SPARK is back! – and this year again, we’ll be partnering up with the NT Filmmakers Network, starting with our Launch on Thu 1 March being hosted at Mayfair Gallery, at the monthly NTFN meetup. Penelope Paton is the founder of this little institution in Darwin (and expanding across the NT). Institution is employed figuratively here, as Penny likes to stress, the community aspect of the group is very important. She sat with us yesterday to answer a few questions about her vision for the NTFN, and how you might want to join the group more than you think!
Hi Penny! Could you tell us a in a nutshell what the NT Filmmakers Network is all about?
The NT Filmmakers Network is a group that helps create connections and opportunities in the NT Film Industry. A regular monthly meetup in Darwin is scheduled the first Thursday of every month, with membership being completely free. The group is slowly growing with over 250 members. People can keep up to date with meetups via our Facebook page.
Can you give us some examples of projects (besides Spark!) that benefited from the existence of the NTFN?
There have been quite a few projects that have benefited from attending the NT Filmmakers Networking sessions. I know local talents such as young, award-winning Nathaniel Kelly and Thomas Midena have attended the group and made new connections in the industry. We also helped to promote their latest feature film We’re Family Now, which was screened at BCC a couple of weeks ago. Additionally, a recently government funded web-series called Fort Dundas – directed by Markus Tumuls – used the networking sessions as an opportunity to meet others that were interested in filmmaking from all different film departments – like cinematography or music production. We like to embrace a multi-disciplinary approach to the filmmakers network, inviting people interested in acting as well as the more technical sides of film making.
Do you need to be making films to join the group? How can being part of the group be interesting for anyone in the region?
You don’t have to be making films to join the group. Some peeps, just don’t know where to start. The NT Filmmakers Network is free to join and current members come in all ages and walks of life. But you do have to be interested in making films, whether that’s short films, web-series, documentaries and more. Being part of the group means that you can share and access casting calls, questions about cameras and film tech, screening announcements, meetups and crewing calls.
What do people typically post on the facebook page?
Members usually post about new funding opportunities, training opportunities, screenings, crewing vacancies, equipment and a lot more.
What do people talk about at your monthly meetups?
Most individuals talk about what gear they have, share their work, talk about the films they’d like to make or are watching. Part of being a filmmaker is also enjoying watching films, so there is a lot of conversations about the films that inspire us. People of all levels of experience attend the meeting, some professional and others at an amateur level. Some people that have attended, have made films that have got into national and international festivals. Some people are just figuring out how to make their first film. It’s a very diverse crowd.
Concretely, what are the first steps to start getting involved in the film-making community in the region?
a, Join the NT Filmmakers Network Facebook group and start asking questions from your fellow filmmakers; b, attend one of our regular meetups; c, Rope some friends and family into making a film, if this is your first attempt; d, contact any of the NT Filmmakers Network Facebook group admins as a starting point to finding others interested in your type of film project. Also, get to know your local film office and what grants it offers, ours in the Northern Territory is called Screen Territory. Film making requires the ability to collaborate with people with different interests and skills. It’s really hard to make a film by yourself, in saying that it’s not impossible. People are able to make feature films with their iPhone on a near-to-nothing budget these days!
How do you see the NTFN evolve in the next few years?
I would like to see it become a thorough resource for filmmakers to find crew, which could take the form of a crew recruiting company showcasing local talent in the Northern Territory. However, we are still a small network with only over 250 members. Additionally, the community aspect is also very important to me, which means there needs to be space for the NT Filmmakers Network to be free and accessible for all people in the Northern Territory. At the moment the NT Filmmakers Network is not-for-profit and looks to help build the film community alongside organisations already operating in the Northern Territory such as Screen Territory of course, but also the Darwin Film Society (Deckchair Cinema, Flix in the Wet, DIFF), and more. I am currently looking for individuals living in Alice Springs to help bring the network to this area and help build film opportunities in remote locations in the Northern Territory. Additionally, I am also looking for an individual who’s passionate about acting to further develop the NT Actors Network allowing filmmakers to connect with local actors in the Northern Territory. I would like to see more networking events that connect people across artistic disciplines, whether its acting, dance, illustration, painting, graffiti art, the list goes on.
Thanks for your time Penny! One last question: are you planning on submitting a project to Spark this year?
Definitely! I will be submitting a script to the Spark Initiative this year. Its a great opportunity to get funding and work with local filmmakers.
I wake from deep sleep, to find a TV screen inches from my face. The screen is filled with nothing but clouds. A voice over the intercom informs me that these are Chinese clouds. As we bank to the left, I look out the window and see an island of skyscrapers bursting from the rocks below. This is Xianḡ Ganǧ (香港) which translates to “Fragrant Harbour” – otherwise known as the megacity of Hong Kong – and I’ve come here to hustle some films for the Darwin International Film Festival.
The Hong Kong International Film Festival is a true smorgasbord of world cinema, with almost 200 international films screening over two weeks across the city. There are entire sections devoted to ‘The Passion of Latin American Cinema’, and ‘The Rise and Rise of Romanian Cinema’, but I’m only here for five days and have decided to focus my selections on breakout new films from across Asia. The cultural melting pot of Darwin is made up of people from across dozens of countries to our immediate north, and the Chinese community has been here for as long as there was a port, but it is rare that we see the cinema from these countries on our screens. Hong Kong boasts one of the biggest film industry in South East Asia, and the Hong Kong Film Festival has become the central venue for premiering new films to the Chinese film industry, so I thought it might be a good place to start on my search.
