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a sudden responsibility, a new career

andrew harper: rose schramm, filmmaker


Alex Martin, Next of Kin Alex Martin, Next of Kin
IT WAS QUITE REFRESHING TO SEE A FILM THAT DID NOT CONCERN ITSELF WITH WHAT I’VE COME TO SEE AS DOMINANT TROPES IN TASMANIAN CULTURAL FORMS, WHICH I USUALLY NAME AS CONCERNS WITH PLACE AND HOW PEOPLE FIT INTO IT. IT’S ALWAYS BEEN EASY TO SEE WHY, GIVEN THE ASTONISHING LANDSCAPE AND THE DRAMATIC WEATHER DOWN HERE, BUT THERE ARE OTHER STORIES THAT NEED TELLING THAT MAY NOT BE QUITE SO FOCUSED ON BEING HERE, LEAVING HERE, AND RETURNING HERE. THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE WHO HAVE OTHER ISSUES TO DEAL WITH.

Next of Kin, Rose Schramm’s nine-minute short could really have been made anywhere and this is part of its achievement as a film made in Tasmania; it doesn’t look or feel particularly of this place. Far from an interaction with cold mountains and dense bush, the film has a distinct urban feel, when the plot takes us outside at all—it could be out west in Sydney, it could be a chunk of Zone 3 Melbourne. Much time is spent inside in tight, slightly odd interiors that are subtly colour coded; the film has a fairly meticulous, stylised feel. It’s a tiny world with just two people in it: Angela (Gemma Gates) and Laurie (Alex Martin). Martin, in particular, gives a remarkable performance, all the more noteworthy when you learn he’s never acted before and probably never will again. Laurie’s been away, somewhere, and has been out of touch with Angela for some time. She’s shocked, and possibly worried, when he contacts her after he’s been released from some kind of psychiatric hospital. Laurie has named Angela as his next of kin which, as Schramm pointed out to me when I spoke with her about the film, makes Angela responsible for him. Laurie has changed somewhat in the lengthy time since Angela knew him last, ie, from male to female. This change is far more a broad symbol than it appears at first to be though; the filmmaker has worked to capture a sense of the shock of someone you knew very well being different somehow, whether by accident or design.

“What I first wrote it about was how sometimes a child-parent relationship can turn the other way—particularly with mentally ill parents, [children can] end up becoming the parent[s]. It’s sort of about mental illness, but I don’t want to exactly say that. It’s not about transgender; it’s deeper than that. I mean I already did that [Schramm’s 2004 student documentary, Rachael, told the story of her father’s journey to becoming a woman at 65 years of age]. I wasn’t writing exactly from my point of view, it was more about a daughter who’s trying to be an adult or a father who won’t take responsibility for his role. It’s not my life but I can draw from my experience to make those characters believable, because it’s an unbelievable situation. There’s not a lot of reality in that. But it’s real.

“I was also writing about how, sometimes the child, grown up or not, doesn’t really want to hear a lot of things; it’s hard enough. It would be quite surreal sitting next to your father and he’s dressed in a frock. I was also looking at how you’ve got to grieve in a way, because you know that the person they were is never coming back. Seeing someone with different inflections, all the old gestures disappearing and that sort of thing, I wanted to portray a bit of that no going back.

“I just got these two characters in my head; they stayed in my head for about six months. I’d just done a script writing course. I was bored and they just came up. It’s not the film that came into my head, it was the characters. Now I’ve got three more characters who’ll be in the next film. I haven’t actually written a script, I just spend all day thinking about the characters, for about three or four months, but I can’t write a script unless the characters are there. I never thought I was going to write drama, ever. I always thought I would make documentaries. When I went into film making I thought that’s all I want to make. Then I was bored.”

Ideas are one thing, mechanics are quite something else. Schramm is a camera operator and editor by trade so the film’s existence comes as something of a surprise, not in the least to her. She seems to have almost made it by accident, but it was all due to her participation in the Raw Nerve 08 program.

“It’s an initiative between Wide Angle Tasmania and Screen Australia; they’ve been going on in other states for a few years and last year we got funding to have one in Tasmania. There was an invitation to put in either a first draft of a script or an idea for a script; if you were accepted on your first draft you went through a lot of script development, given a script development mentor, an executive producer and then given not very much money, $2000, almost all of which went on the cinematographer Simon Gray. He was worth it. He was great. People were telling me not to, they were saying you can’t get him, he’s from Sydney and I knew nothing about him. I went completely on intuition. I‘d not seen anything he’d done. He was the director of photography, so I was behind the camera, but he was working it. I even had a focus puller. It’s the first professional shoot I’ve ever done. Now I’ve got a Slingshot grant and I’m going to try and get Next of Kin into festivals.”

Schramm has another film project on the horizon, a story about growing up Catholic in the 80s. When she told me what it was about, I laughed a lot. It sounds deceptively simple, but later I wondered, with a little trepidation, what territory she would take that simple premise into, given the raw and potent emotion she produced in Next of Kin.


Next of Kin, producer, writer, director, editor Rose Schramm, cast Gemma Gates, Alex Martin, director of photography Simon Gray, series producer Chris Gallagher, executive producer, Beverly Jefferson; made with the assistance of Screen Tasmania, Wide Angle Tasmania, Screen Australia, SDA; Raw Nerve 08 program

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 21

© Andrew Harper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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