Australian films at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival

The Sapphires

The Melbourne International Film Festival has a long history of supporting Australian film, and in 2012 the festival again screens a wide variety of local fare in its Australian Showcase stream, from internationally-lauded blockbusters to low budget indies.

And in addition to offering local filmmakers a chance to have their film screened to supportive Australian audiences, MIFF supports the Australian film industry further through its MIFF Premiere Fund, which has financed a diverse range of feature films and documentaries since its inception in 2007.

Australian films will both open and close the festival in 2012, with Wayne Blair’s 1960s-era musical drama/comedy The Sapphires adding a touch of glitz, glamour and soul to the opening night gala last week. A joyous crowd-pleaser all but guaranteed success (after being picked up for international distribution by the Weinstein Company at Cannes), The Sapphires celebrates Aboriginal culture, family bonds and the irrepressible power of soul music with a delightfully sassy script and extravagant production and costume design.

There are dozens of Australian feature films playing at MIFF this year, from introspective dramas to psychotic horror-comedies to Bollywood musicals. Some of these titles are sure to appear in upcoming AACTA Awards seasons. Join us as we profile the Australian features on offer to thousands of eager cinephiles during the Melbourne International Film Festival.

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from August 2 to 17 at various locations throughout the Melbourne city centre.

Features

100 Bloody Acres

100 Bloody Acres

Reg and Lindsay are having trouble sourcing the “secret ingredient” for their organic fertiliser – human remains sourced from car crash victims. When a trio of young music festival-goers find themselves stranded at their front door, the two businessmen have a devious idea – but struggle to bring themselves to go through with it.

One for the schlock fans, 100 Bloody Acres is produced by Julie Ryan (RED DOG) and Kate Croser, with Damon Herriman, Anna McGahan, John Jarratt and Angus Sampson adding a touch of crackle to the cast of this grisly, comedic horror flick. They’re not psycho killers… they’re just small business owners.

Being Venice

Being Venice

The first feature-length film by New Zealand-born filmmaker Miro Bilbrough follows the eponymous Venice (Alice McConnell) as one man leaves her life and another re-enters it. The former – her boyfriend – announces that he needs some space and promptly leaves the house they share, while the latter – her estranged ex-hippie father Arthur (veteran comic actor Garry McDonald) – worms his way into staying on Alice’s couch while visiting from New Zealand.

Being Venice was warmly received at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, described by Frank Hatherly of Screen Daily as “thoughtful” and possessing “something of a European sensibility” in presenting Venice’s struggle to make sense of the male relationships in her life.

Dead Europe

Dead Europe

The first announced of MIFF’s “surprise screenings” on the last day of the festival, Dead Europe is the latest in a string of adaptations of Christos Tsiolkas novels, directed by director Tony Krawitz (The Tall Man), adapted for the screen by veteran television writer Louise Fox, and starring acclaimed young actor Ewen Leslie in the lead.

Described by Gary Maddox in the Sydney Morning Herald as “a bruising blast of intense drama”, the film is a deep, densely wrought examination of Europe, “the continent of lost souls”, and the burden that children of “cursed” peoples must bear.

Errors of the Human Body

Errors of the Human Body

Described as a “psycho-scientific thriller” developed while director Eron Sheean was artist-in-resident at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, early reviews of Errors of the Human Body have noted the scientific authenticity with which the film’s plot is realised.

A German-Australian co-production directed by an Australian based in Europe, with a cast including Karoline Herfurth (Germany), Tomas Lemarquis (Iceland), Rik Mayall (United Kingdom) and Michael Eklund (Canada), it’s a horror film set on the cutting edge of science and technology, dealing with the ethics of biological and genetic science.

Hail

Hail

Melbourne local Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s work straddles both art cinema and mainstream filmmaking, with over a dozen short fiction films to his credit as well as three highly-acclaimed documentary features.

Hail shapes the extraordinary life experience of artist and ex-convict Daniel P. Jones into an experimental, autobiographical dramatic tapestry. Jones’s own words – transcribed and edited from interviews with the director – form the basis for the film’s dialogue, which is spoken by “characters” being played by their real-life counterparts. The resulting film is not strictly a drama and not strictly a documentary, but an exploration of hope in the face of oppressive adversity.

