Sunday, 24 February 2013

Post Script and the Fugue Goes On

Each ending is just a new beginning.  Energy never ends, it migrates into new forms. And so it is with the fugue, the musical circular form of reinvention.
This is a potent form for all who have experienced the suppressing forces of colonisation, as it enables a means of countering oppression through answering back, to those colonising forces, and in one's own voice. 
Never has this been more needed than now, in the history of humankind. As we enter the digital labyrinth where we have allowed machines, computers, to dictate and determine how we communicate, and how we present ourselves to others in the world. 

Right now I am ready to throw this Mac out the  window as it is so hard to work with. It's so easy - too easy- to chat on Facebook, and write emails (which can be hacked as has happened to me several times).  It's also good for writing blog posts. 

But as a writer trying to use it to organise projects, and files, it is a nightmare. I am returning to the form of the art journal to write my narrative of finding my family and their finding me through the mysterious channels that are not the prerogative of cyber space but which exist beyond this. In our very DNA and in the telepathic energies that exist in another wider dimension than machines. 

From now on, I will record the journey of this writing, as well as making observations from time to time, on the wider cultural and social - and "unconscious"  landscapes in which I work.

Ruth Skilbeck

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The End is High- So I Bid You Goodbye

So now, I feel I can end this Blog Adventure, with a clear conscience. And with some well deserved pride. 
The Truth has been revealed. My Mother's long lost identity has been revealed and restored to the record. This has been a long journey that I have documented as I have gone, and published my findings on the way- as I have shared with readers on this blog. 
And so, dear Readers, I bid you adieu, and wish you all the best. May you find what you are looking for, and may your most cherished desires come to fruition

Ruth Skilbeck 23.2.13

The secret Is revealed

So after decades the secret is finally revealed. My family on my mother's side is descended from Irish rebels.
What is so shocking about that, really?
Why should that have to be silenced, and hidden for generations?
If it was not for my concerted research this would never have been revealed.
Our long lost ancestors would have remained forever unknown.
In this we - my siblings and myself- are in the same situation as countless thousands who were impacted by the "stolen generations" policies in Australia during the twentieth century.
They were Aboriginal, or they were other.
My ancestors fought against the British, who were colonising their country.
For this  they were exiled for life.
And were repressed in the family story.

I have found out a lot about my ancestors. By "chance" I am now living in the area in NSW, the Hunter, where they were based. They had a famous horse stud in the Hunter Valley, for over one hundred years, and I keep thinking about them as the name Doyle's Creek is in the newspapers every day at the moment over a mining bid that has collapsed due to corruption; a mine was proposed at "Doyle's Creek" in the Bylong Valley - named after my ancestors who ended up owning thousands of acres in New South Wales.

I seem to be in the position of chronicler of the family history, that was suppressed for so long. So will continue this saga in due course.

Ruth Skilbeck

Friday, 22 February 2013

My Story - continued.

Dear Readers,

Those who are still reading, may have noticed a slight tangential deviation in the angle of this blog. What began as an experiment, became in the fullness of digital time, a combination of media commentary, and perhaps less obviously, mining of the soul of yours truly in an unfolding of the journey to find my motherline. This is no easy task psychologically, or in terms of logistics, but the internet connection helps and this is how I did find my long lost motherline, in combination with some concerted research via the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
As I do know that there are readers around the world reading this blog, and in Australia, including good and old friends, I feel it is only fair to share here what I have found.
I have found out that my mother's family was- is- Irish. Our family name on my mother's side is Doyle.

Her- and my-  ancestors, were Irish rebels, exiled for life from Ireland following the Irish Uprisings of 1798 against the British colonisers.

Most recently I have found out that on my mother’s side I am descended from Irish political exiles, Irish Rebels and artists and musicians, Andrew Doyle* “who was exiled for life for his part in the 1798-1801 Irish uprising”  and who came to Australia on the sailing ship Rolla, with brother (also exiled) and with his wife Sophia (as a free settler) and their young children, so were able to move swiftly into the position of free settler. A notable ancestor, on this side of the family, was the celebrated violinist Eileen O’Moore (stage name of Lydia Elizabeth Doyle) born in NSW who the digitised press clippings reveal was  famous in Australia and Europe playing with the “world’s best orchestras” at the turn of the twentieth century  just before the era of mass sound recordings; and became a violin professor at Stanford University, outside San Francisco.

And that is only the start.

More to follow.

