Cannes Film Festival
Short Film Corner 2021

MORAG BROWNLIE 
PERFECTUM TEMPESTAS / PERFECT STORM 
kisstheground.co.nz
NEW ZEALAND - 14 min

Walking in the unknown, during the perfect storm of the pandemic, the beauty of nature and the connectivity of humanity endures. On the wild west coast of Auckland, a man imposed by isolation, pacing the beach, wondering if he will one day see those dear to him.

 

Hi Morag, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?

 

In New Zealand life has been “normal” for some time, but people are different. Some are more demonstrative and extroverted, loving all our summer festivals, whilst others have become more introverted and they are hard to drag out of their homes. But your question is about me… The lockdown was good for me. I was able to focus more easily, to write, conceptualize and create, as I wasn't all over town on errands or outings. Auckland is a place you can spend a lot of time in your car.

 

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken from your lockdown experiences?

 

There is a beauty in stillness and staying in one place - you settle and tune in to your environment and neighbourhood. I love cars and zipping around. But I wonder if that fragments my energy. 

 

Congratulations on having your short Perfect Storm part of this year's Short Film Corner, how does it feel to be able to present your short film at Cannes?

 

It feels - glorious, wonderful, and exciting. And also I was apprehensive to leave Covid Free NZ and head north!  I have been raising a child who has just left home for University, so to make another film finally, and then for it to be at the Short Film Corner at Cannes - absolutely fantastic, it makes it worth the wait.

 

Being allowed to take walks during lockdown has offered an amazing break from being indoors; do you think you'll continue to appreciate the creative opportunities simple pleasures like walks can offer you?

 

Auckland is spread out like London, we drive everywhere. To walk was such a great change and pleasure. I was living in a seaside suburb for lockdown. So to get out and walk through the neighbourhood to the beach was so good for the soul and mind, and yes I have kept it up. Walking is a great reset button. Some things I witnessed whilst walking, has inspired yet another short film.

Can you tell me a little bit about Perfect Storm, how soon into the lockdowns did you begin to think about making a new short film?

 

I was already in conversation with the New Zealand Opera Company about making a filmic work (with totally different themes) when Covid hit. With the social distancing rules, limited travel, and the fact that I couldn't see my family, I felt I had to respond to the situation at hand. 

 

I think the opposite of social distancing and the fear of contagion, is the Maori Hongi greeting (nose’s press and 2 people share each others breath/ life force).

How flexible are you with your screenplay, do you like to stick to what you've planned? 

Yes, but I left room for nature and the actors to contribute. We were working in the environment so anything could happen. The light and weather conditions were so dramatic on the location recce, that the footage ended up in the film. Pita Turei, the lead actor, did what was planned but contributed some beautiful moments. He offered the Maori song when we were out at the beach before we started shooting. It has connections to the location. I loved it and agreed.

Perfect Storm features Pita Turei & Te Hookioi Graham-Ratahi in his short film debut, how did you go about casting your film and what was it like working with such amazing talent?

I have known Pita for some time, through our dance background. I approached him without audition. He is stunning in this film. I initially gave him the minor role, but then with the impacts, the lockdowns and family separations were having on the older generations - I knew it was best for him to play the lead. He was wonderful to work with. I wanted to complete the film within the year if we could.  And with the uncertainty of the rules and levels of restrictions, we didn't know if we would be allowed to even film a Hongi. So I thought it would be best to cast someone within Pita’s extended whanau/family connections (if only family members could be in the same room etc.). So I interviewed some of his nephews and found the delightful, and talented Te Hookioi, who also happens to be very photogenic. He was so good to work with and learnt from working with Pita whom he was so familiar. This was the easiest, fastest and most natural casting ever.

What were the biggest challenges you faced making this film?

I usually like to do more shoot prep. An opportunity arose around a camera’s availability, so we were suddenly shooting earlier than expected. A new crew, of friends that hadn't worked together, were suddenly at the beach, in the elements, doing it! We found our rhythm as we went.

We had to reschedule the studio shoot because of a second lockdown, and be flexible, patient, and have faith.  The bubble was difficult and time-consuming to create. Again more faith required, and guidance from friends.

On a film like this, how important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking?

 

Very. The location is like a character itself, and the two main photographers, Phill Prendeville and Sam Evans live there and know it so well. Their input was invaluable.Phill had shared some stills on social media that he took while mourning and processing his Fathers passing.

 

These were stunning and moving, and inspired the look of the film.It is his first film DOP role, having worked for many years in TV and documentary. Some of his stills feature in the film. The actor Pita has also lived at the location before, so all of the crew had a spiritual connection to the place. That is part of the reason I chose to work with them. It is a powerful place that needs respect and connection.

"I did a diploma in contemporary dance and choreography. I made dance films and nearly all my dance shows had filmic elements."

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Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I always loved film from an early age, but when helping others on their film projects as an actor or in wardrobe in the earlier days, it seemed like a very male and technology orientated affair, that was hard for me to enter.

I started with stills photography and painting and then went into the performing arts. I did a diploma in contemporary dance and choreography. I made dance films and nearly all my dance shows had filmic elements. I collaborated with many filmmakers, making super-8 films and stop-frame animations. My dance theatre works were compared to Peter Greenaway and Wim Wenders, not to other choreographers.

I finally decided this girl could have a shot at it.  So I started working in the film industry, watching like a hawk and getting ready to make my own films. 

A pivotal moment that made me want to make films was seeing the Armenian film "The Color of Pomegranates" by Sergei Parajanov.

How much does your background as a multidisciplinary artist help inform how you approach your film projects?

The film medium allows all my interests, and the art forms I have worked in, to find a home. The film medium suits my vivid imagination, and my belief in magical or esoteric things. It offers so many possibilities for expression. Having worked on films, TV and AV projects in many roles and capacities, and on both sides of the camera. I think I have an appreciation of what my team are dealing with and bringing to the table. I hope this makes me a better communicator and planner.

I have worked in collaboration with artists of many mediums, and on high-end special events with huge budgets. This may have lead to me having demanding aesthetic and high expectations, the team on Perfect Storm has helped me realise this, I am hugely grateful.

Now you can be reflective do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

You get three passes at “writing" the film.  Be open to what is happening around you as you write, shoot and edit. Weave it in - it is usually there for a reason.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Perfect Storm?

Hope. We will get through this. The sun is always there behind the clouds – feel it.