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Ray Lawrence on “Jindabyne”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photos: Ray Lawrence and Laura Linney on the set of “Jindabyne,” left; Linney as Claire Kane, below — both courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]

Known for his wonderful use of natural lighting and well-orchestrated ensemble casts, acclaimed Australian filmmaker Ray Lawrence (“Lantana,” “Bliss”) has been a long-time fan of Raymond Carver’s pared-down short stories. With “Jindabyne,” Lawrence finally had a chance to adapt one of the Carver shorts with which he’s long been obsessed, “So Much Water So Close to Home.” Named for its mountainous New South Wales setting in the southeastern part of Australia, the film explores the ethical, emotional and social ramifications of four buddies who find a murdered Aboriginal girl in the river, but decide to tether her body for the weekend so they won’t have to end their fishing trip early. If that sounds familiar, you might remember it as a plot thread from Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” that was adapted from the same Carver story. The crux of this version, though, is the psychological gender divide between a fisherman (Gabriel Byrne) and his wife (Laura Linney), as the media scandal and culture clash that follow only adds heat to their embittered relationship. It’s a mature, dense, somber, and most excellent piece of drama, which makes it a shame that it’s only Lawrence’s third feature in a little over two decades.

I understand that, prior to filming, you were already familiar with the Jindabyne area?

I hadn’t been for a while. I used to go fly fishing there over the years. It’s the only mountainous area that we have in the country. It’s nothing compared to your mountains. Ours are so old, they’ve been worn down to virtually nothing. But I think a high point in the country, any country, has a quality. To the Aboriginal people in Australia, as I’m told, the highest point in the landscape is the most sacred or significant, so they can see their country fogging up in front of them. When I read the Raymond Carver story, that seemed to be set in the mountains, so [it was] a natural thing to do up there.

In transplanting Carver’s story to Australia, did you and screenwriter Beatrix Christian have concerns about making too many alterations to a classic?

The story’s quite old now. It’s like 30 years old, and I think the men in this film are different from the men in the story. Once we started to work on it, they became different. The sexual qualities have changed to a certain degree from that period of time. In the Carver story, they were more disenfranchised, more on the fringes of a community. It’s a much more intimate scene, all in one house. They do get out a little bit, but it’s basically between one man and his wife, revolving around her feelings for what he has done.

I’m a great fan of Carver, always have been, and I like his characters. What interested me in this particular story is that it’s about responsibility to other people. And again, it was a view of how men and women react to a situation differently. So, I’ve built on that notion and other things I’ve found along the way. For instance, once we decided to make the young girl that’s murdered an Aboriginal girl, we were dealing with a very, very big subject. It became a race thing. That’s relevant everywhere.

What do you find most fulfilling about working with ensembles?

It’s a coincidence I’ve worked on three ensemble films — I’m just basically attracted to really good stories. I’m trying to raise money for a film version of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” with Anthony LaPaglia. That’s very much an ensemble piece. But at the same time, I’m taking on another film in Bosnia, and there are only two people in that. I don’t know, I like working with a lot of people. Maybe I get bored having to deal with the same two people every day.

It has become a cliché to compare ensemble films to Robert Altman, whose name was often mentioned in the same breath as “Lantana.” Now it’s become impossible to read about “Jindabyne” without seeing reference to “Short Cuts.” Are people off-base by suggesting Altman is an influence on your work?

I was particularly influenced by “M*A*S*H,” but at the same time, I was influenced by Bergman’s “Secrets of Women” and Ken Loach. Roman Polanski once said that we’re influenced by eating wheat germ. I remember seeing [“Short Cuts”] in Canada when it first came out. I rushed to see it, mainly because of my interest in Raymond Carver’s stories. I don’t know, maybe I’ll watch it again. It’s sort of like, when you learn how to do a magical trick, the magic disappears. In some ways, going back and looking at that film would take the magic away from it.

The film’s poetic sense of dread even reminded me of early Peter Weir films, like “The Last Wave” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” Have you ever thought about making a straight horror film?

There’s a gothic horror film that I would love to make. It’s a strange situation because I don’t like gratuitous violence. I don’t like violent films. But, there’s a story by Cormac McCarthy called “Child of God” that I would love to make into a film, about landscape and culture. The interesting thing about that story is that the main character — [a demented, rural murderer] — you have to have sympathy for; the book does it. I asked Hugh Jackman if he would like to do it because he’s a really good actor, but he’s always playing heroic roles. It would be probably too hard to raise the money for, but I am interested in that level of horror.

It’s not so much horror, but there’s a certain violence in the landscape, any landscape. You can go to the Arctic or the Minaret plains we were on in “Jindabyne,” or the desert, wherever. At once, it’s awe-inspiring, but silence comes down on you like a lead blanket, and it can be very frightening. The Aboriginal people are the only ones that seem to be able to live with it. They’re the oldest continuous culture of the world, and because they are hunter-and-gatherers and they wander all over the landscape, they have a huge respect for it.

Working with Aboriginal actors, have you learned anything from them that you weren’t privy to in your Australian upbringing?

It’s a secret culture. I mean, if you want to be a Buddhist, it’s easy enough, you just go to study. But you can’t be an Aboriginal, you have to be born one. The culture is a sacred thing. There were some personal things told to me by the elder that I worked with. They have a very logical system within the family, and it’s an extended family. When the children get to a certain age, where they start to listen to their parents less, they are governed more by their uncles and aunties. Their sense of place and country is very, very accordant.

It was a privilege to find out these things. It took nearly three years of protocol to get it right. In the end, it is what they call a “gammon,” which is make-believe. I think it’s a partly Irish word. You know, the Irish have experience with the English, and the Aboriginal people have experience with the settlers that’s very similar. In fact, a lot of Irish convicts have inter-married Aboriginal people. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to have an Irishman in the film; it’s part of the subject.

As I said, this gammon is make-believe. So, the ceremony in the end is accurate up to a point. There hadn’t been one performed for, I think, 90 years in that area. And in the desert, when they have a smoking — which is basically what the ceremony is — the fire is very small because the desert’s flat. The reason the smokestack is so big is that the smoke has to get up and over the mountains, so there’s a certain logic to that. Smoke is a thing that cleanses the people of evil spirits, and it’s all about their respect for the dead and the landscape. It’s all very complicated, and I only touched the tips of it.

“Jindabyne” is now in theaters (official site).

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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