Ruth Skilbeck 

* “Doyle, Cyrus Matthew (1793-1855)” by Alec B. Doyle, Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Newcastle Notes

Yesterday, when I was at the chemist, I picked up a couple of meditation brochures from the counter, hastily, thinking it would be a good thing. When I had time to quickly look at one this morning at breakfast, I noticed that on the front under 'meditation and buddhism classes and courses', some wag had scrawled in black biro VODKA. It's one of those Newcastle things. Made me feel better than an hour's chanting.
                                                                                                                          Ruth Skilbeck 13.2.13

Saturday, 9 February 2013

On Making 'These Heathen Dreams': Ruth Skilbeck in Conversation with Anne Tsoulis

I spoke with writer and filmmaker Anne Tsoulis on the resurgence in political art activism and the importance of the artist in society- in her new Australian-French documentary-in-progress on radical émigré Australian artist, dramaturge and poet Christopher Barnett.
Photo: Anne Tsoulis (right )writer/director with Georgia Wallace-Crabbe, producer.
Photo: Anne Tsoulis (right) writer/director with Georgia Wallace-Crabbe, producer.
Anne Tsoulis, your current documentary project, These Heathen Dreams, is on the life and works of émigré Australian artist dramaturge/poet Christopher Barnett. One time bête noir described by the Australian newspaper as “Australia’s most controversial artist” who for over twenty years has lived in Nantes, in western France, where he founded and runs a highly respected theatre laboratory Le Dernier Spectateur working with the marginalized and disenfranchised. I understand that you and Christopher were friends from student days in Adelaide and that you were inspired to make the film after making contact with Christopher on facebook in 2010 after being out of touch for over 20 years. In the meantime you became a filmmaker, screenwriter and script editor. To give just a few highlights from your career in film from your biography: your feature film, I’ll Make You Happy,  (2000) which you made with your sister Athina Tsoulis, was a low budget feature film success. Financed by the New Zealand Film Commission, it sold in multiple territories, including the UK and US and played to full houses in New Zealand. Your recent feature film script, Will and Harry, was highly commended in the South Australian Premier's Literary Awards. You are accredited script editor of produced feature films including the 13 million budget UK/Australian produced Like Minds, and are script editor on Breaker Morant a two-part documentary scheduled for production in Australia this year (2013). You are also an experienced experimental new media artist and were one of the original participants in innovative experimental new media arts group XMedia Lab; and are recipient of a grant from SA Arts for your novel in progress. You have worked in arts administration in Australia as Investment Manager for the Australian Film Commission, and assessor/reader for State and Federal funding bodies, among other roles. Your international work includes commissioned writer and script editor on features developed by Lars Von Trier’s company Zentropa, supported by the European Film Fund.
You are making These Heathen Dreams  with an international creative team, with Sydney- based producer Georgia Wallace-Crabbe of production company Film Projects, and co-producer Estelle Robin You, director of production company Les Films du Balibari in Nantes, France. Here in Australia finance is not so readily available for filmmakers, and you are running a Pozible crowdfunding campaign to raise the $25,000 needed to finance the Australian side of post-production. I have a few questions I’d like to ask you on making and financing the documentary and the Pozible social media campaign.
Ruth Skilbeck:  What is the story that you are telling in These Heathen Dreams? And what does the title refer to?
Anne Tsoulis: These Heathen Dreams deals with multi-layered themes that have much to say about society, politics and the importance of art expression as a powerful tool in creating change and promoting awareness of social justice issues.  What has informed Christopher to take the journey he has in life, as a writer, dramaturge and art activist dedicated to promoting social justice and assisting the most marginalized in society to survive, is the real story here.
I asked Christopher what would we call the doco and he suggested These Heathen Dreams, the title of one of his poems.  I liked it immediately.  To be a heathen is to be set on the margins, to dream is a wonderful thing.  Neither Christopher nor I are religious but as writers dreaming/conjuring images, ideas and thoughts is an all important part of what we do.
These Heathen Dreams poster
These Heathen Dreams poster
 Skilbeck:  How much of it is written and made so far? What stage of production has the film reached?
Tsoulis:  We were given development money from Screen Australia, Screen NSW and later from the South Australian Film Corporation.  With this we went to France and underwent a preliminary shoot and shot some 40 hours of footage.  At which time I was able to reconnect with Christopher as it had been decades since I had seen him last.  It enabled Georgia Wallace-Crabbe (Producer) and I to put together a finance package that included the making of a trailer and the writing of a treatment for the doco.  Making documentaries is a very different process to feature films - research, development and production tend to happen simultaneously.  Much of the work has already been done.  We're at the point of putting all the pieces together, finishing the shooting and starting the post-production.
