Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New England films - Streetsweeper

My thanks to ABC Newcastle (July 16 2007) for this story on Streetsweeper.

Ten years ago Newcastle-based filmmaker Neil Mansfield started collecting found notes on the streets of Sydney and his new adopted hometown. Now those "fragments of other people's lives" have been turned into an art house feature film.

Shot on location in four days for less than $20,000, the film explores the beauty and ugliness of city street streets through the eyes of a "a loner who finds poetry in the ordinary", played by actor and co-writer Marin Mimica.

"As the director I don't want to be too prescriptive about who he is, because then I think it might change the way people read the film," says Mr Mansfield, a cinematographer, who has previously directed one feature, Fresh Air, in 1997. "It's a very simple film about one character and his simple journey over three days."

I guess it's what archaeologists do, they go and they try and piece together what a society is like from the fragments that are left behind."

In the film's credits Mr Mansfield thanks "the people of Newcastle for being themselves", as many of the scenes include exchanges between the actor and pedestrians. It was an approach the director was worrying about up until the night before the first day of shooting.

"I actually started to panic and think 'hang on, we're about to make this film with only one actor, and maybe I need to get some other actors to pretend to be pedestrians and set up more conventional encounters'," he said.

The result is a film in which chance encounters with the public enhance and even change the way the story unfolds.

"Part of my philosophy was if you go out on the street, and stand there long enough, something interesting happens," he says. "The timing of some of these pedestrians was absolutely incredible."

"What makes it work for us is, every time we watch it, is that there's this woman walking her dog," he says. "She just walks her dog right into the shot, right at the very end, and they have this kind of how-are-you-going, have-a-nice-day kind of conversation," he says.

Weather gods smile on production.

"We had too many rainbows, it was just stupid," Mr Mansfield said. "We were filming (Marin) walking up this hill in the back streets of Mayfield, and it started pouring with rain, which was good, because we needed a new element, and it suited the part of the story we were in, and someone goes 'are you gonna shoot that rainbow?'"

"And I'm standing there, looking at the director of photography, and we're looking at the actor, and we're looking at the rainbow, and it was a beautiful, amazing, and we're like (in bored exasperated tone) 'oh okay, I suppose so'."

"And the film was like that, things would present themselves, and we'd be like 'okay we'll shoot that'.

Neil Mansfield uses the found notes as props, while the text in the notes becomes the dialogue of unseen characters in Streetsweeper.

"It started about the time when I was making my first movie, in 1999," he says. "Without being too academic about it, I guess it's what archaeologists do, they go and they try and piece together what a society is like from the fragments that are left behind. I like that ephemeral thing that it's an insight into what's going on inside the houses that are around you."

Following a successful screening at the Perth International Film Festival, Neil is about to take the film on tour of Eastern Australia.

You can find the film web site here. The site includes video clips from the film.

You will find the site entry page on New England film here.

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