Chasing the dream of making your own feature requires time and perseverance as well as, dare it be mentioned, money. Yet, for those who hang in there, the dream is achievable.
There’s no greater example than that of 64 year-old David Pulbrook. After working as an editor for over forty years, he has made his feature directorial debut with the claustrophobic-thriller Last Dance.
“I certainly want to do it again,” he says. “Even at my age, in my declining years, I just look at Clint Eastwood and think there’s hope for all of us.”
The idea for the film, a study of the relationship between a Jewish holocaust survivor (Julia Blake) and a young, Palestinian terrorist (Firass Dirani), first came to Pulbrook 25 years ago. However, it wasn’t until eight years ago that he approached scriptwriter Terence Hammond and the first 60 pages were penned.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” Pulbrook reflects. “We were doing it in our spare time. I was working on a number of films and I have a company that makes commercials. It was our baby.
“When we had the script in pretty good shape I spoke to a number of producers with different responses. Some liked the script; some thought it was too controversial. The film is very much an ‘art house’ so I think a lot of producers thought, ‘It’s not going to make any money’.” There’s that word again. Money.
It wasn’t until Pulbrook began editing horse racing feature The Cup last year that he was referred to producer Antony I. Ginnane, who has produced dozens of films since the ‘70s.
“I thought, ‘It’s a small film for Tony. He might not want to do it.' But he made it happen, much to my delight.”
Last Dance takes place in the St Kilda apartment of Ulah Lippman (Blake), where Sadiq Mohammed (Dirani) holds her hostage after an attempted bombing at a local synagogue. What could possibly make Melbourne, of all places, an appropriate setting for such a conflict to play out?
“Melbourne has the largest population of holocaust survivors anywhere in the world outside Israel, which is an extraordinary fact that just about nobody knows. We have a Yiddish speaking school here,” says Pulbrook, whose studio is based in the community. Both the Jewish and the Palestinian communities were involved in providing feedback from script stage.
“We listened to all the comments and some things we could do. Some things we couldn’t do because they were pivotal for the film to work… if you take all of the things that could be offensive out of a film there’s not much left.”
However, the film is positive at its core because it establishes the possibility of finding common ground.
“It’s a very intense piece. The subject matter is very universal. It’s about redemption, love, forgiveness and compassion. The Middle East conflict underpins it but it’s not about that. It’s about two people.”
The film’s power lies in its claustrophobia – an intentional effect thanks to the camera work of the director’s brother, Lee Pulbrook, who shot the film very dark using the ARRI ALEXA (with Cooke lenses) in RAW format. “He was right on the edge. He was a bit nervous about that but I think it looks great.”
Pulbrook began his career working at Crawford Productions back in the 1960s. “I directed there when I was 22, then left and went out into the world and decided that editing was what I wanted to do.”
How was the switch from editing to directing a feature? “There are so many facets to being a director. You have to approve everything. Every bit of wardrobe, every bit of set. The move from editing to directing is a relatively comfortable one. In editing you know a lot about the construction of the film, shot and lenses and those sorts of technical aspects of filmmaking. The only thing you’re not that familiar with are the performance aspects.”
In regards to this challenge Pulbrook notes, “It’s such a collaborative thing. I think actors need directors to assure them and make them feel good and comfortable about their performances. Essentially a director is a sounding board.” He is effusive about the performance of both lead actors and believes Last Dance is “the best thing Firass has ever done”. Dirani has previously played the role of John Ibrahim in Underbelly: The Golden Mile and currently appears in Channel Nine series House Husbands. “He’s amazing. They both are because they just have so much to do, it’s just about them and they can really strut their stuff.”
Last Dance had its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival and is released in cinemas on November 1 by Becker Film Group.