With Mr Reliable, Australian cinema has scored another international hit. Director Nadia Tass lets Miles Fielder in on the true story behind the drama.
Strictly Ballroom. The Adventures Of Priscilla. Muriel 's Wedding and Babe. Australia‘s continuing international cinema renaissance has led global audiences to expect two things from that country‘s exports: kitsch. heart- warming comedy and unlikely subject matter (ballroom dancing. transvestite cabaret and cute talking pigs). Not forgetting. of course. the equally talented. if more sombre strains of Peter Weir. Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion to name but a few.
This latest wave of Australian cinema was exempliﬁed at this year‘s Edinburgh Film Festival by Nadia Tass‘s Mr Reliable and Shirley Barrett‘s Love Serenade. Where Mr Reliable departs from its export companions is that its feelgood factor is not contrived. The story of the eight- day police siege at the home of petty criminal Wally Mellish. his ﬁancee and
Mr Reliable: ‘Australians are a nation of truly unique people'
her child is a true story dating back to l968. The event culminated in a ‘shotgun‘ marriage with police commissioner Norm Allen acting as best man. and media attention and public sympathy transforming Mellish into a folk hero.
‘The ﬁlm is feelgood not by design.‘ says Tass. ‘The events in the ﬁlm are how it actually happened. I looked at the story and designed my comedy around that. It‘s a reflection of Australia. Only in Australia could the story have ended with a wedding. Think of Waco — anywhere else in the world. Mellish would have been shot. Australians are a nation of truly unique people.
‘It was a huge event when it happened.‘ the director goes on to explain. ‘It was reported in all states. Although i was a child at the time. i realised while reading the first draft of the script that everyone had some personal recollection of the event. That was what l used to reconstruct the
events for the ﬁlm. particularly the siege spectators. Norm‘s driver was part of our film crew and the Coke can man [an entrepreneurial spectator who sets tip a barbie in the film] was one of the original police ofﬁcers involved in the siege.‘ The spectator community encarnped around Mellish‘s home is vividly realised with numerous sub- plots and mini-dramas unfolding. The encampment is a mircocosm of the
Australian summer of love at a tirue when. as Tass comments. ‘life was simple. The hippy community was strong. Free love was practised and rnonogarny was not popular.‘
Mr Reliable is really three stories in one: Mellish. the spectators and the police. The last of those focuses on Commissioner Allen. of whom the November I990 edition of the New South Wales Police News noted: ‘A brilliant administrator with inspiring qtralities of leadership. his reign was tarnished by unpardonable blunders . . . The Mellish affair proved to be a
shattering experience for Commissioner Allen.‘
The police force in general are brutal. heavy-handed and inept in Tass‘s liltu — Allen being the only official to display any sympathy towards Mellish — something the director deftly sets within the larger context of the Vietnam War. ‘The way the police are depicted in Mr Reliable is how they acted. The tragedy of the period was that we were involved in a war we should never have been involved in. While the public were protesting. the police were upholding the code. Australia was a political puppet for America. At the start of the lilrrr. Vietnam is a TV backdrop to the drama; by the end. Mellish and the war are integral.‘
The fonvard-thinking Sunday Herald wrote on H July l968. ‘Had a TV scriptwriter dreamed up the events and presented them as a roaring comedy laced with the possibilities of tragedy. the product would have been laughed out of the studios. Dramatic. hilarious. utterly incredible and a libel to the police.‘
Factual. libelous and tense. Mr Reliable stands apart from other contemporary Australian comedies. What the lilm shares with fellow cinematic exports is warm. offbeat humour — two adjectives that 'l‘ass tnight use to describe the Australian nation itself. ‘Australia is a fantastic country.‘ she says. ‘l’eople get together and have a good time. The audience then were keyed into the spirit of the solution to the problem.‘
Mr Reliable opens in Scotland on I-‘ri 22 Nov.
Sticking to the script
Each year, the future of the Scottish film industry meets with past masters in Inverness. Alan Morrison shares the buzz at 1996’s Movie Makars.
lrnagine that after months of difﬁcult labour. you had to place your baby in front of a group whose job it was to criticise your offspring. Someone says it‘s ugly. Another voice reckons a bit of plastic surgery wouldn't go amiss: cut off the nose and stick it round the back. It’s too fat. too thin. too tnuch like its parents.
Watching your short ﬁlm being dissected by your peers can‘t be any less cruel or nerve-wracking. but that‘s what a handful of ﬁlmmakers have just experienced as pan of this year‘s Movie Makars. an annual writers‘ conference and series of workshops organised by the Scottish Film Council for the cream of new Scottish talent.
Three of the best shorts of the year - Initiation. Double Nougat and Love Me Tender - were presented by their writer/director/producer teams to fellow ﬁlmmakers. and the results on
_Lcreen were weighed up against the
long process that had seen the projects move from initial idea through development stage to production itself. At the end of the session. individual moods ranged from inspiration to chastisernent to thank-God-that‘s-over. But another set of lessons had been learned which might go some way to forming a firmer foundation fora 2 I st century Scottish film industry.
Movie Makars was started six years ago with an eye to improving the quality of scripts currently kept warm in the top drawers of Scotland‘s up- and-eoming ﬁlmmakers. Over the years. the event has provided an opportunity for informal bonds to be formed as well as setting in motion projects with positive results: it was here. for instance. that producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge first tnade contact with Channel 4 executive David Aukin. leading to feature lilrn Shallow Grave.
This year‘s event. again held in Inverness base. saw a wide range of sessions spread over the first week of November. Visitors included Jeremy Thomas (producer of Cronenbcrg‘s C rash and several Bertolucci epics including The Last Emperor). Jimmy McGovern (for an impassioned analysis of the script for Hillsborough). Michael Eaton (for an equally strong debate on the fact/ﬁction divide of Flowers Of The Forest). Lucy Gannon (creator of Soldier: Soldier) and Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews (discussing television comedy via their scripts for Father Ted).
One of the highlights was a screening of Stella Does Tricks. the as-yet-unseen feature ﬁlm starring Trainspotting‘s Kelly Macdonald as a teenage prostitute. which was followed by a session on its co-production set-up. At other times, one-to-one tutorial sessions brought together around 60 young ﬁlmmakers and the likes of Cmnmitments producer Lynda Myles. actor-director Peter Mullan. and Peter Broughan. producer of Rob Roy.
The atmosphere at Movie Makars this year was buoyant. which probably has a lot to do with an awareness of the growing momentum of feature ﬁlm production in Scotland. We‘ve all seen the box ofﬁce success of Trainspotting; John Byme‘s The Slab Boys was ﬁlmed here this summer; Gillies Mackinnon began shooting Regeneration with Jonathan Pryce. James Wilby and
Stella noes iric ne oi the case studies at this year’s Movie Makars event
Jonny Lee Millerjust as Movie Makars began; and big screen versions of The Silver Darlings and Poor Things are due to go before the camera next year. For those starting out in their career. the light at the end ofthe tunnel is getting brighter.
However. it‘s the informal nature of Movie Makars that gives most hope. the fact that so many experienced professionals are willing to share their time and knowledge with newcomers. An event like this. where someone with only one short under their belt can casually approach a multi-Oscar winner like Jeremy Thomas is vital in breaking down the unnecessary barriers of hierarchy and prestige in the ﬁlm industry. Because this is exactly what happens in the context of Movie Makars. the young Scottish generation is getting a head start.
22 The List 15-28 Nov i996