again Australian, Hollywood director Phil Noyce, who staged his international premiere for Rabbit-Proof Fence at the recent Taormina Festival in Sicily. He was accompanied at the festival by his 20-year-old daughter, Lucia, who had helped shoot the making-of film, Following The Rabbit Proof Fence, directed by Darlene Johnson. Johnson, who first made a name for herself with the documentary, Stolen Generations, worked as an attachment on Noyce's movie to observe the production. He will now produce Johnson's first feature, Obelia, which she is currently writing.

While Noyce is officially living in Australia now, he laughs as he admits, "I won't make any promises about where I'll live in the future". As both the director and producer of Rabbit-Proof Fence, he will continue to personally travel to festivals, including Edinburgh and Toronto, to promote the film around the world. He hopes that Doris Pilkington, the author of the novel on which the story is based (Molly's real-life daughter) will be able to travel to Edinburgh and possibly to America where the film will be released via rabid marketers Miramax Films, who quite famously have opted for a poster which will read: What Would You Do if The Government Kidnapped Your Daughter?

"Maybe it will work there," says Noyce, "but they're not going to use it in the UK or in Italy, where they also have the rights. In the UK they are devising a new campaign and poster using imagery closer to the Australian poster, based on ideas and people, not a slogan." Still, how does he feel about the shock tactics of Miramax head, Harvey Weinstein? "Finally, he paid for the movie. He bought it from us for more than it cost us to make it." Weinstein paid US$4.5 million, while the film only cost US$4 million, since Noyce, actor Kenneth Branagh and composer Peter Gabriel worked for nothing - that is, until the profits roll in. "Harvey's got a big investment in the movie, and it's his money. So if he thinks he can get the money back by whatever means, he has the right to make that decision." 

Noyce smirks and is clearly amused by the Australian media's reporting of the Australian government's reaction to the poster when the film was screening in Australia. "The critics of the poster were our best friends because we had a wonderful run of free publicity when we'd already spent all our advertising budget. The box office increased every time someone attacked the poster. They included a Liberal Party politician in Queensland, and a Liberal Party senator in Tasmania, who also used government funds to produce a leaflet warning his constituents away from the film and saying it was not accurate." Which of course Noyce insists it is.

"that can be much more important"

Why the decision to launch the film in Taormina? "A regional film festival like this, is very concentrated on one huge population," explains Noyce, "and that can be much more important than getting caught up in Cannes [where the film was turned down]. We screened the film last night for the press and distributors and a huge audience of Italians. They responded to the movie, it spoke to them." Certainly there was more after-film chat and heartfelt response to Noyce's film than any other at the festival. He admitted the following day that the film "allowed me to go back to Australia and spend a tiny amount of money on a story that had big emotional issues."

Since Rabbit-Proof Fence, Noyce has filmed The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene's novel, and starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. He says the longer the film is delayed the better, given its criticism of US policies in 1950s Vietnam in the and the current "inelastic" mood in America. While the director is unsure about his next project and is even more unsure about where he will eventually live - he has been in Australia so much of late, but knows he has to spend a certain amount of time in Hollywood too - two things are for sure. He will be spend the next six months travelling with Rabbit-Proof Fence, and will eventually film an adaptation of Tim Winton's novel, Dirt Music. He is prepared to wait for Nicole Kidman, his Dead Calm star, to play the lead role. 

Published August 22, 2002

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