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SXSW '09 Interview: "Lake Mungo" Director Joel Anderson

by William Goss

The "Lake Mungo" Pitch: "Sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer drowns while swimming in the local dam. When her body is recovered and a verdict of accidental death returned, her grieving family buries her. The family then experiences a series of strange and inexplicable events centered in and around their home. Profoundly unsettled, the Palmers seek the help of psychic and parapsychologist. He discovers that Alice led a secret, double life. A series of clues lead the family to Lake Mungo where Alice's secret past emerges. Lake Mungo is a mystery, a thriller and a ghost story weaved into a 'documentary' that illustrates how the dead can forever haunt the living."

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Simulcra and spirits.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience?
First trip... bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be "When I grow up, I want to be a..." what?
Like all directors, I secretly wanted to be an actor.

Not including your backyard and your dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?
Will keep you posted.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
The patient is out of the coma, but still in the woods.

During production, did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Not really, no. Thinking ahead a couple of hours feels like visionary-like behaviour on a film set.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
I wrote it as a way of procrastinating on a re-write for another project. I put it way for 6 months and forgot about it. I found it looking for something else, read it, realised we could make it, started raising the money, teamed up with the DOP and found a producer, started raising more money, set a shoot date and worked toward it. Nothing turned out as planned.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Get in in camera and get it on the day. Nothing really gets fixed in post. And: lock the door to the edit suite. Everyone will want to rub up against it. It's a gland thing.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
Gaspar Noe, David Lynch and Peter Watkins. Enough audacity and vision there to put most filmmakers to shame, me included.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Peter Watkins' Edvard Munch.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big time. And why, of course.
That's in the hands of the Gods... and, more importantly, agents.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with?
No way am I falling for that! There's no shortage of extraordinary actors, only extraordinary roles.

Have you 'made it' yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say "Yes, wow. I have totally made it!"?
The Australian film industry is stop-start at best. It's impossible to know whether your working life is over or just in remission. Will keep you posted.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Very. The smaller the film, the bigger the critic. Besides, people like to be told what to think by folk they secretly despise for envy.

What's your take on the whole "a film by DIRECTOR" issue? Do you feel it's tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film - or do you think it's cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
It's tacky. And if the screenplay isn't written by the director, it's laughable. It's a gland thing.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
That's a question for my producers. I wish I knew,for their sake! Meantime, you'll see them out the front of the theatre with a sandwich board.


Joel Anderson's Lake Mungo will play as part of the 2009 South By Southwest's "Midnighters" slate. For more information, click here or visit the official website.

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originally posted: 03/06/09 07:44:33
last updated: 03/06/09 08:16:55
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