Lotterywest Festival Films Blog

Behind the Scenes with Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Filmmaker Rolf de Heer has created a hugely varied body of award-winning work over the past 30 years. Molly Reynolds is a documentary artist specialising in screen-based storytelling and cross-platform production. Together they have created an impressive and iconic suite of films made in remote rural Australia that bring Indigenous culture and stories to the big screen and to the world.

Find out more about these celebrated filmmakers before PIAF 2017 presents their world first retrospective Tracking Country.

How did each of you become involved in film making?

Rolf: As a 17-year old I got a job as a storeman at the ABC. Seven years later I was still there and I thought – hey, I’ve carted other people’s films around for quite some time. I’ve looked at other people’s films, I’ve assessed other people’s films – maybe it’s about time I started making films of my own. So I applied to the Australian Film and TV School and got in. And that was the beginning.

Molly: In many ways I’m doing what I always wanted to do. When I think of film, I think of it in terms of screen and how to tell screen-based stories and how to engage and delight people with them. I’ve always loved the screen and watching film and it seemed a logical pathway to be able to delight others with film.

Miles Davis apparently greatly enjoyed the experience of making Dingo with you Rolf. If he hadn’t died shortly after the film was finished, do you think you might have worked together again?

Rolf: It was a wonderful experience working with Miles Davis. His manager said that in all the time he had worked with Miles, he had never seen him so co-operative and so engaged. Before he died, Miles and I started to talk about what our next project together might be. It was going to be something with him purely as an actor and nothing in particular to do with jazz music at all. It was going to be a Louisiana bayou movie. But it wasn’t to be.

Could you tell us how your creative relationship with the actor David Gulpilil has changed over time, from The Tracker in 2002 to Another Country in 2015?

Rolf: I have learned a lot from him and I think he has learned to trust me in a way that goes beyond what is normal between a director and an actor because of everything that we have been through together along the way.

When we were working on Charlie’s Country I noticed how instinctively David was hearing what I was saying. The words almost didn’t seem to matter – he could understand, for example, something in the tone of my voice and that was enough for him to know what I was trying to talk about. The communication between us on the last film was somehow easier than I have ever experienced between actor and director. We now have an ongoing permanent relationship – we are in frequent contact even though it’s nearly four years since we shot Charlie’s Country.

Rolf, you are noted for your pragmatic approach to filmmaking, and you have described filmmaking as solving a series of day-to-day problems. Is it therefore surprising to be associated with particular themes or ideas

I don’t think about themes at any part of the film making process – that is for others to do when they see it. And that analysis is completely valid, it’s just I don’t do it when I’m making a film.

I used to be surprised at what people read into my work but nothing in that area surprises me anymore!

Molly, could you see yourself working with fiction film?

Yes absolutely. My next project may well be fiction, but because of my interest in online platforms I would look to explore it in different ways. My last two big works were created for online – both then were turned back and became theatrical, broadcast documentaries.

I would like to explore fiction storytelling with virtual reality.

Which of your films are you most proud and why?

Molly: I think it’s a fluid thing – what happens is you complete a work and then have cause to revisit it five or six years later and you’re reminded of it, you see new things in it and gain a new appreciation for it.

Rolf: I’m going to jump in here and say it would be easier if we were to say which is our favourite of each other’s work. For me that would be the cinema version of Still Our Country – it’s an extraordinary piece of work, exceptional in every respect and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Molly: For me it would be a toss-up between The Tracker and Ten Canoes. With The Tracker, I see it anew every time I watch it. And Ten Canoes is remarkable for its rich and complex storytelling – and the fact that it was Australia’s first feature film ‘in language’, which is quite an achievement.

Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds speak to Fenella Kernebone on Sunday 26 February. Find out more here.

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