Off the rails

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Off the rails

Message  Luce le Ven 22 Mai 2009 - 21:50

Par Alexa Moses (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 octobre 2004).
Growing up is hard. In My Father's Den shows returning to the past can be harder. Alexa Moses meets New Zealand's answer to Ken Loach.
Homecomings are not undistilled pleasures, writer-director Brad McGann discovered. Like the main character in his feature film debut,

In My Father's Den, McGann trekked home to New Zealand after a long absence.

"When you come back home, it's tainted with this subtle sense of failure," he says.

McGann returned in 1999, when his family and the New Zealand landscape were tugging at him. But after an 11-year-stint in Australia, he worried if he had achieved enough to weather the homecoming.

"I work in an industry which is really result driven," he says. "Ninety-nine point nine per cent of your time as a filmmaker is spent in this netherland of ideas and thinking and writing and throwing things out, and people only look at the results.

"I couldn't see how you could make a living doing this, out of being a feature filmmaker.

"I felt like it was beyond my grasp."

It obviously wasn't. McGann's film won the International Federation of Film Critics prize at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival and the Youth Jury Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.

Not that the fame has gone to the head of the director, who cites Ken Loach and Terrence Malick as his favourite filmmakers. An acknowledged lack of confidence is a theme in the 40-year-old's biography, but there seems to be more honesty than deprecation or false modesty in his admission.

"I had always been interested in films, but had by no means seen the possibility of being a writer-director," he says. "It was a little bit like saying I wanted to be an astronaut."

He started his career studying marketing at the University of Otago. McGann explains away his degree, saying, "Sometimes you have to do things to find out you hate them."

He was applying for art school, switched to film, and when he got into the Swinburne Film and Television School in Melbourne, he found himself floundering.

"I was one of eight chosen for the course," McGann says. "I was 24, one of the youngest.

"I dreaded going to school every day. I thought, 'This is the day I'm going to leave.' I didn't realise it would be so competitive, so nasty."

He felt so out of place that he finally sat down with his lecturer and told him the school had made a mistake. His lecturer replied that the school was confident he had the creative capacity and would learn the technique from them.

"It was such a beautiful thing to say; it was what I needed to hear," McGann says. "Without that, I would have left and abandoned my idea of being a filmmaker at all."

McGann's debut film is based on the 1972 novel by New Zealand author Maurice Gee.

It tells the story of photojournalist Paul Prior (British actor Matthew MacFadyen) who returns home to New Zealand, world-weary, after his father dies.

While cleaning up his father's house, Paul stumbles over the 16-year-old Celia (Emily Barclay), who has made a cubbyhole of his dad's derelict den. In movie marketing terms, Celia will change his life ... forever.

Sick of taking photos in war zones, Prior agrees to teach journalism at the local high school, but then, just as the friendship between Paul and Celia develops, she disappears. That's where the story kicks into gear.

"I was interested in someone who had gone out into the world to record other people's wars, but had run away from his own," McGann says of the project, which was pitched to him as a one-hour television drama by producer Trevor Haysom.

McGann initially felt the book was too dated and the market too narrow for him to accept the project. Then he was inspired by a dream starring two of the characters from Gee's book. He saw Paul and Celia standing in a vast landscape, talking about the tide going out and never coming back.

"The dream was contemporary and I recognised it as the central landscapes of Otago," McGann says. "I needed to approach it and tackle it in a different way."

McGann wrote the script, churning out 120 pages, which translated to 126 minutes.

Shooting was initially difficult, but rewarding. McGann says he found fronting his first feature confronting. He had 60 crew and cast relying on him for direction and leadership, including high-profile actors such as MacFadyen and Miranda Otto, who plays Paul's anxious sister-in-law.

"When you come from writing it and you've got 60 talented people to realise your vision, it's surreal," McGann says. "I'm a bit of a socialist and I think the idea of being in a position of power, where you can tell someone to do something and they would walk across glass to make it happen ... [is] a weird feeling."

Instead, McGann took inspiration from the interviews of pioneering American auteur John Cassavetes, who made Shadows and A Woman Under the Influence. Taking courage from Cassavetes's unorthodox working methods, McGann decided to work his own way.

"On the third day I went to the set and decided to get this 'machine' ... to suit me, my personality," he says. "I wanted to work in a way that's quite Zen; to be a conduit for the talent around me."

Nineteen-year-old star Barclay says McGann was supportive. As Celia, the script called for her to appear nude, and walk across a high bridge - and Barclay is particularly scared of heights. Fortunately, Barclay says she trusted McGann.

"He thinks differently to most people," Barclay says. "He can be quite wacky, but he's also very gentle and caring and thinks deeply about things."

During the eight-week shoot last year, Barclay says the pair swapped insecurities; McGann because he was directing his first feature, and Barclay because she was 18 and inexperienced.

"We'd get together during shooting," Barclay says. "[He'd say,] 'Is this OK?' And I'd say, 'Am I OK?' We'd both say yes. We both felt like new kids on the block."

McGann isn't such a new kid, but he has certainly broken through. He calls In My Father's Den "flawed", saying he knew it would be flawed because it was his first work.

"As long as people get the essence of the story and take something away from that, then I'm happy," the filmmaker says. "You can become fixated with the surface of making the film, the perfect score, the turning points, but at the end of the day it has to be about something."

Most of all, the director loves the feeling of completing a major work after the career swaps and timidity of his 20s. It's a kind of homecoming.

"There's an immense satisfaction. And you get to the point where you can't turn back. There's very few things I can do otherwise. My degree is obsolete. I could either go into incredibly low-paid work like dishwashing or I had to be a filmmaker."
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Re: Off the rails

Message  Matthieu le Sam 23 Mai 2009 - 18:09

Merci, Luce. Je recherchais cet article depuis longtemps.
Spoiler:
(Posté sur MMOnline le 23 octobre 2004, par Fiona, de Sydney)
I dont know if anyone has posted about this already, but I got the biggest surprise yesterday when I started reading the newspaper, only to find a familiar handsome face looking at me from the cover of Metro.

The article is all about the writer-director of In My Father's Den, but there is also another picture of matthew included in the article. It doesn't really say anything about matthew, other than that he is in it.

I have scanned the front cover, but I dont know how to add it to this thread.
But the article can be found at http://smh.com.au/entertainment/film/ it is on the left hand collumn under the title 'Off the rails' with a small pic of Matthew.
La couverture de Metro est en ligne ici. Merci à Fiona.
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http://www.matthew-macfadyen.org/

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