With two films premiering at the Adelaide Film Festival, local collective Closer Productions will continue their hybrid documentary style while expanding into the realm of feature drama.
The last Adelaide Film Festival (AFF) was a breakthrough event for Closer Productions, the Adelaide Studios based film collective that are making some of the most exciting films in this country. Closer showcased the critically acclaimed festival documentary favourites Shut Up Little Man! and Life in Movement, as well as the short Stunt Love at the 2011 AFF. Shut Up…, which premiered at Sundance, recently screened on ABC1 and continues to find an online audience via Netflix. The slow burn of Life in Movement is still in effect some two years after its AFF premiere, as the documentary, about the late dancer and choreographer Tanja Liedtke, is about to enjoy a theatre run in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This year’s AFF could be even more of a landmark event for Closer than 2011. Their highlight film isn’t a documentary but a feature drama – the experimental 52 Tuesdays, which they’ll premiere along with the 28-minute documentary I Want to Dance Better at Parties. Director Sophie Hyde and producer/director Bryan Mason began Closer Productions in 2004. The couple joined forces with fellow director Matthew Bate in 2010. Bate had another company, Plexus Films. After simultaneously working on separate FilmLab projects they decided to join forces soon after Bate released his cult short The Mystery of Flying Kicks. “I remember turning up to their door and saying, ‘We should do something together’,” Bate remembers. “It just made sense to amalgamate.” The results were immediate. The first two films under the new relationship were critical and festival hits with Bate labelled a “punk rock Errol Morris” for Shut Up while Hyde and Mason’s Life in Movement won numerous festival awards. “Since we’ve come together there’s been this huge momentum that’s kept us going,” says Hyde. “We’re always in development, production and releasing something.” This includes a services arm, which allows Closer to complete projects for institutions such as the Adelaide Festival and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Aside from Hyde, Bate and Mason, the company’s other major player is producer Rebecca Summerton, who joined shortly after they merged. Then there are the other talented staff members: writer Matthew Cormack, visual effects and editor Raynor Pettge and filmmaker Matt Vesely. While the crew have their own projects, all members are involved with each other’s films; for example, Mason was a cameraman on Bate’s Shut Up Little Man! while Hyde was the film’s producer. 52 Tuesdays is an important film for Closer. Written by Matthew Cormack and Sophie Hyde, their first feature drama will demonstrate that the company is more than a cult doco collective. Directed by Hyde, the film was shot every Tuesday for a year – no exception – and is about a mother and daughter who meet every Tuesday afternoon and their relationship is magnified by the mother’s decision to change her gender. Hyde says the film represents an evolution rather than a revolution for her and Closer. “It’s hard to think of it as a departure because we’ve been making it for so long now,” she explains. “I think, like everything we make, it always shifts and changes, I don’t think we’ve got a set form that we work in. Every time something comes out it feels like a bit of a leap and we enjoy that. We make docs and dance films and I’ve made some short dramas before. It is a leap jumping up to a feature drama and certainly one we made over a whole year is a huge commitment. It took over our lives for that time.” Shooting over the course of a year added a documentary-like realism to the low budget film. “We were interested in two things,” Hyde explains, “one was the passage of time and the idea of authentic change in time. We were also interested in how you make films, slightly shifting away from that industrial model to see if there’s another way to explore how to create a film that felt different than stopping everything to shoot a film in six weeks, as you’re trying to tell this gentle or big story in this intense timeframe. With not much money we were interested in how we could do this in another way. It certainly is an experiment in filmmaking and narrative.” The experiment brings to mind various photography projects where the subjects photograph themselves over the course of many years. “I think we’re all slightly inspired by those photography projects and there are a few that are fascinating to me,” Hyde says. “But in the end it’s not so much about physical change. It’s about the investigation into the characters and the stories over that time and how it organically comes out that is really interesting.” An upcoming Bate project called Sam Klemke’s Time Machine (due for release in 2015) also explores similar themes about the passing of time. “Sam filmed his entire life for 35 years,” explains Bate, whose hybrid doco I Want to Dance Better at Parties will premiere at the AFF. “He posted this film called 35 Years Backwards Thru Time where he grows young. You see him devolve into a young man. The film is very much about time, like 52 in a way, about what it means to be human. How we evolve, grow up, fall in love and lose people. It’s like the history of the late 20th and early 21st century through the lens of this one guy, this everyday guy who’s obsessively filmed his entire life. Every year he does a status update. He reviews the year. It’s like Facebook. I see him as the original Facebooker, the original vlogger . He was narcissistically status updating from a very early age to a Super 8 camera.” Bate will juxtapose Klemke’s life with the story of the NASA Voyager which contains the Golden Record, intended for extraterrestrial life that features sounds and images to portray life on earth. “I see Sam’s life as a time capsule. He began his project with a sort of status update in 1977, which was the year that Voyager launched. The Voyager is the parallel story. It’s got this intergalactic story about this information about what it is to be human; the stuff on the disc launched to this alien audience and then it intercuts with the story of Sam and his parallel journey through time.” Bate, whose ABC1 three-part directed documentary series Hannah Gadsby’s Oz will screen in the first quarter of next year, admits he is “pulling his hair out” in regards to how he is going to tell the story. “This always happens. I have these total meltdowns and think I’m a piece of shit and a worthless human being and a terrible filmmaker. That’s where I’m at right now.” “To be honest, all of us work in a certain way where we like to explore ideas while we’re making something instead of coming up with the answer and then telling the story,” Hyde says. “I think all of the films we’ve made are like that. We need to be engaged with the idea the whole way through and you never know what it completely is until it’s finished. Which is difficult at times.” “If you’re not scared maybe there’s something wrong because it’s got to be a dice roll,” continues Bate. “This [Sam Klemke’s Time Machine] could be a total failure or it could be amazing. I think that knife-edge is a good place to be.” When a director is on that knife’s edge, that’s when the rest of the Closer team comes in handy. “There are times in every project where you feel like you’re in hell and you’ve lost it and we certainly rely on each other,” says Hyde. “One of the best things about Closer is that those are the moments where everyone walks in and is either really brutal, which can be a great thing, and/or they will throw a lot of ideas around and are probing and questioning what you’re making. It’s a safety net.” 52 Tuesdays screens on Tuesday, October 15 (7pm) at Piccadilly and Saturday, October 19 (9.30pm) at Palace 7. I Want to Dance Better at Parties screens at Palace 1 on Sunday, October 13 (2.15pm) and Palace 6 on Friday, October 18 (5pm). adelaidefilmfestival.org closerproductions.com.au