Artist, Director & Writer, Josh Zammit, sits down to talk to the Unreliable Narrator about his newest film, Ascendant. Since Ascendant conception in 2014, the short, set on a Greyhound Track, has hit more than its fair share of production hurdles, but by the look of it, it’s going to be a real winner. The Ascendant trailer has just been released and it’s already gaining traction. Words by Felicity Pickering.
The trailer looks fabulous! Can you tell us a little about Ascendant and what led you to make it?
Thanks! Ascendant is the story of a man who breaks into an abandoned greyhound racing track in a bleak future, in his ventures he finds a greyhound that was left behind and from there begins to find out the dark truths behind the track. I wrote the film with Samuel Loveridge back in 2013 after just finishing Post Production on a film I wrote and produced called ‘Observance’ and was looking do something I could direct. I wanted to make something Black and white and to be more like an atmospheric mood piece rather than the punch line short film.
What was your development process?
The idea for Ascendant came from a character Sam (Co-writer/Producer) and I had written in another script called Seeder. We wanted to explore the characters past and ended up finding him in this abandoned Greyhound track. After that the ideas started rolling in. We do a lot of talking about the tone and the world before we start writing the story usually, then when we have that all figured out we’ll write an outline and move onto the script.
Ascendant is shot on an ambitious location, a greyhound track. Why did you feel you had to shoot there? Were there any obstacles?
When we started writing we had already locked a location for the greyhound track and weren’t really worried at all. The difficulty at first was actually scouting the interior locations, we found it very difficult to find any hall locations that fit the style of the film and we were hunting for almost a year to find the right place. In the end we found something and then the out of nowhere the Greyhound Industry was banned in NSW. This basically put the project on halt, as the Greyhound Track location was no longer willing to have us due to all the controversy in the media. After a while the ban was lifted and we were able to figure something out with the track but it came with a lot of compromises and intense scheduling limitations.
How long have you been working on this film?
It took us nearly 4 years of attempts to get this thing off the ground. We first tried to get Ascendant off the ground as far back as 2013 but got knocked back due to budget limitations and logistical issues. When we realised the scale of the production we had to get to work on funding sources and that took a long while. We had two round of crowd funding campaigns and I ended up putting a lot of my own money into it too.
You’ve got a very talented cast and crew aboard Ascendant. How did you assemble your team?
Yes, I’m very proud of the cast and crew, many are longtime friends and others we found through online call outs and or recommended by friends. All amazing hard working people. Sam, Co-writer and Producer, and I went to TAFE together and have been collaborating for years, he was was massive part of this project and was there every step of the way, battling through the endless struggles. The Cinematographer, Carl Robertson has been a close friend of mine since I first started in the industry back when I was a 17 year old kid. We’ve been talking about collaborating for years and were finally able to do something with Ascendant, I learned so much from him on this project. The lead actor Harry is actually a dear friend of my cousin, and we met through her. This project was written with him specifically in mind and I had been having conversations with him about it before we finished the script.
Ascendant is almost a silent film. What led you to this choice?
Silent in terms of dialogue, yes. It wasn’t a conscious decision, we kind of only realised this after we wrote the thing and it’s just what the story called for. I find that characters I write are usually very passive or silent anyway, probably because I’m a massive introvert.
Ascendant is shot in black and white, what led to this choice? Were you inspired by any particular films to do this?
I love the world of black and white, it’s a dreamier, darker and more mysterious place to play in. Ascendant is set in a 50’s alternate reality, so it works beautifully with the tone and the mood that we were trying to create, also this being a crowd sourced/self funded film, I knew it might be my only opportunity to shoot in Black and White.
What do you say to the age old adage, ‘never work with children or animals’? Agree or disagree? How was your canine talent?
I’d agree, though when you get it right it’s certainly worth the risk. We were very unlucky at the start, the first dog we had booked ended up dying of cancer just before our first attempt at shooting, but later on we got a replacement and ended with amazing results BUT it’s a was a huge risk.
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?
I was pretty determined at a young age, I left school at 16 and enrolled into a screen and Media course at TAFE. During that I started working on sets in Art department. I was pretty certain from then that I’d be working in film for a long while or a least I hoped. After Observance, the disease had taken over and there was no turning back. Plus I don’t really know how to do anything else.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
Anything that challenges you as an audience member, something that takes you into a world or makes you think or question reality and doesn’t take the easy way out.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
The films of David Lynch have been a massive influence on my style. Eraserhead was a big game changer for me, when I first saw that film I had realisation and confidence that there was an audience out the for the kind of stories I wanted to tell. Director’s like Michael Haneke, David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, Luis Bunuel, Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky also have had a huge influence on me. Like everyone else.
Do we see these influences in Ascendant?
