Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford, Chairman of the jury for IFFK 2011, takes back with him a host of reel memories.

Bruce Beresford, the Australian filmmaker, is often described as a director who is frequently “in and out of Hollywood.” The director who pioneered the new wave in filmmaking in the island continent was in Thiruvananthapuram as Chairman of the jury at the recently concluded International Film festival of Kerala (IFFK).

Meeting him on the penultimate day of the fete, the question on top was about the ‘IFFK experience.' “The festival was an eye-opener to the kind of films that are made in this part of the world. The themes interest me and I realised that there is a lot of good cinema that should be seen. There are extremely talented filmmakers too. One half of the world remains shut out to us. In Australia we get films that are in English, but few sub-titled prints from other countries reach us. In fact, my film ‘Mao's Last Dancer' had a tough time because it came with subtitles. Very few Australians like to watch sub-titled prints. I have no problem on that count. However, such films remain within small distribution circuits. What I like about films, in general, is that they speak of a host of things I do not know,” says Beresford.

Discerning audience

That explains the co-productions he has done and the diverse themes his films have dwelt on. Art house films are rarely seen in Australia and the whole experience of watching films with such large audiences which were “serious, sophisticated, involved and attentive,” was a first, says the director.

Beresford, who began his career as a filmmaker in 1972, has over 30 films to his credit. One tends to accept the description ‘cultural collusion' used to describe some of the films, be it ‘Black Robe' (1991), set in the seventeenth century, which tells the story of a French Jesuit priest's clash with the Indians in Quebec, ‘Driving Miss Daisy,' (1989) where racial discrimination and prejudice surface in the interactions between the aged Jewish Miss Daisy and her African American driver, Hoke, or the more recent ‘Mao's Last Dancer' (2008), the story of a Chinese ballet dancer's journey of freedom, to mention a few.

“Cultural collusion… is it?” he asks and continues: “Stories from different lands and people have always been of interest to me. Having grown up in Australia one really does not get to know about a whole part of the globe. I was often attracted to the stories for the good drama they contained, and conflict often provides the base for good drama.”

Taking off from here he describes a nugget from his visit to the Padmanabhapuram Palace. “It's my first time to this part of India, and the palace I saw was magnificent, marvellous and unbelievably beautifully for it's architecture and style. There I was told of how the local king defeated the Dutch forces; and later made a Dutchman the commander of his own forces. Here's one live example of the drama that arises in a conflict.”

Beresford, though, is not just a filmmaker. He is an opera director too. How does he straddle these two worlds, both equally demanding? “Ever since I was a teenager, I've loved operas, and in the eighties I set out to make them. It's the emotionalism of the music in opera that charms me. Singapore, Taiwan and China have a strong opera presence, so there is a niche space available. In India, opera may not have many takers for the simple reason that you have such a strong musical tradition,” he explains, and goes on to add: “I'm working on a film and an opera now. Both should be ready next year.”

When asked about the Indian films he has seen, Beresford responds: “Indian films… I have not watched many, except a couple of them that were screened at festivals. But, I do remember ‘Lagaan.' I do keep watching the trilogy films by Satyajit Ray whom I met at the British Film Institute when I was working there. National characteristics for every country are unique. Technically Indian films are first class. I usually sit back and drink in the beauty as it plays out.”

And what is it that he takes away from IFFK? “Good films and the extraordinary palace at Padmanabhapuram – which should have more informative books on it, mementos and possibly a place for tourists to sit back and enjoy the ambience. I've also met many who wanted to know about cricket in Australia,” says Beresford as he signs off.

Keywords: IFFK 2011