Jack Irish – Bad Debts

Jack Irish – Bad Debts

MIFFsters will be treated to the first of two Jack Irish tele-features scheduled to air on ABC TV in late 2012, boasting a stellar cast including Guy Pearce, Aaron Pedersen, Colin Friels, Shane Jacobson, Marta Dusseldorp, Steve Bisley and Roy Billing.

Guy Pearce is Jack, an old-school former criminal lawyer turned part-time private detective and debt collector, whose line of work has won him some rather colourful friends and acquaintences over the years. When one former client turns up dead, Jack burrows deep into Melbourne’s seedy underside to get to the bottom of it all.

Based on the eponymous series of crime novels by Miles Franklin Award winner Peter Temple, Jack Irish: Bad Debts will be followed by Jack Irish: Black Tide.

Last Dance

Last Dance

David Pulbrook (a veteran, AFI Award-winning editor) makes his directorial debut in this tightly-wound drama, set in the immediate aftermath of a synogogue bombing perpetrated by the Muslim Sadiq Mohammed (Underbelly‘s Firass Dirani). Seeking shelter, he forces his way into a flat occupied by a Holocaust survivor Ulah (Julia Blake), and thus begins a hostage drama which forces both Sadiq and Ulah to confront their own pasts.

Mental

Closing out the festival is Mental, a so-called suburban dramedy which reunites director P.J. Hogan with Toni Collette for the first time since Muriel’s Wedding was released in 1994.

Anthony LaPaglia is a philandering small-town politician shocked to discover that his wife has been institutionalised and has left him to take care of five children – none of which he has any particular interest in getting to know. By serendipity, a “charismatic, crazy hothead” (Collette) finds herself thrust into the household as the girls’ nanny, and slowly but surely transforms their home into something resembling normality.

Save Your Legs!

Save Your Legs!

A new addition to the MIFF calendar this year is the mid-festival gala event, turning the middle weekend of the festival into yet another party – if the opening and closing nights weren’t enough. A decidedly more relaxed affair than the glitzy opening night, the mid-festival gala will see the upbeat Bollywood-influenced musical comedy Save Your Legs! screened.

The Abbotsford Anglers, a D-grade local cricket team more interested in the shots on offer at the bar than those being made on the cricket field, make one last thrust for glory by going on an ill-conceived cricketing tour of India which ends in disastrous on-field results but more than a few laughs.

Starring Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell, Damon Gameau and many more (plus a cameo by cricket legend Sir Richard Hadlee), Save Your Legs! is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Documentaries

Coniston

Coniston

In late 1928 upwards of 100 innocent indigenous men, women and children were brutally murdered to avenge the death of a white dingo trapper named Fred Brooks, who was killed by Aborigines after “taking liberties” with the wife of a Warlpiri tribesman.

One of many films presented in partnership with Blackfella Films, Coniston is a combination documentary-dramatisation of the Contiston massacre as told by Warlpiri, Waramunga, Anmatyerr and Kaytetje people. Based on a shameful episode of Australian history – the last large-scale massacre of Aborigines by whites – is an important exercise in educating modern audiences.

Croker Island Exodus

Croker Island Exodus

Also blending the documentary and dramatic forms is Croker Island Exodus, based on the true story of a Methodist mission on Croker Island off the coast of Arnhem Land.

After the bombing of Darwin in 1942, the Australian government evacuated all white women and children from the far north of the Northern Territory, including Croker Island. The (white) missionaries refused evacuation, not wanting to abandon the 95 aboriginal children in their care, and instead embarked on an epic 44-day, 5,000-kilometre journey to Sydney by boat, truck, canoe and even by foot.

First-time feature director Steven McGregor combines dramatic reconstructions with interviews of three of the children who made the journey, now in their 80s, who reflect on their childhood as part of the Stolen Generation and their remarkable journey to sanctuary.