Visually, I think a few may have slipped in, perhaps a bit of Tarkovsky and Lynch. Not to compare this to anything on their level! No way!
Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?
I hope to rebel against most of the conventions of story telling and to leave the audience with questions and something to wonder about when the film is over.
Any parting advice to other filmmakers starting out in the industry?
They all say it, but yes, go make a film. I’d suggest try you’re hardest to make something completely unique and that’s meaningful to you. There is so much suffering and pain involved when making a film, so be sure whatever you’re making is meaningful to you.
Happy to say that Facon has finally been released online to watch and enjoy! Please watch and share!
Two updates from the festival front! Facon got a special mention at the Flickerfest Green Flicks section. Joshua Dang, Barbara Ings and I were thrilled to hear it, since there were really really good films in the section. Greenflicks was judged by Costa Georgiadis, Gregory Miller and Kate Harris. The judges praised Facon for its sense of humour dealing with environmental issues.
We’re also really happy about how well the film played at all the screenings. The Short Laughs Comedy sessions were sold out and it was great to be alongside such hilarious company!
The other great news is that Facon has been chosen to tour nationally. The full tour dates can be seen here.
I’m thrilled to announce that the film I wrote and produced Facon is having it’s World Premiere at Flickerfest. It’s an amazing accomplishment for the director Joshua Dang, producer Barbara Ings and the whole team to have achieved. Come along to support the film and laugh enthusiastically at the jokes.
Facon is being featured in the Short Laughs Comedy screenings and GreenFlicks 2017, so there will be three screenings that you can attend:
Short Laughs Comedy – Fri 13 Jan, 8.45pm
GreenFlicks 2017 – Sat 14 Jan, 4.30pm
Short Laughs Comedy 2017 (repeat) – Sat 14 Jan, 6.30pm
Tickets are $20 and it will be held at the Bondi Pavillion. Come along to watch some great comedy/environmental ideas and support the film!
On the Friday the 14th of October 2016 ‘The Audience is Present’, a new work by performance artist Belinda Anderson-Hunt, was presented as part of Verge festival at the Cellar Theatre.
‘The Audience Is Present’ by Belinda Anderson-Hunt aims to expand on the themes of Marina Abramović seminal performance art piece ‘The Artist is Present’. In ‘The Artist is Present’, Abramović invited spectators to sit opposite her for 5 minutes or less with her full attention and direct eye contact, leaving them to sit comfortably or uncomfortably in her gaze.
In ‘The Audience is Present’ the audience is shifted from their position as safe spectator and left feeling exposed. When I arrive at the Cellar Theatre we are instructed to turn off our phones and are led into a darkened foyer. In the foyer Anderson-Hunt performs a series of stretches and encourages the audience members to join her. Next she takes the spectators by hand, and one by one leads them into a second space with two seating banks opposite to each other. Then, she leaves.
The spectators are left for 30 minutes and the results are intriguing. Each audience member is left to sit uncomfortably in each others presence. Some refrain from direct eye contact, preferring to stare directly at their shoes. The eyes of a whole seating bank is intrusive. Some audience members embrace the eye contact with welcome, while other eyes dart away from the intimacy. The duration of the work is certainly what made it so powerful, as noone is quite sure how long the piece will go for.
Without phones, without distractions and without any indicator of time, there is nothing left to distract us but the fact that we are in presence of other people. How often are we left to socialise without any of the social cruxes we cling to: a drink, a joke, polite banter, a phone?
A comfortable silence, is often thought of as something that can only be achieved with a true friend. Surrounded by this wall of strangers, constrained to silence, I felt that we were forced into such a friendship. No talking, no excuses, no laughing, the audience was only able to drink each other in. The long duration led, me at least, to take in every detail of the audience, to construct their personalities by only what I could see.
We so often stalk each other online. Hours are spent staring at someones pictures, making guesses at who they truly are, but in civilised society we are never allowed to just stare, to purely take someone in without fear of being labeled a creep.
By the end of the performance I felt like I knew a little about each person; the one who adverts their gaze; the one who smiles; the performer; the one who shifts in their skin. A study conducted in 1989 by Kellerman, Lewis, and Laird posited that with enough direct eye contact anyone can fall in love. It was this strange thought that lingered in my mind, as I walked out of the performance and heard these peoples voices for the first time. The experience was one of isolation and intimacy, and one I was glad to have caught.
I’m excited to see what Belinda Anderson-Hunt comes up with next.
The TFCF shoot is now over and we are now working on the Post-Production. With the completion of Toni Fitzgerald’s Cult Following also comes with a new venture. I have started my own production company Fliction Media. You can like the Facebook page here (please do).
Here are some production stills from the shoot, there are more on the Facebook page. If you’d like to keep abreast of all updates for the film, please like Fliction Media! Have I said that enough? I think I’ve said it enough.