How to fund a indie queer film: Downriver producer Jannine Barnes
Jannine Barnes has worked in the Australian Film Industry for over 15 years in various guises including production manager and production accountant on many well known Australian feature films and broadcast documentaries. She has always had ambition and passion for feature film and Downriver is the debut film for both her and her production company Happening Films.
Your film, Downriver is having its NSW premier at Mardi Gras Film Festival (MGFF), how did that come about?
Grant and I have made a number of short films together and we’ve been fortunate to have two of our shorts Neon Skin and The Wilding not only play at MGFF but win prizes there (Neon Skin won the NFSA Orlando Award in 2011 and The Wilding won the Queer Perspective Award in 2013). Of course that didn’t guarantee us selection with Downriver and so it’s a wonderful outcome for us to be able to continue this relationship with MGFF and to know that their support of us as short filmmakers has been validated with a feature film.
The films director, Grant Scicluna, is from the Blue Mountains – and the screening at Mardi Gras film festival will be its NSW premiere. How important is it playing to a hometown audience?
Grant grew up in Kurrajong and moved to Sydney to study film at UTS, so still has family and friends there. Many of our post production crew are Sydney based as we did our sound post at Stage One Sound, plus actor Thom Green (Anthony) is from Wollongong and this will be the first time that they will all get to see the film with an audience. MGFF has such a wide reach and the session is expected to sell out. We haven’t played to this capacity as a single audience before so it really will be a night for us all to remember.
As part of financing the film you ran a successful Pozible campaign. You previously mentioned that your success and networking on the short film circuit was crucial to the campaign, can you talk on this?
We raised just over $42,000 with a Pozible campaign which was the final piece of a very complicated finance plan. We knew what a great challenge it was going to be to raise the funds and our ten year history of making shorts together was absolutely the key to our success. The Wilding debuted at Berlinale in 2012 and went on to play dozens of festivals winning a number of prizes including the Iris prize, which put the film and Grant on the world stage. Our support came from friends and family as you would expect but because of The Wilding we were able to reach further afield and the LGBTI community in particular rallied around to support us. This makes our screening at MGFF particularly resonant for us.
What’s your distribution plan for the film?
We will have a limited theatrical release with Rialto in April, which will see Downriver screen in all capital cities. We will also do a regional roadshow with Grant, me and lead actor Reef Ireland travelling with the film to provide audiences with the opportunity to meet us.
Downriver has substantial representations of unambiguously gay characters, and in many ways it falls into a new wave queer cinema genre. Can you talk on that?
Grant is a storyteller first and foremost and for the most part he chooses to tell stories where the characters are, as you say, unambiguously gay. These characters in Downriver are part of the fabric of a complex and emotionally charged story that centres on the search for the missing body of a young child. The main theme of the film is redemption and that’s the focus of the film. The characters and situations are very natural and real and there is a universal resonance at play here that has taken the film out to a broader arthouse audience.
Ultimately the characters of Downriver are struggling with their identity, but not their sexuality as filmmakers did you seek to describe the experience of being queer today through stories that resonate beyond that context?
In truth I never pitched the film as a queer film. I always pitched Downriver as arthouse and emphasised the Southern Gothic nature of the film. The sexuality of the characters is part of the essence of the film but the story does have a greater context and universality in its exploration of redemption and reconciliation with the past. The new wave of queer cinema accepts characters that are gay as a given. Intelligent audiences understand this. Queer cinema has been able to mature as audiences have matured.
What’s next for you?
Grant and I are developing a number of films together including the black comedy Pig’s Blood based on the novella by Peter Robb which brings together Naples, Leichhardt and celebrity chefs and a drama Chantou written by actor Ben Pfeiffer about a gay couple who adopt a baby from Cambodia to find out later that she was a victim of human trafficking.
Get tix to the screenig at Mardi Gras FIlm Festival: tix.queerscreen.org.au