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Beamafilm talks to Malcolm McKinnon, the director of “The Farmer’s Cinematheque”, about the challenges and joys of making the film.
What inspired you to make your film?
My discovery of the Teasdale film archive was the inspiration for the film, a rich collection of beautifully made amateur films that stretch back to the 1930s. The archive is a luminous, resonant trove of ghosts and memories. The Teasdale films embody what it means to belong to a place and to a community, and so our documentary became a vehicle to explore these themes.
What is your favourite scene in the film and why?
There’s a beautiful scene in the film that draws connections between Aboriginal and settler knowledge and connection to country. It relies on the generosity and imaginative effort of two senior Wotjabaluk women and a particular member of the Teasdale family. It’s a complex dialogue that we don’t see enough of in Australia.
Aside from that, my favourite scenes are where the farmer and filmmaker John Teasdale recites the names of the particular places and people that pass before his camera. He’s perpetually re-mapping and re-making his physical and social world, and the effect is mesmerizing.
What was it like working with the cast and crew, and how did you get them interested in the project?
Ross Gibson immediately understood the power and beauty of the Teasdale archive, and it was such a privilege to collaborate with him on writing the film.
We were incredibly fortunate that Chris Abrahams was willing to lend his unique talents to the project. The music he made for the film is beautifully counter-intuitive, avoiding all the clichés we too often hear alongside depictions of rural landscapes and people. The music creates distance and perspective that is critical to the working of the film.
Cinematographer Ben Speth brought a fresh, critical eye and his own peculiar wit to the project, and it was always interesting to watch his ‘New York sensibility’ at work in the Wimmera.
In front of the camera, our chief blessing was the intellect and humour delivered by the amazing Acey Teasdale. She’s a self-proclaimed farmer’s daughter at heart, but far more cosmopolitan and complex than what that label might suggest. The film also features young farmer Ash Teasdale, a remarkably insightful and articulate voice within the film.
Do you have any standout behind-the-scenes stories from the making of the film?
Making a film like this is always a journey of discovery, and our approach was quite reflexive and instinctive. The Teasdale film archive is full of intriguing scenes that we often wanted to follow up on. (Where does that monkey come from? Why is that woman walking around with a rifle?) Sometimes we were happy to let these scenes remain mysterious.
Whitefellas and blackfellas don’t talk with each other often enough in this country, so it was especially rewarding to facilitate dialogue between Regina Hood and Hazel McDonald, two Wotjabaluk women whose brothers feature in the film archive, and members of the Teasdale family around matters of mutual interest.
We also enjoyed an intriguing day filming at the Rupanyup Agricultural Show, at which we learned much about the arcane sport of sheaf tossing.
Are you and the rest of the team currently working on any new projects you can tell us about?
Annie Venables (producer) is working on a new project for ABC television called Future Cities.
Chris Abrahams (composer) continues touring extensively with his band The Necks, as well as producing new music of his own.
Malcolm McKinnon (writer / director) is completing a book about the former Finniss Springs Aboriginal mission in outback South Australia, and working on a range of short film projects.
Ross Gibson (writer / director) is working on Bluster Town, an animated poetry project for large screens in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
Audiences love “The Farmer’s Cinematheque”. Here’s what they think:
“If you get a chance – see this brilliant film. A moving reflection on farming life, indigenous life, family life, and life.”
– Caleb Cluff (ABC Rural) –
“The Farmer’s Cinematheque was to my mind the best cinema in the (Adelaide) film festival. A lovely film.”
– David Donaldson (inaugural director, Sydney Film Festival) –
“What a fantastic film! I loved so many things about it – the way it put Aboriginal people in the picture, the sense of rich cultural life, of interior and exterior personal worlds, the connections to innovation, all going beyond so much else I’ve seen about country communities.”
– Jackie Wurm –
“The Farmer’s Cinematheque was the highlight for me: so beautifully edited and narrated. A real gem of a film. My heart swelled…”
– Zoe Phillips –