The First Fagin

The First Fagin

Is Fagin – the grotesque thief/landlord in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and one of literature’s most enduring characters – based on Ikey Solomon, a real-life 19th century English criminal and escape artist? That’s what The First Fagin, directed by the trans-continental team of Alan Rosenthal and Helen Gaynor and narrated by the great Miriam Margolyes, sets out to discover.

Exploring the expulsion-happy criminal justice system of the 19th century as well as the life and reputation of Solomon, who was sentenced to be deported to Australia but for reasons unknown never made it to his down under prison, The First Fagin is one of many docu-drama features playing at MIFF this year. Tracing Solomon’s movements from England, through continental Europe, the United States and finally to Australia – where his wife had been deported – the film is a fantastical portrait of a man whose influence on culture is still being felt.

Lasseter’s Bones

Lasseter’s Bones

Beyond Our Ken, Luke Walker’s exploration into Kenja Communications – the “self-empowerment” group and alleged cult run by Ken Dyers and his wife Jan Hamilton – stirred up significant controversy when it screened at MIFF in 2007, and was nominated for an AFI Award in 2008.

His follow-up, Lasseter’s Bones, trades quasi-religious fanatics for an outback legend stretching back over 100 years, based around the existence (or non-existence) of Lasseter’s Reef, an enourmous gold deposit reportedly discovered and subsequently lost by Harold Lasseter in 1897.

With the help of Lasseter’s eccentric elderly son Bob, who continues to search for the fabled river of gold to vindicate his father, Walker attempts to get to the bottom of a legend which has taken on a life of its own – and taken one over, too.

Make Hummus Not War

Make Hummus Not War

A documentary about a different kind of war in the Middle East, Make Hummus Not War is about, well, hummus. Specifically, which culture can lay claim to ownership of the chickpea dish, which is steeped in thousands of years of contentious history and is one of the oldest prepared foods in human history.

Veteran filmmaker Trevor Graham, who won an AFI Award in 1997 for his documentary about the life of Eddie Mabo (Mabo: Life of an Island Man), traces the history of this unlikely dish and its symbolic importance to the Arab people of the Middle East. A lawsuit brought against Israel by Lebanon in 2008 about the heritage of hummus inspired Graham to delve a little deeper into what place hummus holds in Middle Eastern culture, and maybe, its role in Middle East reconciliation.

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me

Australia’s unofficial troubador laureate Paul Kelly has been capturing the Australian condition through his folk/rock/country music for decades, and has been called “one of the greatest songwriters I have ever heard, Australian or otherwise” by Rolling Stone editor David Fricke.

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me charts Kelly’s life, loves and losses, painting an intimate picture of a private man living in the public eye. The film, directed by Ian Darling, offers an exclusive insight into the man behind the fame, his creative processes and his remarkable catalogue of music.

Stay tuned to the AFI | AACTA blog as we post further updates throughout the festival.

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Focus on the Television Nominees: Part 2 – Direction and Screenplay

In Part 1 of our Focus on the Television Nominees for this year’s Samsung AACTA Awards, we profiled the producers who are nominated this year for Best Television Drama Series and Best Telefeature, Mini Series or Short Run Series. Here we look at the nominees for the AACTA Awards for Best Direction in Television and Best Screenplay in Television.

Here we turn the spotlight onto the writers and the directors nominated in the television categories. It goes without saying that they’re integral to the stories we enjoy watching on the small screen, and yet they’re often in the shadows. It is perhaps unsurprising that the nominees this year in these categories are almost all seasoned professionals with rich, long credit lists – and many an AFI Award on their collective mantlepieces. Read on to find out more.

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTION IN TELEVISION

And the nominees are:

Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo – Episode 1. Daina Reid. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 1 ‘Hector’. Jessica Hobbs. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 3 ‘Harry’. Matthew Saville. ABC1
Small Time Gangster – Episode 1 ‘Jingle Bells’. Jeffrey Walker. FOXTEL – Movie Network

Since leaving her acting and comedy days behind her, director Daina Reid has quickly established herself as an in-demand director of television (including episodes of City Homicide, Rush, Offspring and the upcoming Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). Last year, Reid also directed her first feature film, the romantic comedy I Love You Too. (Our 2010 AFI interview with Reid  ‘From Actor to Director’ is here.)  With Paper Giants, Reid brought a snappy pace, a great sense of timing and a finely tuned eye for performance to this fact-based girl-powered story. This is Daina Reid’s second AFI | AACTA nomination – her first nomination was in 2008 for her work as director on Satisfaction, Series 1.

