The Director's Stills: Jackie van Beek and The Inland Road
Jackie van Beek's debut feature The Inland Road has its New Zealand premiere in Auckland tonight as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival. Here the director shares some of her own images from her filmmaking process.
In my head, I have this image of Jackie van Beek: it's 3am and she's in the comfy chair, under dim lamplight, breastfeeding her newborn. The house is quiet – there's just the hum of the fridge. But instead of faffing about on her phone or flicking through a magazine, Jackie's intently reading a user manual for editing software Final Cut Pro.
I've actually not just made this up (weird if I had?) It's something Jackie mentioned in a Script to Screen panel once and it's forever stuck with me because it has me in awe. I've written and produced short films and have a deep fascination with editing and the work of the editor, but it took me quite a while just to get my head around what the word 'transcoding' means. I don't think I'd be nutting through that while sleep-deprived and lactating.
But Jackie is formidable. Working with a relentless energy, she adeptly shifts focus from performance, to writing, to directing, and we've been lucky enough to see much more of her comedic skill on large and small screens in recent years. Like many of the tribe who were hanging around Wellington theatre in the mid-90s (Randerson, Waititi, Sarkies, Clement et al.) it was then that Jackie began devising theatre, wrote lots of plays and created gloriously weird comedy shows. In the mid-2000s she moved to Australia, and while making humans she also made seven short films, teaching herself as she went.
Interviewers often balk at this supreme comedian making a tense drama as a debut. But usually the most outlandish comedians are the most effective dramatists.
All that experience comes to fruition in her debut feature The Inland Road. Selected to screen in competition at Berlinale Generation in February, the film has its New Zealand premiere tonight at the ASB Waterfront Theatre. In much of the publicity around the film, interviewers often balk at this supreme comedian making a tense drama as a debut. But usually the most outlandish comedians are the most effective dramatists; perhaps it's something about comedy being the harder of the two to master.
The Inland Road focusses on Tia, a 16-year-old girl who's run away from home and – through the chance misfortune of a car accident – encounters a family who takes her in. The audience are never given the easy satisfaction of the whys and wherefores of Tia's need to escape, which pushes each moment and each relationship into a kind of unframed, sometimes dangerous present. Yet layered under that danger is a remarkable and often surprising sense of compassion. Shot in Otago, the film balances its claustrophic handheld shots with breathtaking Southern expanses. And Jackie teases out brittle and guileless performances from her core cast of non-actors and seasoned professionals.
Often the same handful of four or five production stills for a film go round the publicity traps, but throughout the whole filmmaking process, screeds of images have passed between the director and her collaborators – their native language being image – before those beautiful ones land in the programmes for the finished product. So I asked Jackie to share a few of her own images; ones we may not have seen before, from the process of making her debut film.
During our rehearsal period our cinematographer, Giovanni Lorusso, took photos of the actors. For me, this photo somehow captures the essence of The Inland Road. The colour palette is so warm and Gloria’s expression so soft, yet there is a toughness about her that suggests a dormant power. I referred back to this photo throughout production and post-production as it helped me to stay true to my vision as I continued to create and complete the film.
Both Gloria (17) and Georgia (5) were non-actors in lead roles. They brought much of their own lives and personalities to their characters and worked tirelessly together over the five weeks of production. We had seven minutes worth of water in order to shoot this emotional rain scene. Rather than stop and start the actors over multiple takes, I decided to do one seven-minute take – moving the camera around to capture each angle before we ran out of water. The relationship Gloria and Georgia created on screen provides the heart to our story.
Our composers, James Kenyon and Nick Huggins, wrote and recorded our score in a bach in Anawhata. Ironically, considering the film is called The Inland Road, as we refined the score we spent a week on the coast staring at the ocean. We set out to create atmospheres that were constantly on the move, avoiding definition. We agreed that the score should simply track Tia’s shifting psychology and emotional state.
The Inland Road