By Emma Brown
“The time has come to step out there on the edge of reality.” This premise not only describes Ivan Sen’s latest feature film – Dreamland – but also his experience making it.
The writer-director, along with lead actor Dan Roberts, spent six weeks camping on the edge of the notorious Area 51 in the US, along the Extra Terrestrial Highway to find out what’s really out there.
Shooting the experimental film – shot in black and white with a main character who doesn’t utter any words – taught him to follow his instincts, according to Sen. The film was shot without a script.
“Because the whole industry is set up on that paper and to go out and shoot that; like on Beneath Clouds I kept pushing to shoot those words on that script and tried to force it even though my instincts sometimes said it’s not working.
“On Dreamland I had the opposite, I had freedom and it taught me the courage that there is something more and to follow that.”
NASA footage of astronauts was added in the long editing process that saw 33 hours of footage cut down to 88 minutes. Dialogue from the US military base was also added to the sound mix.
“We were there for six weeks in the desert watching the lights in the sky seeing strange things and feeling people watching you with lots of security from the base.
“It’s just this tension in the area that contrasts to the beauty of nature. You don’t see anything but military aircraft – it’s a very strange place. I think that comes up in the film, a weird kind of tension and beauty,” Sen said.
The filmmaker and actor collaborated closely to develop the character, designing costumes and finding props.
“We worked with what we had and if you don’t have something manifest something in it or create it on the spot.”
Roberts says remaining in character, starting about a month before they started shooting, was a learning experience.
“I hopped into character about a month before we shot – like jamming in music between a saxophonist and guitarist it starts and doesn’t end till you finish what you’re doing,” he said.
“I didn’t come out of character for three months; like Russian theatre of staying in character for six months before you go on stage.”
Sen has translated what he has learnt to his current production, Toomelah, an indigenous low budget feature he is filming in a remote Aboriginal community in northern NSW.
“Yesterday I shot this boy sitting on an old wrecked car and he jumped down and got on an old broken down exercise bike, he was trying to fix it, it was beautiful and profound.
“I wouldn’t have seen that before. Dreamland allowed me to see the wood in the forest and not to be scared to just follow your instincts.”
The film is about an Aboriginal boy that gets kicked out of school and wants to be a bad boy. He’s hanging around teenage drug dealers with his auntie who was part of the stolen generation, trying to reconnect with her family.
“Everybody laughs when I try to get them to say certain words as they understand it and live it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the filmmakers are hoping Dreamland has a theatrical release in Australia later this year. The film will be premiere at the St Tropez Film Festival following a smaller theatrical release in Paris, France, across two to three screens in November.
“I think Dreamland will be around for a long time I think it’s got a massive life in front of it and will grow and grow,” Sen said.