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Although Australia may be a huge country geographically, its population is not that all that large, and Megan Simpson Huberman, a development executive at the Australian film commission and director of the IndiVision Lab and IndiVision Screenings, two projects that help develop and promote independent films there, feels that Australian directors could learn a few lessons from Israeli filmmakers.
On a recent visit to attend the Australian Film Festival here (which ran through June 10 at most of the country's cinematheques) and as a guest of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (the festival's sponsor), she comments, "We have a lot of directors who've made one film. The trouble is, they don't always get to make a second and a third film." It's a problem familiar to Israeli directors, who often spend three or four years working on follow-ups to their first films. In Australia, though, the twist is that, "If their first film is a smash hit, then the directors go straight to Hollywood. And if it's not a smash hit, often for reasons that have nothing to do with the directing, then it's hard to get a chance to make another movie."
The Australian film industry "has a lot of talented people, a great actor base, but it goes in cycles," she says, as she sits in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel, looking cool and collected as she waits to go on a walking tour of the Old City on the hottest day of the year.
"This is a very good year," she notes, singling out Caterpillar Wish, a coming-of-age drama that is premiering in Israel at the film festival even before it opens in Australia. The story of a teenage girl in a beautiful but isolated seaside town who has never known her father and desperately wants to find him, Caterpillar Wish, directed by Sandra Sciberras, is the kind of low-budget drama that IndiVision is committed to developing.
"When I read the first draft, I cried," says Huberman. Sciberras then took the film to IndiVision's Lab, a series of workshops much like the ones made famous at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Institute. "The difference between us and Sundance is that while Sundance has separate labs for directors, writers and producers, we have all three going in parallel." IndiVision, also helped the filmmakers secure funding.
This year marked a triumph for the Australian film industry when Rolf de Heer's Ten Canoes won the Special Jury Prize of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. Ten Canoes is the first full-length feature in an indigenous (Aboriginal) language and features a cast of mostly non-professional, indigenous actors.
"That was very encouraging for Australian filmmakers, because Rolf has made eight or nine features and now he gets recognition for this film," Huberman says. "He works really well within a low budget, he doesn't let the limitations become problematic."
Huberman emphasizes that IndiVision has "a strong Israeli connection" and notes that IndiVision has screened a number of Israeli films at its film festivals, including Keren Yedaya's Or and Dalia Hagar and Vidi Bilu's Close to Home. She recites the titles in perfect Hebrew, with barely an accent, explaining that her husband is Israeli and they are raising their child to be bi-lingual. There's nothing exotic, or scary, about a visit to Israel for Huberman, who comes here often to see relatives.
Still on the subject of Australian-Israeli cooperation, Huberman notes that Israeli Danny Lerner, director of Frozen Days, has been invited to give a master class at an IndiVision Lab.
Huberman, who has written and directed several films, including the hit romantic comedy, Dating the Enemy starring Guy Pearce, says she sees her time working at IndiVision as "a kind of service to the Australian Film Industry" and plans to get back to making her own films. She had hoped that she would have more time to spend with her family while serving as IndiVision director, but notes, "When you're passionate about film, you end up working long hours."