Jessica Hobbs is an accomplished director of high quality television drama, with credits including Heartbreak High, Curtin, Tangle, Spirited, My Place, and of course two episodes of The Slap this year – the stage-setting first episode ‘Hector’ for which she is nominated, and the second episode, ‘Anouk’. Hobbs is also an executive producer on Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. She was nominated for her first AFI Award in 2004 (Best Short Fiction Film – So Close to Home) and has twice won the AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – in 2005 for Love My Way, and in 2006 for Answered by Fire. Jessica Hobbs is also one of the honorary councillors (Directing Chapter) in the newly formed Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA).

Like Jessica Hobbs, Matthew Saville is also nominated for his direction of episodes of The Slap  (‘Harry’ and ‘Sophie’). With a background in graphic design and advertising, Saville first came to notice in the 1990s when his short films revealed him to be a highly literate and original writer-director. Franz & Kafka won the 1997 Melbourne International Film Festival’s Best Australian Short Comedy award, while the melancholy comedy Roy Hollsdotter Live earned Saville an AFI nomination for Best Short Fiction Film in 2003.  His other television credits include The Secret Life of Us, The Surgeon, Tangle and We Can be Heroes – the latter for which he was nominated in 2005 for Best Direction in Television. In 2007, Saville was nominated again, for both direction and screenplay for his debut feature film Noise, but he won that year for another project – the telefeature based on the life of Graham Kennedy, The King. Click here to view a short video interview in which Saville talks about his recent work on The Slap. (We should probably also mention that Saville is director of all six hours of the AACTA nominated mini series Cloudstreet.)

At the tender age of 29, Jeffrey Walker has a huge IMDB listing, explained in part because of his early career as a very successful child actor. He appeared in shows like Round the Twist, Blue Heelers and Ocean Girl. At the age of eight he appeared as the ‘young Martin’ in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof – a fact we realised when he turned up to our 20 year anniversary screening of the film in Melbourne! Walker received the 1997 AFI Young Actor Award for his work in The Wayne Manifesto, but has since changed careers to directing after getting a start as an assistant producer to prolific children’s television creator Jonathan M. Shiff (who happens to be nominated this year for H2O: Just Add Water, Series 3). Jeffrey Walker’s directorial credits in television include: Rake; Wild Boys; the upcoming Jack Irish telemovies, starring Guy Pearce; and of course Small Time Gangster for which he is here nominated. Walker was also nominated in 2010 for Best Direction in Television for his work on the acclaimed teen series Dance Academy.

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY IN TELEVISION

And the nominees are:

Cloudstreet – Part 3. Tim Winton, Ellen Fontana. FOXTEL – Showcase
Laid – Episode 3. Kirsty Fisher. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 1 ‘Hector’. Kris Mrksa. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 3 ‘Harry’. Brendan Cowell. ABC1

Tim Winton is a best-selling and much awarded writer of novels and short stories, many of which have been adapted into films, plays, or television series (That Eye the Sky, In the Winter Dark, the Lockie Leonard series, to name just a few). But it is Cloudstreet, the vast and rambling family saga novel, set in Perth from the 1940s, for which Winton is best known. Published in 1991, and winning the Miles Franklin Award in 1992, the book was voted Australia’s favourite book by ABC audiences in 2003. Now the novel has been adapted into a three-part six-hour mini series by Tim Winton, working together with US screenwriter Ellen Fontana. The producers of Cloudstreet have put together a great series of interviews and videos about the process of adapting the book, including great footage of Winton talking about why he was the least ‘attached’ person to adapt it – the person least likely to treat the book as a ‘sacred text’. You can find the interviews here. This is the first AFI | AACTA nomination for both Tim Winton and Ellen Fontana.

