From Berlinale Talents to Flickerfest: Tony Radevski is literally on the rise with Pilè (Little Bird) and Risen
Tony Radevski started in documentary and animation, directing The Prodigal Son, Ephemeral, Part One: Love and Hole. He has more recently taken his hand to directing drama, including the short films Dedo and Pilè (‘Little Bird’). In 2017, he was selected for Berlinale Talents, an initiative of the Berlin Film Festival. His drama project, Risen, was also selected for development in the Berlinale Talents’ Short Film Station and has received Screen Australia support through the Hot Shots Plus initiative. Most of his films make a commentary on social justice issues and often focus on characters searching for a connection.
Your film Pilè (Little Bird) will be your 4th film at Flickerfest. What does it mean to have your film selected and screened at Flickerfest?
It’s an incredible feeling. Flickerfest has embraced my work through the various iterations of my filmmaking path over the last ten years, from documentary, to animation, and more recently, drama. It’s a gateway to Oscar and BAFTA consideration, so it’s a very prestigious festival. In 10 days you can get across what is happening in short filmmaking from Australia and around the world. It is a privilege to screen my film alongside films of my talented peers and check out what everyone else has been up to.
Short films are a real narrative in your development – in fact you first received funding as a producer for a short film, In the Middle, from Screen NSW when you had just finished university. How do you feel short films can contribute to your career and what advice can you give?
Short films give you an opportunity to play with your craft. This is why initiatives such as Generator: Emerging Filmmaker’s Fund [Create NSW] are so important. It is your chance to experiment. Be bold and try things. Have a solid shooting script. Shoot it linear, then try breaking it up in the edit. Cut for emotional logic, then plot/story, then flip it around and enter another way. Don’t be scared to take risks. There’s room for all types of films and filmmakers, and that’s what I love about short films. Don’t be afraid to collaborate and share ideas. A Berlin Film Festival selector recently told me “If I want to see a linear narrative, I’d go to my local cinema!”.
I’m an absolute glutton for the short form and have greedily played with every medium in my own practice. I think you need to respect the short as its own entity. For me, it’s about finding the truth in my work and also finding my voice. And it doesn’t always happen at the same time. My voice is constantly evolving and becoming more socially conscious and contemplative.
My short films represent what’s important to me and I’d like to think that when I take on bigger projects, my experience making shorts not only equips me practically, but also gives me a deeper introspection, in finding that truth.
Pilè comes from a personal experience you had as a child, can you tell us about it?
The inspiration for Pilè comes from an experience I had as a kid on my uncle and auntie’s farm, where we used to visit every Christmas holidays. Similar to my main character, I have a sister, an older twin. In our early teens, she was physically bigger - ballsy and more boyish than me. She had an innate bond with our dad. I was much gentler in comparison, so tended to keep to myself.
One afternoon, my uncle was searching for a large goanna that had been eating his chickens and their eggs, gun in-hand. My sister spotted it in a tree. He shot it from a distance and it fell. She rejoiced with my dad and uncle, and after searching the ground, they couldn’t find it.
I longed for this admiration and connection, so I eagerly surveyed the area. I discovered the goanna huddled between a log and long grass. After some initial fascination and hesitation, I signalled to my uncle proudly and he approached.
I didn’t realise how life rendering the next few seconds would be. He shot it, in front of me, and in that moment, I knew I had made the wrong choice.
Pilè is also your second fiction film that talks to the Australian-Macedonian experience. There aren’t very many film’s like this in our industry – how does it feel to give a voice to your heritage and experience?
For so many years I pushed away from my Macedonian roots because I felt like I never fit in. I was the artsy, blue-eyed, ‘soft’ kid within a harsh, hyper masculine and censorious culture. This is how I felt growing up.
My recent projects (particularly Dedo and Pilè) have reconnected me with my community and redefined that adolescent perspective, and in doing so, I have discovered a thriving performance scene. The Australian-Macedonian Theatre of Sydney has been very generous in sharing their resources and talent, as have the Ilinden Sydney Macedonian dance group. In fact, I am making a documentary about this dance group, and have uncovered a long, ancient history of Macedonian arts and performance I never knew about!
To be a modern voice for Australian-Macedonians is an honour. The community itself has been very embracive of me. They very rarely see their current lives reflected in film. I think every Macedonian household has a worn VHS tape of an old dance performance they were sent from Macedonia many years ago, which they play on repeat when entertaining guests (and which they have probably only recently converted to DVD!). So it is nice to add something fresh.
My first film 10 years ago, a documentary called The Prodigal Son, screened on SBS (and at Flickerfest) and looked at the relationship between my uncle, and his son, who he refused to speak to for 15 years because he is gay. This was quite a challenging film for the Macedonian community and for me. They saw themselves in these characters and their moral positions were tested. And I think they initially saw me as a bit of ‘troublemaker’, for bringing this story to light. But this is why I love film. It challenged them to actually ‘see’ this often ‘hidden’ issue. To me, coming out and the acceptance of sexuality, needed discussion, particularly in the Macedonian-Australian community.
You were very creative with Pilè’s funding pathway, raising funds through tax deductible donations and targeting audience segments. Can you share with us a bit about that?
We used the Australian Cultural Fund platform, where donations over $2 are tax deductible.
