Talking TIFF: Rolf de Heer
Rolf de Heer, apart from being shocked that the version of the film that was screened didn't include subtitles (I knew those classes on Aboriginal Australia would pay off, thank you David Turner), was quite pleased with the warm reception that his film Ten Canoes received at the festival this year. He took some time to answer some questions, but since my voice recorder was inoperational, here's the gist of his answers:
The casting process of a film consisting entirely of Australian Aborigines was a complicated one, albeit not for de Heer. Stressing that for the Aborigines, there was no divide between fiction and reality, it was important that the people playing the canoeists were actually descendants of the original canoeists in the Thompson photograph that inspired the film. From there, the rest of the cast was chosen by the community in order to conform to kinship norms.
On the Community Reaction
de Heer was quick to say that the original screening of Ten Canoes in the Arnhem Land community where it was filmed was like nothing he had seen before: "It was complete madness, it was chaotic, it was wonderful." The members of the community really embraced the film and it was being referenced for months after the screening.
On the Aborigines
Rolf de Heer, in recounting his first experiences with the Australian Aborigines upon the invitation of Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (who is also the narrator of Ten Canoes), remembers clearly sitting for hours and hours in one small spot on the floor. This is how delicate the balance of everything is for the Aborigines: "It was the most foreign country I've ever been to, and it's in my own backyard."
After getting the initial ideas on what the movie should be about from the Aboriginal community, de Heer was stuck trying to mesh all the ideas into one cohesive framework. "It was almost exactly three years ago today when it all came together," he says, "while I was in a park in Toronto right after the screening of Alexandra's Project." It was here in Toronto when de Heer managed to craft the vision of the story within a story that would end up becoming Ten Canoes.
Rolf de Heer was born in Heemskerk, The Netherlands and grew up in Australia. He spent several years working at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation before entering the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in 1977. His award-winning feature films include Dingo (90), Bad Boy Bubby (93), Dance Me to My Song (98), The Old Man Who Read Love Stories (01), The Tracker (02) and Alexandra's Project, which played at the Festival in 2003. Ten Canoes (06) is his most recent film.
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