You are a woman in a play. Learn your part. Know your place.
Interview with Writer/Director Sunday Emerson Gullifer
Main image: Matilda Ridgway as Lizzie in TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, written and directed by Sunday Emerson Gullifer. Photo by Darcy Tuppen.
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
This is a film born of love and anger.
I have always loved theatre, and Shakespeare in particular. I saw my first professional Shakespeare production at the age of 10. It was Joel Edgerton playing King Henry V, and I was hooked. Years later, I found myself working in marketing for Australia’s national Shakespeare company, Bell Shakespeare. It’s been a lifelong love.
But late 2015, the theatre industry in Sydney was abuzz. Darlinghurst Theatre Company had released their 2016 season program and their stats were dire. Where were all the women? In response, a group of actors launched Women in Theatre & Screen (WITS). They held a series of public forums to ask: why does this still continue to be an issue? The first, a women-only event, had a turnout of 300 creative professionals.
It was shocking. Women described verbal and physical abuse that had gone unchecked, discrimination and harassment—and this wasn’t just on the fringes. Sexism was insidious and it was rife, throughout mainstage theatre companies and professional film and television productions. How was this still happening?
A few months later, I caught up with my friend, Matilda Ridgway. She is an actor and was coming off a six-month tour playing Ophelia in HAMLET. For over 100 performances, she went mad. Because that’s what women do in Shakespeare’s plays: they get married, they are murdered, or they go mad.
At the same time, the same conversations were being had in the Australian film and television industry. Where were all the women? Why were the numbers so bad? Women account for just 16% of feature film directors in Australia—funnily enough, only 16% of Shakespeare’s characters are women. On stage and behind the camera, things are not so different for Matilda and me.
At the beginning of 2016, I moved to Melbourne where I had been accepted directly into second-year of the Victorian College of the Arts’ Master of Film and Television in Directing. I was one of three women in a class of 12. I thought about the way men are so often elevated as geniuses, while women have to prove themselves over and over again.
I love theatre. I love film. I love what I do. But this film is my call to arms.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
The film examines what it means to be a woman in a world that celebrates only male genius, the abuse of power that can so often exist in creative relationships, and the personal cost of making great art.
These issues are all currently at the forefront of our industry, with countless stories of abuse emerging as a result of the 'Me Too' and 'Time's Up' campaigns. While those movements originated in the entertainment industry, these issues are rife across all sectors and I think great art boldly interrogates the issues of the day.
Despite all this, the film is also very funny, so audiences will laugh and then spend a lot of time thinking about the why of it all.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
At its core, the film is about abuse—and finding a way through it. Sadly, this has always been a real issue the world over.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
I wrote the script quite quickly—from first idea to shooting was only about four months. Once I'd engaged Matilda Ridgway as the lead, we had a lot of Skype conversations about the project and she contributed a lot of wonderful ideas that were key to the film.
As other cast and creatives came on board, they also brought their own experiences to the project. Given that it's about actors and the world of theatre, my cast became my most significant resource, and we continued workshopping the film even as we got on set, often changing lines of dialogue as we blocked scenes and improvising throughout the shoot.
It was an exhilarating way of working, and the film is better for it.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
It's been interesting as, in the early stages of development and production, it sometimes felt like we were up against the very issues that the film explores. ("Why should I care about an actress?" "Not another 'women's issues' film.") But this all sort of proved the point that we were trying to make, and as these issues have come to the fore, the film has become even more relevant.
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We had our world premiere at Sydney Film Festival in 2017, where the film was Highly Commended in the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films. I've since travelled with the film to Telluride Film Festival in the United States and Munich International Festival of Film Schools in Germany, and the feedback we've received has been incredible, from men and women across the world.
I think the best piece of feedback you can receive as a filmmaker is someone telling you that your film spoke to them on a fundamental level.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
What surprised me the most was how funny the film is. I knew parts were humorous and we laughed a lot on set while shooting those scenes, but it was only when I got to watch the film in front of large audiences that I realised how much they were responding to the humour.
It's something I'm actually really proud of—I think it's important when making an issues-based film not to just beat audiences over the head. I love that we take them on a pendulum, swinging from humour to shock.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I hope that people will seek out the film, whether it be festival programmers or other audiences. We had an incredible team work on the film, so it's also worth hunting down their other work.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Once we have finished our festival run in the next few months, I'm very keen to release the film online. I'd love to partner with a platform who is passionate about the issues of the film, and would be interested in speaking to any media interested in covering the film in the context of the seismic shift that's currently occurring in our industry.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
To quote one of the film's lead actors, Mark Leonard Winter: "Theatre, to me, is the most fragile of artistic mediums. This vulnerable process can be hijacked in an instant by ego born of entitlement, insecurity or arrogance. What should be a collaborative pursuit can fast become a battle for survival and, at its worst, a downright painful experience. Couple this with the thousand conversations I have had about the problems faced by my female contemporaries in the industry. Sunday's proposition of exploring these realities in her film was a no brainer for me to commit to, with the hope of contributing in a small way to change, rejuvenation and growth."
If we can contribute, in some small way, to change, rejuvenation and growth across our industry, I will be very happy.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Here, I'll quote Matilda Ridgway: "Making something that is truthful and powerful often asks us to give something of ourselves, it costs us emotionally, physically. When is it too much? When is this pain untenable?"
Would you like to add anything else?
This project was a labour of passion and love for all involved. Our budget was very low and producer Alexandra George and I were consistently blown away by the support we received—from our cast, crew, crowdfunding supporters, and organisations like Malthouse Theatre Company and Burrinja Culture Centre who were our primary shooting locations. This film wouldn't exist without them, and we're very proud and grateful for their support.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I have a couple of shorts in development, one of which I'm planning to shoot this year. I'm also developing my debut feature, and an online satirical series that riffs on some of the characters and ideas from TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW.
Alexandra is commencing post-production on a 20-minute multi-channel video installation by Australian artist Eugenia Lim in collaboration with PLOT Media called THE AUSTRALIAN UGLINESS. It's a three-screen video work that will extend Robin Boyd's acclaimed book of the same name to explore Australian identity through our architecture from a more plural, female and performative perspective, to be presented by Open House Melbourne & Melbourne School of Design for exhibition in 2018.
Actors Matilda Ridgway and Mark Leonard Winter are currently shooting independent feature film, DISCLOSURE, in Melbourne, which I am eagerly anticipating.
Interview: January 2018
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TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW
You are a woman in a play. Learn your part. Know your place.
Length: 24 minutes
Director: Sunday Emerson Gullifer
Producer: Alexandra George
Writer: Sunday Emerson Gullifer
About the writer, director and producer:
Sunday Emerson Gullifer is an award-winning filmmaker based in Sydney, Australia. Her latest film, TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, premiered internationally at Telluride Film Festival, was Highly Commended in the Dendy Awards at Sydney Film Festival, won Best Screenplay at Munich International Festival of Film Schools, and was nominated for an Australian Directors' Guild Award. She is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts.
Alexandra George is an awarded producer working across short and feature film, primetime television, multiplatform and commercial formats. She is also the in-house Production Manager & Digital Engagement Strategist at PLOT Media.
Key cast: Matilda Ridgway, Mark Leonard Winter, Charlotte Nicdao, Amanda LaBonte and Matt Boesenberg
Funders: Australian Cultural Fund crowdfunding campaign, Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts, personal investment.
Made in association with: Victorian College of the Arts
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? It's screening in 'Best of Australian 4' at Flickerfest International Short Film Festival on Sunday 14 January at 8.45pm.