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Daniel Daniel
photo Nick Berry-Smith
IN LATE JUNE THE CLASS OF RAW NERVE 2008 CAREFULLY TRIMMED AWAY THE LAST SHREDS OF SUPERFLUOUS CELLULOID AND HANDED THEIR DELICATE CREATIONS OVER FOR PUBLIC EXHIBITION. IT WAS A BIG NIGHT TO SAY THE LEAST, AND THE IMPATIENT, FRAUGHT, ASHEN FACES OF THOSE INVOLVED SHOWED IT. ONLY A FEW MONTHS EARLIER THEY’D RECEIVED THE APPROVAL OF THE MEDIA RESOURCE CENTRE’S RAW NERVE FUNDING PANEL AND VENTURED HEADLONG INTO THE WORLD OF PROFESSIONAL FILMMAKING, ARMED WITH MONEY, INDUSTRY TRAINING AND ACCESS TO PROFESSIONAL EQUIPMENT. BUT NOW IT WAS TIME FOR THE WORLD TO SEE THEIR DREAMS IN RELIEF.

The blue-ribbon award went to Bowen Ellames’ Daniel (15mins). This lyrical, melancholic film freely ventures into emotional terrain rarely entered by Australian short filmmakers. A story of childhood and parental neglect, Daniel centres its episodic and painfully sad suburban narrative around the quiet disappearance of a fragile and tormented little boy. Daniel (Tom Russell) watches and listens from afar as his parents tear their family apart with mistrust and misdirected anger. At school he experiences the very same kind of violence when it erupts from the abused hearts of the playground bullies. Looking to the devotion of his mother (Ellen Steele) for respite from his suffering, Daniel finds only the confusion of a young woman. And with no longer any real concept of home and safety, he drifts away into the world and disappears.

Ellames communicates Daniel’s tragedy with a gentle, poetic cinematic style. The soundtrack remains quiet for the most part, punctuated by the odd birdcall or soft whistling breeze, while the camera holds patiently on the action, discreetly exploring the scenography of kitchens, clotheslines and schoolyards. The atmospheric intimacy generated by these stylistic strategies allows for subtle fluctuations of light and character expression to build as the film develops, conveying an arresting emotional resonance. It’s rare to see such fluidity, restraint and sense of personally experienced emotion in the work of young filmmakers, especially from two as new to the game as Ellames and co-writer and director of photography Simone Mazengarb. They, along with the entire production team of Daniel, are to be congratulated for their accomplishment. I can only hope that the success of this debut will encourage them to embark on even deeper poetic excursions.

Killjoy (9mins), a veritable gumbo of a black comedy written and directed by Michael Zeitz, belongs to an entirely alternate universe. Its minimal plot, if that’s what it can be called, centres around a road trip undertaken by a hellish blonde (Anna Chaney) and her desperately victimised husband (David Rock) and their run-in with a lunatic highway patrolman (Nathan O’Keefe). But this serves merely as a backdrop for a cavalcade of frank visual gags involving female breasts, urine, cows and, somewhat curiously, male psychosis. It’s a genuinely funny ride at times, well performed and visually impressive too. But Killjoy suffers for its overzealous stuffing. There are too many jokes bouncing around in this film, too many different kinds of gag, creating an imbalance, an inconsistency of comedic tone.

Then there was Matt Hawkins’ more polite cupcake comedy, Casual Living (11mins). Steeped in the sugar-coated aesthetic of the 1950s, Casual Living follows the adventures of a Doris Day/Fairy Godmother hybrid as she totters her way around a 21st century display home, wooing potential buyers with baked sweets. Like Killjoy, this film looks fabulous thanks to its camera work and colourful visual design and is carried well by its principal actors, Emily Branford and John Welles. But what’s the point of it all? As far as I could ascertain Hawkins’ concern is that the standardisation of aesthetic values in contemporary suburban life has left us cold to the unique creative pleasures offered by pink icing. Is that all?

Wedged between these two flippant yet thoroughly dissimilar comedies was Nick Bollard’s more serious debut short, Family Matters (14mins). A film about risk, it centres around two brothers, one a successful if currently broke pop star, the other an obedient son placed in charge of the family business. When desperation strikes, the rebellious spirit teaches the younger sibling an important lesson of living: sink or swim, but for God’s sake don’t just hide in the boat. Another technically accomplished film, I suspect there’s a personal resonance in Family Matters for the writer-director Bollard.

Filmmaking, like any art, is risky, a potentially absurd enterprise that exposes the creative soul to failure and ridicule. But it is also a chance to grow and overcome fears that might enslave us. All of the filmmakers involved in this year’s Raw Nerve Awards are to be congratulated for their commitment to the gamble.


MRC Raw Nerve Awards 2008: Daniel, director Bowen Ellames, producer Sylvia Warmer, writers Bowen Ellames, Simone Mazengarb, camera Simone Mazengarb, sound Carly Turner, editor Carly Turner; Killjoy, director, writer Michael Zeitz, producer Jane Baird, camera B Halstead, sound Colin Zammit, editor Mathew Debitt; Casual Living, director, writer Matt Hawkins, producer Bettina Hamilton, camera Judd Overton, sound Colin Zammit, editor Shaun Lahiff; Family Business, director, writer Nick Bollard, producers Travis Kalendra, Felice Burns, camera Craig Jackson, sound Tracks Audio, editor Manuel Marquez; Media Resource Centre, Raw Nerve, Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, June 22, mrc.org.au

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg. 18

© Tom Redwood; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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