With Pilè’s Macedonian connection, we chose to approach Macedonian-run businesses and organisations. It’s always hard to ask for money. But I guess we were lucky, because it was quite a unique proposition to them, as they rarely see Australian-Macedonian stories on their screens. We also found it was most beneficial to run the campaign towards the end of the financial year, when quite often businesses are looking to move funds out.
You also paired up with producer, Peter Ireland, to make this short – and you’ve made quite a few shorts together now. In terms of production and storytelling Pilè does mark somewhat of a stepping stone for you and your crew – and you’ve now been successful in securing funding from Screen Australia, in its Hot Shots Plus initiative, for a new project Risen. Can you tell us how that project came about?
The concept for Risen had been whirling around in my mind for several years, so 16 months ago, I sat down for a week and wrote the first draft script for the short. At about the same time, I saw the opportunity to apply for Berlinale Talents, an initiative of the Berlin Film Festival, and noticed they ran a script development lab dedicated to shorts. I applied and a few months later, got news of my acceptance.
It was an incredible experience, on so many levels. Upon returning from Berlin and the program, I had a refreshed sense of the filmmaker I was becoming and was excited by the potential of Risen. I continued my writing frenzy, and the Risen world opened up and became much more intricate and detailed. The characters and the complexities of their relationships almost wrote themselves.
A few months later, Screen Australia launched their Hot Shots Plus short film initiative, which now included the development of long form projects. So Pete Ireland, my astute producer, and I applied (to produce the Risen short and develop a TV series) and we were fortunate enough to be successful.
The revamp of the Screen Australia Hot Shots initiative to include the development of a long form project is brilliant, because it provides that much-needed bridge for emerging filmmakers - that step up into a feature, VR, TV or web series. Risen is an ambitious project, so it wonderful to have it championed at a grassroots level.
Berlinale Talents is an extremely competitive initiative and earlier this year, your project was the only Australian story application selected for development. How did you make your application stand out and what did you learn?
I was honest. About both my strengths and weaknesses. I think what also interested them is my experience across documentary, animation and drama and how I could contribute to the overall discussion in those areas. They were also keen on Risen and the potential of the story world.
The application itself was pretty thorough. It was actually the first time I properly reflected on the type of filmmaker I am, what I stand for, and how I see my voice evolving.
In the Short Script Station development lab, they chose nine other short film projects from around the world. The six intensive days of development involved group sessions discussing the scripts, and individual sessions with script editors. All the projects were varied, from drama, to horror, to animation, but all had a strong point of view.
From a writing perspective, I discovered new ways to look at my characters and their world, extracting and focusing on the most dramatic and cinematic elements of the story. I also identified the long form potential of this world.
It was fascinating to learn about the other emerging filmmakers’ processes within these intimate development workshops and the Talents program at large. All of them come from diverse backgrounds such as Turkey, Nepal, Jordan, Lithuania and Norway. The cultural and artistic exchange was invaluable and we continue to support each other and our projects today.
I actually met my talented editor for Risen, fellow Aussie Anthony Cox (Downriver, The Wilding) at Berlinale Talents.
Risen, which looks at themes of drug use and social divides is a heavy subject matter, communicated in a very creative and unpredictable way. Why did you want to tell this story and can you tell us a bit about the concept?
This idea has been whirling around in my head for several years, but it wasn’t until someone close to me became dependent on the methamphetamine ice, that my eyes were opened to the complexities of drug abuse, and its personal and societal effects.
I’d describe Risen as an elevated, semi-dystopian drama.
Street kids roam the industrial West searching for bodies of the 'fallen’ - reckless users of a street drug known as ‘rize’, which causes people to float and then plunge to their deaths. The ‘fallen’ are a vital commodity amongst the youth and are used to extort money from wealthy residents in the ‘Greens’.
Sean, 15, is thrust into the West and he doesn't belong. He finds an unlikely connection with Lusi, a lone wolf. Their friendship develops and through no fault of his own, he loses her fallen. He is blamed and falls out with her. Alone and fearful for his life, Sean’s morality is tested. He is presented with an opportunity for survival, but at the cost of becoming one of them.
You also have bigger plans for Risen - to develop it into a series. Can you share your plans with us?
The full series is a multi-perspective story, with Sean as its fulcrum. It fleshes out the story world and looks at the wider impacts of drug use in a society that is geographically and socially divided.
Risen has such a rich universe and allows for fascinating investigation into character and circumstance. The social, economic and political issues that pervade Risen parallel real life. Drug use, and its very visual face in the world I have created, is the catalyst for the complex domino that has spread across society and touches every person in some way. It is an issue that has caused major division and its origin remains a mystery, allowing for recurrent speculation, conjecture and discovery.
Risen, as a concept, has always encouraged discussion and debate. I would anticipate the longer form show to have the same level of engagement with audiences. As the series unfolds, mysteries are revealed and stakes are heightened. The viewer’s own pre-existing notions of morality will be called into question and, like the world in Risen, their judgement will be divided. And I cannot wait!
You can catch Pilè at Flickerfest in January: Sun 14 Jan, 4.30pm: http://flickerfest.com.au/programme/best-of-australian-3-2018/
Risen Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/risenfilmau/
Tony’s IMDB profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1494022/
Tony’s Berlinale Talents profile: https://www.berlinale-talents.de/bt/talent/tonytrajko-radevski/profile
The Prodigal Son (documentary): https://vimeo.com/100965535