Screenwriter Kirsty Fisher wears a lot of hats when it comes to her role on comedy series Laid. Not only did she write the script, but is credited as co-creator and co-producer alongside her creative partner Marieke Hardy (Liz Watts of Porchlight Films is executive producer). Fisher has been working in television for many years as a script editor and screenwriter, with credits including H20 Just Add Water, Winners & Losers and Silversun. This is her first AFI |  AACTA nomination. You can read Paul Kalina’s Age interview with Kirsty Fisher and Marieke Hardy here.

Kris Mrksa is an AFI and AWGIE Award winning screenwriter whose credits include East West 101, Underbelly, Packed to the Rafters, Carla Cametti PD and The Secret Life of Us. He also co-wrote the telemovie The King (with Jaime Browne). Mrksa won his first AFI Award in 2001 for Best Screenplay in a Short Film (Sparky D Comes to Town), and his second AFI Award in 2009 for Best Screenplay in Television (Underbelly). This year he is nominated for his work on the first episode of The Slap – ‘Hector’. He also wrote the ‘Manolis’ episode – which anecdotally is for many audience members and readers a favourite section of both the novel and the series.

Brendan Cowell is an award winning actor, playwright and screenwriter. On television he has played hilarious handyman ‘Todd’ in SBS comedy series Life Support and the self destructive chef  ‘Tom’ in Foxtel’s Love My Way, while on film, he has played the central roles in Noise, Beneath Hill 60, I Love You Too and the upcoming comedy drama about amateur cricketers, Save Your Legs – on which he is also screenwriter. Cowell has written a number of plays and a novel, as well as episodes of Love My Way, and of course two episodes of The Slap – ‘Harry’ and ‘Richie’. He is nominated for the former. (Interestingly, Cowell also appears on screen in the ‘Richie’ episode where he plays ‘Craig’ – Richie’s lovable ocker dad.) Cowell has been nominated twice before for an AFI Award – in 2007 for Best Lead Actor in Noise, and in 2010 for Best Lead Actor in Beneath Hill 60.

To see video interviews with both Kris Mrksa and Brendan Cowell talking about their work on The Slap, click here.

So there they are: the directors and the writers who are up for AACTA Awards this year for their work in television. The winners of these two awards will be announced at the Samsung AACTA Awards Ceremony on Tuesday 31 January 2012, and broadcast on the Nine Network.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll take a closer look at the nominees for Best Lead Actor and Actress in a Television Drama, and Best Guest or Supporting Actor and Actress in a  Television Drama.

Why I Adore: Love My Way

Gnarly Family Trees: Truth, Beauty and Love My Way by Rochelle Siemienowicz

Love My Way, Series 1: Lou (Alex Cook) and Frankie (Claudia Karvan).

Love My Way, Series 1: Lou (Alex Cook) and Frankie (Claudia Karvan).

On a hill by the ocean sits a big white house. A man in a wetsuit returns from his early morning surf. Inside, a woman peers through the gaps in her blanket. The sun shining through creates mysterious patterns of colour and light. Not far away, in another house, a blonde babe climbs astride her sleeping man, arousing him in the nicest possible way until a little girl bounds into the room. ‘Where’s my school uniform?’ she pipes. ‘You were sexing,’ she adds with mild disgust. The woman rolls off, to reveal her satin nightgown straining over a hugely pregnant belly. It’s funny, true and a little bit wrong.

Welcome to a television world where the sun shines, the surf rolls and beautiful people with Australian accents live out their complicated romantic and domestic lives. But this certainly isn’t Home and Away or SeaChange, or even The Secret Life of Us. It isn’t even free-to-air television. It’s Foxtel’s Love My Way, arguably the first and finest Australian drama series created for Pay TV. Over the course of three series, aired from 2004 to 2007, Love My Way collected a huge stash of awards, attracted universal critical acclaim, and built a devoted fan-base that saw the network shift the show’s broadcast channel three times to capitalise on its popularity. Like many prestigious HBO dramas from the United States, it was on DVD that this Australian series probably found its real home and its most fervent fans, with boxed sets bought and borrowed at a frantic rate.

Love My Way

People like us. Key Cast from Love My Way: L-R: Brendan Cowell, Claudia Karvan, Asher Keddie & Dan Wyllie.

