Rachel Perkinsí Radiance is the new darling of the festival circuit in Australia.
Having won audience awards at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, it completed a
trifecta by winning the vote at the recent Canberra event. Internationally, the film has
widespread recognition, appearing in the lists of festivals like Toronto, London, The
Hamptons, Wellington, and Vancouver.
This virtually unprecedented reception for an Australian first feature does not seem to
have fazed its director, Rachel Perkins. Speaking during a whirlwind visit to Brisbane,
Perkins was as down-to-earth and refreshingly honest as the characters in her film.
"Originally intended to be a short"
Radiance was originally intended to be a short, but Perkins was persuaded to turn it
into a feature. In doing so, she was forced to break from her background in TV and
documentaries to bring Louis Nowraís tale to the screen. In making the film, she says
she learned "everything", from dialogue, scriptwriting, adaptation and working
with actors, to post-production and editing techniques.
Perkins wanted to capture an authentic Queensland feel in Radiance, and quite by
accident, stumbled across a derelict house in the town of Agnes Waters, near her
producerís house. By sheer luck, the owner of the property was going to demolish it;
but in return for a small payment and a case of Moet & Chandon, he allowed it to be
used in the film.
One of the features of the film is the exquisite use of landscape; something Perkins
says was entirely intentional, and which underlies the drama. Her intention was to use the
landscape as "one of the characters" partly because of its connection with the
Aboriginal people, and to provide mood and tension. She was aided in this by DOP Warwick
Thornton, who framed the various scenes for maximum effect. However, she was also aided by
the filmís limited budget. This meant that camera "tricks" were virtually
out of the question, ensuring the crew had to get the most from every shot.
Radiance is brought to life by three strong performances from Rachael Maza, Deborah
Mailman and Trisha Morton-Thomas. The casting process involved testing "just about
every Aboriginal actor in the country" before the right combination was struck.
Perkins acknowledges that Radiance has had differing reactions and the range of
opinions has surprised her. Some have said that the story is unsophisticated; while others
have seen many levels of meaning. Some have thought the opening too slow, but others have
found the pacing to be just right. Some have felt it was too "arty", but others
charge it wasnít "arthouse" enough.
But Perkins says that whatís important to her is that "normal everyday
Australians like the film" - and its winning of audience votes around the country is
evidence that she has connected with those Australians.