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BONDI TSUNAMI – MAKING NEW WAVES

As Bondi Tsunami is released in Australia on DVD*, the film is generating enormous interest around the world. Here is a dramatic example of the flip side of Australian filmmaking: independent, privately financed, digitally made and successfully hand-distributed. But it’s the quality of the imagination behind it that has made it all possible. The filmmakers tell their story in their own words. (Edited by Andrew L. Urban)

After completing a successful 50 town, six month promotional tour of Australia, there as been no rest for Bondi Tsunami producer Anthony Lucas-Smith; within a week of returning from the last Bondi Tsunami screening in Adelaide in February, Lucas- Smith found himself jetting half way around the world to show the movie at a sellout screening at the Barbican London Australian film festival. The week after that he was in Germany hooking up a distribution deal and then it was off to Japan to premiere Bondi Tsunami at the Aichi World Expo in Nagoya. 

“Anthony has been in Japan since March,” says director Rachael Lucas-Smith, “and we are currently in the process of launching Bondi Tsunami in Japan through a series of shows at trendy techno chic Tokyo nightclubs, having premiered the film in the Australian pavilion at Aichi World Expo on April 9. The Japanese love the movie … there is lots of interest in turning the film into a manga, and we have also been offered distribution in Germany, the UK, France and Singapore.”

"about four punked up Japanese surfers"

For those who don’t know, the movie is about four punked up Japanese surfers who venture up the spectacular east coast of Australia in a 1961 EK Holden, to the tunes of many a pop song. Shark (Taki Abe), Kimiko (Miki Sasaki), Yuto (Keita Abe), and Gunja Man (Nobuisha Ikeda) drive, dream and surf their way through a road trip that exposes them to some of Australia’s major landmarks…like the Big Banana, the Big Pineapple… and the Big Sheep. And of course, the Big Surf.

The international interest in Bondi Tsunami is “quite amazing; the interest stretches from Australia to Japan, to Germany, to London, to Brazil to the USA and just the other day we did an interview with an Italian fashion magazine,” says Lucas-Smith. Bondi Tsunami is due for a Japanese summer release later this year, but already the curiosity surrounding the mysterious cross cultural Australian/ Japanese collaboration has captured the attention of the Japanese media and the public. So great is the interest in Bondi Tsunami in Japan that a series of post-expo preview screenings had to be organised, which blew out with a waiting list of over one hundred people eager to get a first glimpse of the movie. 

“Bondi Tsunami is really is one big ad for Australia in anyone’s language. People from all corners of the world have fallen in love with the new style of film making that Bondi Tsunami represents; the music and art as well as the unique characters and the beautiful colours of the Australian landscape … the Japanese love it!” says Lucas-Smith. 

“The Japanese are thrilled that they finally look like cool global citizens in an Australian movie- its quite a big deal for them ” he adds. 

As perhaps the first Australian feature film ever designed for the gimmick crazy Japanese market, Bondi Tsunami is entering uncharted waters. Lucas-Smith arrived in Tokyo with just a handful of leads knowing nothing about the Japanese film market. However his fluent grasp of the Japanese language and a five year stint working in Sapporo during the 90s has no doubt given him an edge over the daily planeloads of western salesmen that try to introduce their wares to the Japanese market. 

"a thoroughly modern, mobile film producer"

“The dialogue in Bondi Tsunami feels very natural for Japanese and the style doesn’t seem so `out there’ to them. People are genuinely interested in the fact that as a westerner we have made an effort to work with Japanese, and create something different that mixes culture. You don’t get the cynicism in Japan that you get in Australia” says Lucas-Smith. “The Japanese are a very pure breed and have their own style of entertainment - they are highly self sufficient in many industries, but they are also very keen to make positive connections with westerners, particularly westerners with cross-cultural ideas”. 

In fact in the short space of two weeks, Lucas-Smith has already landed prime time interviews on Tokyo’s number one radio station InterFM and Tokyo FM, had a full page feature in the prestigous Yomiyuri Shimbun and Bondi Tsunami has been featured on two different NHK television programs- an extraordinary amount of publicity for a Australian made DIY film that hasn’t even been released yet.

Armed with no more than a phone card, a can of softdrink and a permanent visa at the local internet café, Lucas-Smith is a thoroughly modern, mobile film producer. “The internet is my office – I can send off images to journalists in London, who bounce them back to Tokyo and are in the newspapers here the next morning- the internet has made the whole world instantly accessible and the great thing is that you get to communicate with people directly, for low cost”. According to Lucas-Smith, Bondi Tsunami followed the lead of using the internet to access the global market from another famous guerilla feature film The Blair Witch Project. 

With over 2000 visits to bonditsunami.com.au each week from Australia alone the website functions not only as the primary communication and marketing tool, but as an online globally accessible merchandise store. 