So, what makes Love My Way so special? Here’s a classic scene from the first episode: ‘This is my birth and I’ll do it how I fucking want to,’ says pregnant control-freak Julia (Asher Keddie) as she fills the wading pool in the courtyard, lighting aromatherapy candles for pain relief. Several hours later she’s screaming at the midwife and at her husband, Charlie (Dan Wyllie), when they suggest some Panadol.’Panadol! Haven’t you got anything else, I’m only two fucking centimetres dilated!’ As the ordeal progresses, she’s in the water, straining and splashing. Lovely, funny, irresponsible Charlie tries to support her and keep her afloat, but only with one arm – the other is firmly attached to his bottle of beer, as if he’ll drown without it. We’re later shown, quite matter-of-factly, the crimson cloud of blood and afterbirth staining the water; testament that Love My Way is prepared to get dirty and real.

Love My Way DVD cover Series 3Over the course of three seasons, the drama unflinchingly depicts things not often spotted on Australian television. For a start, candidly depicted sex is a key driver here, a central facet in every character’s life, whether they’re fifteen, thirty-five or fifty. Sometimes it’s good sex, often it’s bad. Sometimes it’s porn-fuelled masturbation, and occasionally, as we’ve seen, it happens in front of the children. Then there’s the casual and often inconsequential drug use – cocaine, ecstasy, ice and lots of dope. And don’t forget the kleptomania, the nymphomania, the lighting of farts, the biting of ears, and the grief, oh the endless, messy and almost unbearable grief of losing somebody you love. Yes, there’s pain and dirt aplenty, and thanks to superb scripting and naturalistic acting, it feels incredibly real.

This isn’t the kind of ‘dirty and real’ that we see in so much Australian cinema…

But this isn’t the kind of ‘dirty and real’ that we see in so much Australian cinema, where harsh lighting, bad skin and foul language combine to create a general low-rent ugliness – a tendency so pronounced that it’s a common accusation that our films are only about drug addicts, criminals and bogans. Instead, Love My Way is decidedly stylish and certainly middle-class. The characters might swear a lot, drink far too much (even when they’re breastfeeding) and suffer the odd embarrassing encounter with the law, but they’re living lives that look very good indeed. They’re architects, artists and chefs; people who wear casually assembled vintage clothes, go surfing every morning and attend the Walkley Awards for work. They sing karaoke to Crowded House songs, share barbecues with their exes and various new spouses and children, and have marital crises in Ikea showrooms, where they dream that ‘storage solutions’ might solve all their problems.

These are people like ‘us’, or the people we’d like to think we are – complex, flawed and cool, making our living in vaguely creative ways and living in somehow affordable but spectacular inner-city real estate. Mostly, though, they’re like ‘us’ because they’re trying to make the best of a family structure that bears only passing resemblance to the traditional nuclear model.

Claudia Karvan, star and co-creator of Love My Way.

Claudia Karvan, star and co-creator of Love My Way.

Claudia Karvan, the star and co-creator of Love My Way, has said that the series grew out of the observation that while the harrowing divorce-drama Kramer vs Kramer reflected the way families broke up in the 1970s, nowadays people seem to handle it better. Her character Frankie is a case in point. She’s in her early thirties and a single mother to the impish eight-year-old Lou (Alex Cook). While it’s not always easy sharing custody with Lou’s father, Charlie, and his new wife Julia, it’s managed with admirable honesty and only the occasional screaming match. These characters own keys to each other’s houses, and Frankie remains on intimate terms with Charlie’s parents (Max Cullen and Lynette Curran). She even shares her house (and sometimes her bed) with Charlie’s brother, the blunt and sparky Tom (Brendan Cowell).

Here, the modern family tree is an overgrown mess of branches growing out of the dirt of broken love stories and abandoned vows.

When little Lou is asked to draw a family tree for a school project, she titles it ‘My Family Up a Tree’ – an allusion to the family’s craziness, but also to the way she happily exists at the trunk of it. The set up makes perfect and natural sense to her child’s mind.

