Cannes a snow-capped peak for director

Cannes a snow-capped peak for director, by Garry Maddox - 8th May 2004
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

When Cate Shortland flies to France this morning, she will be presenting a new idea of Australia to the world.

The director of Somersault, the country's only feature selected for the Cannes Film Festival this year, thinks international audiences will be surprised to see a drama set on the edge of the snowfields.

"It shows a different part of Australia," said the writer-director at a Bondi cafe. "There's still this idea that Australia is a great sunburnt land."

The $4 million film is about a 16-year-old girl, played by Abbie Cornish, sorting out her turbulent life in a snow resort town. It was shot in Jindabyne last year.

As a passing crew member shouts, "Have fun in Cannes", Shortland says Somersault is set in a mock European environment that is true to life.

"Jindabyne is filled with cuckoo clocks and clogs and all these strange things that are not seen as typically Australian. That's all in the film."

Previously an acclaimed short-film maker, Shortland seems stunned to have her first feature selected for the world's leading festival:

"It felt like something that happens to other people."

When the festival opens with the new Pedro Almodovar film Bad Education next week, Shortland is prepared for an intense experience. She has taken advice from the film's executive producer, Jan Chapman, who also produced Jane Campion's Cannes triumph The Piano.

"I've been told not to go to the press screening because people just walk in and out and take mobile phone calls. They comment on the film while they're watching it. That would be quite nerve-racking."

Even so, she feels anxious about what the festival holds.

"You just hope that your film is accepted. Or is not slammed. That's always in the back of your mind. You spend so much of your life working on something so you get really scared."

Shortland's selection furthers the tradition of emerging Australian female directors being recognised at Cannes. As well as Campion, Samantha Lang and Shirley Barrett had their careers boosted by the festival.

"Growing up in Australia, it wasn't unusual to want to be a director because we had Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion," Shortland said.

"It's just an accepted part of our industry that there are female directors and [cinematographers] and sound designers and editors and everything. And the French have always been really interested in the psychology of our women's films."


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