Big doesn’t always mean better, even if you’re aiming for the silver screen. In an age when the average Hollywood movie budget could buy several small countries, a St Kilda production team are doing great things with very little. And director Sarah Jayne Portelli says her team at Nexus Production Company is bucking a trend for cinematic spectacle.
“I think there’s an audience for every kind of film,” Portelli says. “There’s a lot of Hollywood films out there that are glamorous and packed with special effects, so something more character-based offers a slice of life.”
Her new film Friends, Foes and Fireworks is part of a new wave of filmmaking dubbed “mumblecore”, a lo-fi approach to cinema that has culminated in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird – an understated drama which was nominated for five Oscars.
Wholly improvised by its female cast, Friends, Foes and Fireworks was shot on a single New Year’s Eve. The film will now enjoy its world premiere this month at Elsternwick’s Classic Cinema and follows the success of short flick Daughter, also shot in St Kilda, which entered production after a triumphant crowdfunding campaign.
Portelli says she was pushed to find an unusual path into filmmaking after years of getting nowhere on the Melbourne film scene. “Nobody was hiring me, so I decided I should just start making my own stuff. I’d had enough of rejection.”
She directed her first film in 2013 and has made three more since. She says anyone who really wants to make a film should stop worrying about the money and just get the cameras rolling. “You have to have that attitude. If you’re waiting for funding, you’ll be waiting a really long time. When I was trying to get funding for Daughter, I was looking at grants that said you needed a producer with so many films and festivals already. I didn’t know those sort of people. I ended up producing it myself, because we didn’t want to wait around,” she says.
That her new film will soon be seen in cinemas has come as a pleasant surprise. The original goal was to screen at festivals before releasing through Video On Demand services. Daughter continues to prove a hit on VOD, selling to 27 countries, with most of its sales coming from the US. “I think the future is online. Everything is shot on digital and phones now and it’s easier to self-distribute.”
That said, Nexus has just signed with a theatrical distributor and Portelli hopes the limited season at the Classic will spearhead a broader cinematic release for Friends. In the meantime, she and her husband (and co-producer) Ivan Malekin are beginning post-production on their next feature, which was shot across four countries. The long slog seems to be paying off.
“They say it takes 10 years for you to make it. We’ve been going a little longer than that and we feel that we’re really accomplishing things now. If you focus on the little achievements, it makes the journey seem more special,” she says.
Friends, Foes and Fireworks premieres at Classic Cinema, Elsternwick, on March 21.