On my first night, I wanted to explore the city and read its pulse, so I wandered through the streets by foot, soaking up the heat and the neon glow. I exited the massive apartment building/shopping bazaar where I was staying and continued through the billboard-heavy shopping district of Kowloon.
Eventually, I made my way to the Hong Kong Science Museum where they were screening the classic absurdist sports farce comedy Shaolin Soccer. This ridiculously entertaining film pits a group of down and out urban Shaolin kung fu masters against gangsters armed only with a soccer ball. The film is screening as part of a retrospective being held by the festival called Paradigm Shift exploring Hong Kong Cinema since the British handover to the Chinese Government in 1997 – evidently, a major historical shift that the city is still documenting.
One of my favourite films in the festival was a beautifully crafted documentary titled Burma Storybook. It followed the story of a poet who was imprisoned for years in Burma/Myanmar and has only just been released since the military junta has stepped down. In between candid portraits of a country picking itself up from the bootstraps, it juxtaposed a series of poems written by the political prisoner and his fellow poets. It was fascinating to see how something as seemingly peaceful as poetry could be considered a threat by totalitarians, but perhaps that is the point. Poetry is free speech, crafted with art. If you want to control people’s minds, it is a weapon that will expose power with nothing but a few finely chosen words. Pure cinematic poetry.
Among a wide range of films I watched, some of the other standout films I discovered included:
Newton – a fantastic Indian comedy of errors about the difficulties of running the world’s biggest democracy, full of illiterate farmers and rebels hiding in the forests trying to stop voting.
Honeygiver Among The Gods – a detective mystery story from Butan, which merged mythology and hard-boiled crime into a magical genre piece.
White Sun – an award-winning drama that explores the politics in Nepal in the wake of the Maoist revolution that took place a few years ago and its ongoing repercussions across the society.
Every day, I would walk past an enormous dome-shaped building that google maps told me was the Hong Kong Space Centre. Poking my head through the doors, I discovered it was an enormous Planetarium with a large-scale full dome cinema inside. I bought a ticket to a film called DARK UNIVERSE and was taken on a cosmic journey to the beginning of time in a mind-blowing 360º film about the origins of the universe and the mystery of dark matter – all narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I’ve spent a long time researching into full dome cinemas and am hoping that we will be able to bring one to Darwin this year for the film festival, which we are calling CINEMA 360º. I’ll write more about this initiative in a future blog.
One morning, I wandered down to the harbour and came upon the city’s Star Walk, dedicated to the long history of Hong Kong’s filmmaking culture. Although the actual site was being renovated, the temporary signage informed me that the city’s filmmaking history dated back one hundred years, and had gone through many phases. From myths and legends to kung fu films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, crime and action John Woo thrillers to Wong Kar-Wai’s stylish theatrics and much more – this city has a long tradition of creating great cinema.
On my last day, I needed a break from the screen, so I decided to visit an exhibition devoted to the life and work of Bruce Lee at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. The permanent exhibition was filled with tourists and locals, drawn by the legend of a man who continues to fascinate decades after his death.
The story goes, that after reaching a career ceiling in Hong Kong, Bruce left to Hollywood to make his international career in his early 20s. There was an irrepressible and vibrant energy he carried even as a child actor who had starred in many films before any of his martial arts fame. The exhibition included costumes, poems, press shots and memorabilia from the three short decades of Bruce Lee’s shooting star lifespan.
One thing that became clear was the contribution Bruce Lee made to modern movies, which can be seen in every action movie from The Matrix to Marvel Studios. Today, Hollywood incorporates martial arts techniques seamlessly into highly choreographed fight scenes in a dance of theatrical violence that owes its roots to Kung Fu via Hong Kong and Bruce Lee’s long lasting influence.
However, it was Lee’s philosophy that stayed with me after the exhibition. Bruce Lee used his films to introduce Kung Fu to the world, and through it, the deep insights that this tradition contained. I believe this has come to influence films like Stars Wars and the Jedi philosophy and is now deeply rooted in our global consciousness.
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
– Bruce Lee
Following Bruce Lee’s train, I think stories are like water, and cinema is one of the most influential mediums humanity has invented from which to hold them in. Cinema can take as many shapes as artists sculpt it into, and it continues to surprise us with new experiments and technological breakthroughs every year. From the verité of a documentary to the fantasy of Hollywood, comedy or drama, gentle poetry, deep truth or magnificent illusion. The best cinema shows us the human experience in extremely intimate close-ups, writ large upon our cultural landscape. A film festival gives you the chance to experience the art of cinema beyond the commercial blockbuster and genres we have come to know. It’s a chance to discover new shapes that we may never have realised even existed, deepen our understanding of the world-at-large, and share our collective dreaming.
This was the first stop on a month-long journey sailing across this ocean of cinematic water to choose films for our festival in September. Tomorrow I fly out to New York to attend the Tribeca Film Festival and the Toronto for the Hot Docs Festival.
I’ll let you know what I find along the way.
To be continued.