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One of the iconic figures of Australia’s film renaissance in the 1970, Gillian Armstrong, is this month honoured by her peers with the Outstanding Achievement Award; the filmmaking process has many highlights for her, she tells Andrew L. Urban.

“We all feel that the most significant honour is from your peers,” says Gillian Armstrong, “because they know exactly what you do.” Armstrong is talking about her Outstanding Achievement Award from the Australian Directors’ Guild (May 11, 2007), which puts her in the “honoured company” of Phillip Noyce, Peter Weir, Ray Lawrence and Fred Schepisi.

Her wicked sense of humour kicks in and she says, “But as I told Phil (Noyce, 2006 recipient) that I’d have got it last year, before him, but I was away shooting!” She and Noyce went to AFTRS together in the early 70s and both have enjoyed remarkably successful careers ever since. “I was lucky to graduate just as the Government set up assistance schemes for the industry.”

"special highlights during the process of making a film"

Currently editing her latest film, Death Defying Acts, in Sydney, Armstrong says there are several special highlights during the process of making a film. “The first is at the first reading of the script when you feel that you alone can make this film and you are ready and willing to put two or three years of your life into it.

“The second is at casting … a reading of the script which sends a chill up your spine, like when Judy Davis read My Brilliant Career or Cate Blanchett read Charlotte Gray and everything comes alive.

“Another highlight is when you finally find that perfect location, and it’s the fourth day on set and you get just the right light and there is an incredible moment with an actor…

“You get a thrill with a specific cut of a scene, and a piece of music that works beautifully … And of course when you see the final mix and your film looks so much bigger than you’d imagined.”

Both these last two stages are yet to come for Armstrong with Death Defying Acts, which stars Guy Pearce as Harry Houdini who is touring Britain in 1926 and has a a passionate affair with a psychic (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is trying to con him. Shot in England, Death Defying Acts

“But of course then comes seeing the film with an audience who love your film – that’s very special.” And that’s probably the last time Armstrong will see the film, unless she is visiting a different country. “None of my films are as perfect as I’d wished them to be, so it’s depressing …”

As for the editing process, she loves it, “but it’s also painful because you see your mistakes, the scenes where you know you should have got that extra shot, or where you didn’t have the right light and had to rush, or you realiose you should have had a different angle. But I love working with (editor) Nicholas Beauman …”

All films change as you’re making them, she says; “the cast are alive and you have to listen to yourself and make adjustments.”

Published May 17, 2007

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Gillian Armstrong

My Brilliant Career

Charlotte Gray

Unfolding Florence

Death Defying Acts (2007)
Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst (2006)
Charlotte Gray (2001)
Oscar and Lucinda (1997)
Not Fourteen Again (1996)
Little Women (1994)
The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992)
Fires Within (1991)
Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces (1988)
High Tide (1987)
Hard to Handle (1986)
Mrs. Soffel (1984)
Having a Go (1983)
Starstruck (1982)
Fourteen's Good, Eighteen's Better (1980)
Touch Wood (1980)
My Brilliant Career (1979)
The Singer and the Dancer (1977)
Smokes and Lollies (1975)
Gretel (1973)
One Hundred a Day (1973)
Satdee Night (1973)
Roof Needs Mowing (1971)
Old Man and Dog (1970)

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