The series takes as its central premise the idea that strangely beautiful fruit can grow on these gnarly family trees: ex-partners who understand each other deeply and make each other laugh; stepmothers who prove to be cranky and sweet, rather than wicked; and new babies born into a tangle of adopted aunties and uncles. Naturally, such trees are prone to their own peculiar thorns and diseases. Hostility and resentment often break through, as does latent sexual tension. Money is always an issue, and new additions to the family, whether through birth, marriage or friendship, cause already clouded dynamics to shift and change. It makes for great and absorbing drama.

LMW Series 3 Julia and Charlie and Toby (Asher Keddie, Dan Wyllie & Byron Chaplain)

'The way a marriage can turn sour in one conversation, and recover with one well-timed joke." Asher Keddie and Dan Wyllie create one of the most convincing married couples ever seen on Australian television. Image from Series 3 of Love My Way.

The general concept of large and messy family groupings is nothing new for television drama, and of course it’s a staple of soap opera. It’s certainly a recurrent theme for Southern Star producer John Edwards. With other collaborators, he is also the creator of a mini-genre that began with The Secret Life of Us (Channel Ten, 2001-2004), a show that was more about friends who form a family. Then came Love My Way, followed by Foxtel Showcase drama Tangle, having this year broadcast its second season, with a third on the way – a noir-ish tale of family life set in Melbourne suburbia. Then Edwards is also involved with Channel Ten’s hit comedy drama series Offspring, about a neurotic thirty-something obstetrician (Asher Keddie) and her ‘fabulously messy family’.

The writing is so good in Love My Way that there’s hardly a clichéd exchange or a predictable plot development. And yet it feels so familiar, the way that a marriage can turn sour in one conversation, and recover with one well timed joke; or the way that a friend can suddenly become a lover or an adversary.

It’s impossible to write about Love My Way without mentioning the incredible physical beauty of the production.

A team of accomplished writers was responsible for such great scripting, including Karvan herself, along with film and television veteran and series co-creator Jacquelin Perske, playwright Tony McNamara and actor/playwright Brendan Cowell. Working in collaboration, they pooled ideas and themes from their own experiences of marriage, divorce, parenthood and working life. It’s the way the characters speak to each other that feels so refreshing and real. It’s often brutal, with a disarming lack of etiquette. As Tom tells Frankie one morning when she’s recounting a dream from which she’s freshly awoken: ‘Don’t tell me your dreams. Other people’s dreams bore the shit out of me.’ And he’s not being aggressive or angry. It’s just a matter of fact.

It’s impossible to write about Love My Way without mentioning the incredible physical beauty of the production. It’s not just the good-looking cast and stunning Sydney locations. It’s the craft we’re talking about here – from the cinematography, to the production and costume design. The gorgeous opening credits, repeated over the three seasons, signpost the visual tone and saturated colour scheme that continues into the show itself. They’re worth looking at closely. (In fact these are the first 10 minutes of the first episode, and I predict you’ll want to watch every single one of them.)


These opening credits are set underwater, with a sea-green background and the sunlight filtering down through bubbles. The characters appear to be floating and swimming, suspended in light and water. Karvan’s hair drifts in the current like seaweed, and her clothes of red and green gleam like a mermaid’s tail. Bringing humour and levity to the painterly scene, other actors, like Dan Wyllie and Lynette Curran, mug and grin through goggles as they swim in front of the camera. Complementing these visuals is a soundscape that’s both nostalgic and otherworldly, yet with a forward-thrusting energy. It’s The Psychedelic Furs’ early 1980s hit ‘Love My Way’, performed this time by Magic Dirt – wonderfully evocative, though maddeningly repetitive if you happen to sit through too many DVD episodes at a time…

The aesthetic beauty of Love My Way, its cinematic production values, extends from the opening credits into every single scene of the series. In fact, it’s possible to freeze almost any frame of the show and find a beautiful composition of colour, light and form, especially in those scenes containing Karvan, with her angular frame and her solemnly beautiful face. In a recent critique of Australian cinema, Louis Nowra berated our filmmakers for failing to engage in the full and lingering romance of the human face on the big screen. Love My Way has such a romance, albeit on the small screen, and it’s compelling enough to suggest he may be right: we need more of this.

