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You don't have to be in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or the Gold Coast to make films, as new filmmaker Ben Westgarth proves; "cameras still work in Canberra," he assures ANTHONY MASON.

When Ben Westgarth graduated from the University of Canberra with his media degree, everyone expected him to move to Sydney or Melbourne and start to establish himself in the film industry.

"I felt odd about it. Everyone assumed Iíd go," says Westgarth. "It made me question why I wanted to do films. I didnít see a reason why I had to go to Sydney or Melbourne."

"Itís your day to day life you draw inspiration from"

So this Canberra boy decided to stay put. It hasnít harmed his film-making ó indeed he maintains it has enhanced it. "Most of my experiences are based in Canberra. Itís your day to day life you draw inspiration from," he says, shortly after the world premiere of his film, Mark and Robboís South Coast Ferret Adventure Tours, at the Centre Cinema in Canberra.

Itís a simple and amusing tale of two brothers who get a government grant to set up a tourism business on the coast. Six months later, they have frittered away the money and have nothing to show for it ó then they realise they have to convince a government auditor that the business is legitimate. Itís only through some truly dodgy dealings all round, including a ridiculous attempt to stage a fake tour, that Mark and Robbo manage to stay out of jail.

Itís not a major film, by any stretch, but the determination and effort which Westgarth and his crew put into it is admirable and will hopefully lead to more work. Westgarth came up with the movie concept in 1996, but the final script, co-written with Gina Cotton, didnít take shape for some time.

"We stewed on that idea for a couple of years before we did anything about it," says Westgarth. "We wanted to make sure we had a good script."

Westgarth, who also directed the movie, was impressed that there were enough experienced and dedicated people in Canberra to help him make the movie.

"It pulled everyone together"

"It only took a fortnight to get the entire crew together. Before the film, I didnít really know a lot of them."

Four months of pre-production allowed Westgarth and the team to organise the shoot down to the finest detail. "We knew we didnít have much money and we knew we were working with peopleís spare time."

At the same time, he made sure everyone involved knew what was going on.

ĎWe really wanted to keep people informed. And it pulled everyone together. The crew appreciated the organisation and it kept up morale," he claims.

The film was shot on a digital camera and post-production took place at the University of Canberra, with the support of Lecturer in Media, Michael Sergi.

All up, the total cost, including promotion and post-production, was less than $6,000.

"self-financing a movie can still be a real cost."

While the budget is barely a slip-of-the-pen on a Hollywood blockbusterís petty cash docket, Ben points out that self-financing a movie can still be a real cost.

ĎItís a lot to personally put into something when you know youíre not going to get it back," he said.

But what the movie definitely does prove is that movies can be made in Canberra.

"The cameras still work in Canberra," quips Westgarth.

"We need to see more films made and inspired by people in Canberra," he says.

While the Canberra film-making community is dedicated and experienced, more work needs to be done.

"At the moment thereís no real structure ó Canberra needs to develop a network," he says. At the same time, he admits he likes the relatively low-key approach, and not having to contend with huge egos. "I would like to see Canberra keep away from that pretentious side of film making."

The Managing Director of Ronin Films, Andrew Pike, is one of those who threw their support behind the film. Pike, who helped to get the film screened at Roninís Centre Cinema, says Westgarth and his team are an example to other independent film makers.

"They showed all the spirit of true mavericks" Andrew Pike, Ronin Films

"I think they showed all the spirit of true mavericks in the film industryóand we need all we can get of people who are willing to just get out there and do it," says Pike (himself a bit of a maverick).

Indeed, the reaction to Mark and Robbo may assist other local film makers.

"I donít know of too many people like Ben and his team at the moment but the response to Mark and Robbo has inspired us to see if we can find more local film makers so that we can show their work," says Pike.

While small budgets restrict production standards, Pike says there is no reason why Canberra couldnít continue to produce films.

"One of the heroes of the French new wave, Jean-Luc Godard, once said that if you have $300, then make a $300 film," he says. "Of course good films can be made in Canberra, just as they can be made anywhere else. All you need are ideas and commitment and the guts to just do it."

Ben Westgarth has both of these qualities.

The other characteristic he has is the ability to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground. "Thereís nothing special about making films. Youíre not saving the world," he says frankly.


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Ben Westgarth

Simon Ellis as Mark

Ben Lopez as Robbo

Laurence Cerviatti as Hamish

Mark and Robbo

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