Jacki Weaver and Ivan Sen on the Goldstone set.
Ivan Sen’s Goldstone opened the 2016 Sydney Film Festival before Transmisison released it nationally on July 7, and will make its international premiere at TIFF next month.
The film reunites Sen and his longtime producing partner David Jowsey with actor Aaron Pederson, who reprises the role of Outback detective Jay Swan, first seen in Sen’s 2013 feature Mystery Road.
“He’s a guy from an Indigenous background who’s defending and upholding white law, which has been in conflict with the white establishment for such a long time,” says Sen.
“He’s very divisive, no matter where he goes. He’s loaded with all kinds of political, social connotations. The situations you could put him in and have something quite deep and meaningful come out [of] his experiences are endless.”
Goldstone revisits Swan after the loss of his daughter, whose death occurred at some point after the conclusion of Mystery Road.
Grief-stricken and drunk, the detective arrives in the fictional Outback community of Goldstone, where he discovers a web of corruption involving the local mine and a human trafficking operation.
While the film takes place in the same crime-infected Outback world as Mystery Road, it is less of a procedural, according to Sen.
“There was a certain emotion which I didn’t quite hit with Mystery Road,” he says.
In Goldstone, Swan’s journey has transformed into a “spiritual [one of] regaining his identity.”
“There’s more love in Goldstone I think. It’s more about the experience of love on people and the effects of love than anything. The last scene is about him reclaiming what was taken away from him. He’s not doing that aggressively or angrily.”
The desire to go deeper was something that Pederson shared.
“Ivan didn’t want to make the same film,’ the actor says, “and I didn’t want to indulge in the same character.”
“I remember saying, what if he’s drunk? Tasma [Walton]’s character in Mystery Road mentions it – you used to drink a bit too. I thought, let’s go back to what type of drinker he was.”
Both Sen and Pederson are vocal about their desire to revisit Swan.
The filmmaker is currently in the early stages of developing a TV series about the detective, and Pederson raises the possibility of a third film to complete the trilogy.
“After Mystery Road, I did feel there was more emotion to be gained from spending another adventure with him,” says Sen, “this torn figure who doesn’t belong in aboriginal Australia or white Australia – he walks along the boundaries of both cultures.”
Goldstone gave Sen with the opportunity to work with Jacki Weaver, David Wenham and David Gulpilil, whose role was written specifically for him.
Starting with Mystery Road, where Sen worked with the likes of Hugo Weaving and Jack Thompson, “the scope of what he could achieve and where he could push into performance has improved a lot,” says producer Jowsey.
Sen writes, shoots, edits and scores his own films, and Jowsey observes that this strategy has allowed the filmmaker to “really [get] inside the detail of filmmaking and the skill of filmmaking and he’s improved with time.”
It’s an approach that Sen cultivated out of necessity, while making short documentaries in Brisbane prior to attending film school.
After getting to AFTRS, Sen was encouraged to focus on directing, and leave the other roles to other people.
“I realised it wasn’t natural for me. It wasn’t a natural process, because I’d trained myself by doing everything.”
Sen insists that his strategy of taking on multiple roles is not about having control.
“I started out with film as being an artistic thing where I had my finger on the pulse, on all the creative elements.”
The desire to experiment continues to guide the filmmaker, who at this stage in his career is reluctant to define his work. “My films are changing a lot”, he says.
Goldstone, like Mystery Road, plays on tropes and conventions familiar to the Western and to film noir, and Sen identifies a desire to examine and redefine what genre is as one of his key motivations as a filmmaker.
“Why should genre be thought of as just plot points with no characterization and no direct and profound meaning about life?”
Sen is currently developing two science fiction projects through Bunya Productions, the company he cofounded with Jowsey in 2009.
In addition to Goldstone, Bunya has another feature shortly due for general release, the big-screen adaptation of Craig Silvey’s novel Jasper Jones, set to premiere at CinefestOZ.
That film may yet join Sen's on the TIFF red carpet, and it'll be interesting to see how Goldstone fares at the North American jamboree. As Pederson points out, it tells a uniquely Australian story.
“We’re the first people of this nation, our people have been performing for over 100,000 years,” he says.
“We don’t need any acting schools. I’m a blackfella storyteller. Tell a good story man, just tell a good story."
“If non-Indigenous Australians are going to get something from my career, and they learn something… I’m just mopping up what the Education Department has made a mess of in the past.”
“Propaganda has been damaging to my people, so it's my job to step back in and do it through a form of entertainment where I'm in their lives without them being offended by it. There's a job to do here. My work isn't my angst – it's my freedom.”