“We operate on a flat structure- there are four of us who do everything, so we are small enough to react to opportunities quickly. One of the reasons we have been able to make a successful Australian film is because we have operated outside the conventional Australian film industry –lets face it there is a growing list of Aussie films whose international success is directly proportional to being completely ignored by the film funding bodies in Australia, Bondi Tsunami is one of those films,” says Lucas-Smith. 

In consideration of the sheer scale of the Japanese market, Lucas-Smith is opting for a unique approach to marketing Bondi Tsunami in Japan. “We are going to introduce Bondi Tsunami through a series of promotional nightclub shows in Japan, playing the film on the big screens of bars and nightclubs instead of the conventional cinema routine. This way people can drink and talk through the movie and get into the whole `music video motion picture genre.”

" fusion of film, music, fashion, iconography, pop culture and advertising"

Though some purists may be baffled as to how a nightclub could suffice for a cinema, you have to consider that it is the 21st century and in the digital age of multi media, the projection and sound systems of these clubs are state of the art. After all, Bondi Tsunami was inspired by the global trend of running continuous movies or music video channels on the big screens of bars, nightclubs, fast food outlets and fashion/ department stores and functions like a visual music CD in that you can drift in and out of.

With the often bizarre fashions and cult phenomena that fester in Japan, it is easy to see why Bondi Tsunami could really strike a chord in Japan. Bondi Tsunami is a fusion of film, music, fashion, iconography, pop culture and advertising, which is perfect for the Japanese nightclub environment. 

“Bondi Tsunami screenings are dually a symbol of east west mixed culture,” adds Lucas-Smith who expects that the film will attract an eclectic, individualistic crowd of artists, surfers, musicians, travellers, dreamers and foreign expats. “The Rocky Horror Show phenomenon of dressing up as one of the characters in the movie, memorising all the lines and attending a midnight screenings actually started in Japan. We would eventually like a similar spirit to develop with the Bondi Tsunami movie, where the audience can dress up if they want to, sing along with the movie, drink and talk in a sort of karaoke mass rather than sitting in a cinema chair for 90 minutes in silence. This way Bondi Tsunami is not only a cool film to watch, but a cool event to go to- a true post millennium experience”.

THE DVD
Bondi Tsunami’s writer, director and cinematographer Rachael Lucas, says, “Bondi Tsunami was designed as a multi platform viewing DVD, with the dynamics of the home theatre phenomena in mind. It is a 21st century pop screen musical that can be watched from beginning to end in the traditional sense or as background eye candy piece that one can drift in and out of as a viewer/ listener, as is the case when playing music CD’s.

“When I used to baby sit, the family would always have movies running on the TV screen in the background and the kids attention would drift in and out of the movie, watching the bits they liked over and over again,” says Lucas. “I realised the phenomena of watching films and music videos on continuous play on the sports screens of pubs and nightclubs, often with the sound turned down had a similar purpose with adults who had a transient attention span with the screen - hence the idea of a music video motion picture evolved.”

Bondi Tsunami functions as a visual music CD, perhaps the Ninetendo Generations answer to a Bollywood musical, although instead of exaggerating sentiments in to songs, it exaggerates sentiments into music videos. 

“I’m always surprised at how the arts police bag music video as some kind of second rate art form in Australia, when music video is one of the last frontiers of true creativity in film making- particularly in Australia,” says Lucas. 

“Australian audiences have evolved from the Crime drama style good versus evil script - they can handle and want to see cinema that is fresh, different and makes them think. Unfortunately the people who make the decisions on what Australian films Australians should see, constantly underestimate the intelligence of the Australian audience time and time again- no body takes any style risks any more.”
Lucas holds the conviction that in western society, we are so preconditioned to the plot driven narrative in cinema that it is impossible for cinema to evolve to new levels, as has happened with creative movements in visual art and music.

“Music seems to be able to exist in more aesthetic or abstract parameters- it doesn’t have to mean anything, it doesn’t need to be quantified by a narrative plot- it is a zen experience. How is it that verse chorus pop music evolved to techno and electronic music on a commercially acceptable scale and film hasn’t really evolved into any dynamically new movements or genres in a long time?”

"more linear with every viewing"

In creating Bondi Tsunami, Lucas has taken into account the erratic and realistic `channel flicking‘ viewing habits of the contemporary home theatre household. “People are busy these days- they often watch half a movie and then get distracted talking on the phone etc. It is rare for people to set aside 90 minutes of block time to fully concentrate on the one film and then watch it again and again in the same conditions” she adds. “The beauty of Bondi Tsunami is that you get different things out of it each time you see it - different viewing environments provoke different levels of interpretation - sure you can see it as being aesthetic and superficial, but it is also quite deep and actually becomes more and more linear with every viewing”.

(* DVD release: June 15, 2005, by Madman. Special features on the DVD include English and Japanese versions, a making of segment, Australian Tour highlights, deleted scenes, director’s commentary and music videos.)

Published June 23, 2005

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Rachael Lucas-Smith







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