Early Winter director, Michael Rowe, the Australian-born filmmaker talks about what he sees as the problems with the Australian film industry: “I’ve watched creative workshops there for directors and writers that are terrifying.”
“At 23-years-old, I felt that Australia was a bit boring and a bit staid and set in its ways,” writer/director, Michael Rowe tells FilmInk. “The dizzying heights of cultural creation were a little bit far away and a little bit unreachable. There are certain cultural sacred cows that are highly valued. They’re up high like gods. And as a 23-year-old, I felt it impossible to aspire to. I feel like the cinematic world is way too dominated by people who have nothing to do with the creative processes.”
It was partly that sense of disconnection that drove Michael Rowe on what has been a continuing journey around the world, and continuing separation from his home country. Born in Ballarat, Michael Rowe now lives in Mexico, which is where he made his first big splash with the shot-in-Mexico, Spanish-language 2010 drama, Leap Year, which won the coveted Golden Camera Award at The Cannes Film Festival. Still to make a film on Aussie soil, Rowe’s latest film is the controlled, finely nuanced Early Winter, an Australian/Canadian co-production about a seemingly typical marriage in Quebec that is slowly coming apart at the seams.
Tellingly, Rowe has embraced outside filmmaking communities, while maintaining a more distant one with Australia. “I’ve watched creative workshops there for directors and writers that are terrifying,” he continues about Australia’s filmmaking scene.
“They give them all these workshops about funding bodies, about distribution, and about how to reach and appeal to certain audiences. So you get all these poor bloody kids who are in their twenties or thirties, with all this shit in front of them, and they’re trying to make a film. You can’t start out with that. You can’t have the cart before the horse. If you’re thinking about audiences, and worse than that, producers, and worse than that, distributors, and worse than that, funding bodies…,” his voice trails off.
“If you’re thinking about pleasing these people before you’re thinking about what kind of story you want to tell, then it’s destined to failure and absolute mediocrity.
There’s a saying, ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee.’ And that’s what happens when you have funding bodies and distributors in the mix. It’s not their fault, but they know nothing about creative processes. They do their best to give helpful advice, but since they don’t know how it works, they get it all wrong. And the poor creators are beaten over the head with ideas that are completely irrelevant, and it makes it a very difficult environment for creating. I feel very sorry for them, and this vision needs to change.”
Michael Rowe, however, doesn’t want to just stand by and watch it continue.
“Whatever I have in terms merit and achievement, I hope that I can help change things at least a little bit,” he says. “There’s a massive amount of talent in Australia, and it’s usually hamstrung by the fear of funding bodies and distributors, and this ridiculous idea that somebody is going to be able to make a film that is going to make everybody rich. You’ve got 20 million people, and you’re not going to make any film that’s going to make anyone rich even if everyone in the country sees it. Stop it! Make a film that’s about something honest. Animal Kingdom, for instance, is an honest film. It’s a good film. And I know that there’s a lot of David Michod in that film; his suffering, his struggles, it’s all there. It’d be very difficult for anyone else to have made that film. And that’s why it resonates, because it’s true. You cannot hide honesty on screen. If you’ve got the balls to put it out there, it’ll work. Even if you have to dress it up as a film about bank robbers. The other thing is the politically correct police. Let’s make a film about indigenous transsexual lesbians because that’s going to get funding. That’s not the way either. You can’t be thinking about funding, you can’t be thinking about distribution, and above all, box office, when you’re creating something. It’s going to turn out bad.”
And what about Michael Rowe’s relationship with the funding bodies? Can he see himself working with them in order to shoot a film in the country where he was born? “Early Winter is an Australian co-production, and I have got an upcoming project in Australia that I’m working on for 2018,” the director replies. “I am interested in working in Australia. I think that the Australian funding bodies will have no problems in letting me work on my terms and my kind of film. I have a track record now with a couple of decent prizes that will allow them to justify that. I am enthused about that.”
FilmInk Presents will be hosting a series of Q&A screenings of Early Winter with Michael Rowe, taking in The Nova Carlton in Melbourne (October 4), Dendy in Canberra (October 5), New Farm Cinemas in Brisbane (October 7), Dendy Newtown in Sydney (October 9), and The Regent Cinema in Ballarat (October 10), which is where Michael Rowe was born. The film will then be released in cinemas nationally on October 13.
For further information on screenings, head to FilmInk Presents:
Read the first and second parts of the FILMINK interview with Michael Rowe:
By Dov Kornits FILMINK September 27, 2016