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Bruce Beresford has just made a Hollywood studio film (Double Jeopardy) that is raking in the money, but what he really wanted to was an all Australian film - "but no bloody actors wanted to be in it," he tells ANTHONY MASON, at the Canberra Film Festival.

Halfway through our interview, Bruce Beresford's mobile phone rings. It's Hollywood on the line and Beresford talks actors, scripts, casting and music for 10 minutes. It's a rainy morning in Canberra and though he looks a little ruffled, you can tell his mind is sharp as her gets deeper into the conversation. He drops names - Kate Winslett, Matt Damon, Ashley Judd and a few others I probably should recognise. "That was a big Hollywood producer," he says as he hangs up. He smiles, like he never expected to be talking to such a person. "I told her I was in Canberra, the capital of Australia. She said she'd never heard of it," he says with a chuckle. I ask him if he ever has to stop and pinch himself, just to check if it is all real. "I do it every day. Every day," he says, with complete sincerity.

"People are going to take notice"

Beresford, in Canberra for the Canberra International Film Festival has no doubt been to bigger film festivals, but he feels that regional events are well-regarded, particularly by film makers. "Any type of exposure is good," he suggests. "Canberra, after all, is the capital city of one of the world's most affluent countries. People are going to take notice." People are certainly taking notice of Beresford's latest Hollywood effort, Double Jeopardy. The thriller, shot in Canada and starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones, took US$70 million in two and a half weeks, sitting at No 1 at the US Box Office (at 10/10/99). It is an unusual kind of movie for Beresford. And it is soon obvious that if things had gone the way he really wanted, he would be talking about a different movie right now.

"I was trying to set up a film to be shot here in Australia called Our Country's Good. It was about the First Fleet coming to Australia," he says. Beresford was looking for two or three major actors for crucial roles, but despite trying to find willing stars in Australia and overseas, the production fell through. "I was working on it for two years and it fell apart, simply because nobody
wanted to be in it. I never found out why because the script was fantastic," he said. "I was trying to do an all-Australian movie. But no bloody actors wanted to be in it, so you can blame them! It was a wonderful, wonderful script..., I tried desperately."

"The trouble is that these days there is a handful of actors who run the film industry"

It was at this relatively low point that his agent presented him with the script for Double Jeopardy and told him: "Frankly, you need the money." Beresford liked the script, was happy to try something a little different, and as the studio was so willing, he said yes. "It's a real Hollywood movie," he says, without trying to explain further. The failure to get Our Country's Good off the ground still niggles at him though.

"The trouble is that these days there is a handful of actors who run the film industry. And if you can get one of those 20 actors in the film, then you can make it. If you can't get them, you can't make it." And those actors are offered every film going. They are offered a rajah's fortune to be in them. They can pick and choose."

It all comes back to budget. Beresford says that if the script is fantastic but the fee is only $200,000, it's difficult to change a person's mind. "It takes a very strong person to say "I'll do that" when someone else is offering them $15 million."

He's not bitter enough to rule out trying to get Our Country's Good made some time in the future. And he's happy to make more movies in Australia or, indeed, anywhere else. For Beresford, the location is not critical. "Luckily for me I've kind of got to the point where I can do the work all over the place," he says. "The fact is that I've made a lot of films in Australia, more so, I think, than almost anybody."

"Not every story that I want to film is set in Australia"

"Not every story that I want to film is set in Australia. It's as simple as that. If I've got the freedom to go to other places and film them, I will."

His next project, the subject of the mobile phone call, is the story of Alma Mahler, the wife of the composer. Explaining the film, Beresford starts to get excited. "Most of the film is concerned with her life between about 1900 and 1920. It was an extraordinary period of Viennese history when there was a huge flowering of the arts. "And she was the lover of just about every famous man. It was an amazing story." And really, that is where Beresford's passion lies-with the story. It doesn't matter if it's a Hollywood blockbuster or a low-budget period piece, if the story grabs him then he finds it hard to resist.

He's always looking for the next story, though he's not so interested in looking back. Beresford has stated that once his films are edited, he never wants to see them again. "There's not much point," he says. "I'm completely sated with them. They don't mean anything to me any more. I've never been to a premiere or anything like that." He hasn't seen many new Australian films, but he mentions Praise as something he would like to catch.

"classic film directors"

Mostly he likes the classic film directors, like Bergmann, though his opinions about similarly regarded icons are not as complimentary. "There have been a few famous film makers who have always bored me. I just can't help it," he admits. "Kubrick would send me to sleep. Hitchcock would always send me to sleep. They really, really bore me and they always did. And I tried. I tried for years to convince myself that I liked Hitchcock movies. But they bore me."

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Double Jeopardy was the box office champion for three straight weeks in the US, and had taken over US$80 (A$123.7) million by its fourth.

With stars Tommy Lee Jones & Ashley Judd on set of Double Jeopardy


Canberra International Film Festival (October 14 to 19, 1999) screened 13 features over six nights, including six Australian premieres. Highlights include the Danish feature Festen (The Celebration), which won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, and Soft Fruit, a Best Film AFI Nominee.


Anthony Mason is a Canberra journalist who edits the free street zine of intellectual tomfoolery, opinion and mirth, ARGUS.


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