Love My Way is proudly ‘arty’. One of its central themes is the quest to create art and to use one’s life in the work. Frankie is an artist. She inhabits many other roles – as mother, lover and friend – but at her core is the need to filter what she sees and feels into her work; to make it live again through paint on canvas. She has to constantly fight against the demands of those other roles – childcare and paid work, especially, are always sucking away at her painting time. It’s a reality that any creative parent is bound to recognise.

Love My Way Series 1. Alex Cook as Lou

Proudly 'arty' a central theme of Love My Way is a woman's struggle to be an artist, mother and lover. Alex Cook as Lou.

Unlike so many films that deal superficially with the creative process, whether of writing, composing music, or painting, Love My Way, as a television series, can sustain and explore the theme of what it really means to be an artist and a woman, and demonstrate the way these things are inseparable for this character. Frankie’s work is informed in Series One by her dreams and her fears, and finally by her very great and overwhelming grief. By Series Three she is fighting for her simple right to be an artist, with her cocky new husband, Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn), teasing her and saying that if she really were an artist she would do it more compulsively, instead of finding excuses. Her outrage is palpable.

Lewis and Frankie (Ben Mendelsohn & Claudia Karvan in Series 3 of Love My Way).

Cocky, erratic and irresistible, Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn) is a challenge to Frankie in Series 3.

Not only does she have to manage Lewis’s erratic behaviour, manic spending and his annoying teenage son (who’s suddenly materialised on the doorstep), but she’s now being asked to justify and prove the very thing that is at the heart of her identity! It’s only when she begins to create again, at the conclusion of Series Three, by making a beautiful and dreamlike tribute to the ghosts of her past, that Frankie can again approach wholeness.

The operative word here is ‘approach’, because Love My Way is far too honest and life-like to ever attempt storylines that present characters as finally or fully redeemed, healed or completed. Resolution is only ever temporary and conditional. As John Edwards, the co-creator of the series, has said: ‘The great lie of television is that things get resolved.’ The genius of Love My Way is that it works within that lie – as a successful television drama that satisfies the need we have for stories to be beautiful, to have endings; for characters to find meaning and transcendence. But at the same time, it’s realistic enough, and convincing enough, to have us believe that Frankie and Lewis, and Julia and Charlie, and all the rest of that surprisingly functional family might be out there, living new stories in their complicated lives. Even if we’re not watching.

A version of this article was originally published in Kill Your Darlings, Issue 2, July 2010.

 

Note: Love My Way at the AFI Awards

In an astonishing run, Love My Way recieved the AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series three years in a row – 2005, 2006 and 2007. The series also won multiple other AFI Awards and nominations. They are all listed below.

 2005

Won: AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – Jessica Hobbs
Won: AFI Award for Best Guest or Supporting Actor in Television – Max Cullen
Won: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television – Claudia Karvan
Won: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Jacquelin Perske
Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards and Claudia Karvan

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television – Dan Wyllie
Nominated: AFI Award for Outstanding Achievement in Craft in Television – Louis Irving (cinematography)

2006

Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards, Claudia Karvan, Jaquelin Perske

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – Shirley Barrett
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television Drama – Dan Wyllie
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Claudia Karvan
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Asher Keddie
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Jacquelin Perske

2007

Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards, Claudia Karvan
Won: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Claudia Karvan

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Guest or Supporting Actress in Television Drama – Justine Clarke
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television Drama – Ben Mendelsohn
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Tony McNamara

Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:

Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon and Clem Bastow reminisces about a childhood spent watching the television show Round the Twist. Or you can read Anthony Morris flirting with disaster in his adoration of Romper Stomper, Annie Stevens going bridal with Muriel’s Wedding, or Popzilla bowing down before the altar of literary screen adaptations. Most recently, Lia McCrae-Moore showers affection on SBS’s high-octane police thriller, East West 101.

Contribute: We’re currently looking for more ’Why I Adore’ articles devoted to Australian film and television. Send a one paragraph summary to editor[at] afi.org.au and we’ll get back to you with more details.