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The cane toad is not a war machine; if anything it needs defending from cruel deaths, filmmaker Mark Lewis tells Andrew L. Urban.

It’s been 25 years (doesn’t feel like it) since Mark Lewis first shot a cane toad … with his camera. It became something of a cult classic around the world, partly because of its humorous tone, partly because people liked seeing the somewhat toxic and colonialist cane toads popped to death on the roads of Queensland. 

Lewis, prompted by the producers, has returned to the toads, this time in 3D, which propels the doco towards the creature feature genre – except it’s less scary. 

Cane toads are not only successful colonising great swathes of northern Australia, they are neither the great threat they were thought to be, nor the benign foreigners some imagined they could be.

"The toad is not a war machine or an invader"

“Overall this film has a more balanced view,” says Lewis from his Mullumbimby home by phone. “The toad is not a war machine or an invader, militaristic terms some people use. If anything it needs defending from the abject cruelty to which it subject in many cases… like being batted to death.”

Indeed, the film shows how irrational fear of the toad encourages all manner of cruel death sentences. So far, animal rights organisations have remained silent …

Cane Toads The Conquest is Australia’s first digital 3D feature length film and one of worl’d first non-fiction films using this format. “The format gives the film greater value,” says Lewis. “We embraced the technology and I really enjoy using these tools. But,” he cautions, “3D is not suitable for everything.”

"you can’t expect toads to turn up in front of the cameras when you want them"

On making the film in 3D, Lewis says “we tried to push the envelope … but you have to be fairly structural, given that you have quite a bit of gear and you can’t expect toads to turn up in front of the cameras when you want them.”

On his ‘designer’ approach to managing the various elements from interviews to the toads themselves, Lewis says “this is not a documentary verite… especially with 3D. The format gives you absolute creative freedom, more than you would enjoy with drama. We can use animation, interviews and anything else we want or need. I’ve tried to avoid a didactic approach and to be banal. I wanted to make it humorous and above all, entertaining.”

It’s highly informative and often hilarious and even though it is filled with facts, there are still questions left unanswered: why do some people freeze cane toads in their freezer? Why do others turn them into explosive fertiliser? And above all, why are we so fascinated by these creatures?

As is his wont, Lewis introduces us to a cast of colourful characters – from taxi drivers and ‘entrepreneurs’, from farmers to scientists – to help tell the multifaceted story of the cane toads and their march across Australia. We see them swat and eat cockroaches with relish (the toads that is) and we see them hop and bum around. But, given their extraordinary reproductive habits, we see them mate only once, and then briefly.

"I find it inspiring"

“The subject has evolved over time, and I find it inspiring,” Lewis adds.

Published June 2, 2011

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