Skilbeck:  Could you say a little more about the documentary and its significance and importance to you as a filmmaker and to the Australian community and arts and culture both here in Australian and internationally – in the world.
Tsoulis: My foremost intention is to create a documentary with an engaging story - one that informs, amuses and entertains, which at the same time can be relevant to a contemporary audience in the current world climate where political art activism is re-emerging as a significant voice. These are volatile times, and people need stories that inspire, that say as individuals and as artists we can make a difference.  With our voice, with our art we can help make a better world.    In Australia, unless the person is a Hollywood celebrity, we have a cultural cringe towards our own.  We need to herald the amazing talent that has come out of this country and that should be celebrated.  We need to inspire our younger generations by example.  For me this documentary is intended for posterity, for future generations.  To document achievements is a very important part of creating a cultural identity and an important international cross-pollination – as is the case with Christopher Barnett.
Skilbeck: Do you see any parallels, or resonances with your produced feature film I’ll Make You Happy that you made with your sister Athina Tsoulis, and which I believe you made after finding your sister who had moved to live in New Zealand, and with whom you had been out of touch for ten years, and finding out that what you had been doing was compatible- she was making films, and you were writing screenplays?
Tsoulis: I received a good deal of funding to develop the feature script for I’ll Make You Happy through the South Australian Film Corp and New Zealand Film Commission, to the point of it being ridiculous.  After being funded for five separate drafts of a script  (I think that is a record!) that really translated into about thirteen drafts, I said "enough".  Everyone loved the script, but my producer Liz Stevens (now ironically, Manager of documentaries at Screen Australia) and the director Athina Tsoulis (my sister) had only made successful short films but never a full-length feature film.  Every time they would take the script in to get production finance, the response would be, maybe one more draft. They kept on throwing money at me to write, and I was sick of it because the script was becoming overworked.  I understood they loved the script and they didn't want to let the project go, but they couldn't get their heads around having the faith in three women to make a first time feature film.  So Liz and Athina re-mortgaged their houses and took out a loan and decided to shoot the damn thing.  And they did, and the result was terrific and my hat's off to them for being bold and keeping their faith. But after so much writing, it was heartbreaking for me to have to rewrite the script and strip it back so it could be shot on no budget.  So my sister Athina did that.
 I find the same is happening now for These Heathen Dreams. In Australia, development has not been an issue, but getting them to finance the production even with a French broadcaster, regional French finance, Fairfax Digital onboard, an international distributor and local educational distributor - isn't so easy.  So many parallels to I’ll Make You Happy.
I have five sisters spread all over the world.  We're used to not hearing from each other for long periods of time.  The script was already developed when I gave it to Athina.  I had already been funded for three drafts before I even knew Athina was a filmmaker or she that I was a screenwriter.  She loved the script and always expressed her wish to direct it.  I wanted to direct it as my first feature, and wasn't about to let it go.  But when Athina underwent a terrible ordeal with breast cancer and she was going through a hard time, I gave it to her to life her spirits.  I guess there is a parallel here with Christopher.  My impetus for making the doco was because Christopher is also very ill, and at the time we went to France we weren't sure if he'd be alive one day to the next.  Making the doco has been amazing - keeping him alive, getting him to write poetry again, and reconnecting him to a social network he'd let go of when he left Australia. As I say, art is a very powerful force.  And as you will witness in the documentary, Christopher is a champion at understanding this and putting it into action to help people through the stunning work that he performs.  As Thomas Harlan [the writer and filmmaker] states, “everyone can learn from Christopher – he is a teacher.”
Christopher Barnett performing with musician in Nante, 2012
Christopher Barnett performing with musicians in Nantes, 2012
Skilbeck: Do you see making These Heathen Dreams as in any way a comparable project to your making I'll Make You Happy, as it involves your reunion with your friend Christopher Barnett whom you had also lost touch with for many years?
Tsoulis:  As I said, I have five older sisters spread across the world.  We are used to having long periods of time not seeing or communicating with each other.   I have another sister, Eugenia, who wrote a published novel that I didn't know about till well after it was released!   I didn't know she was a writer, like I didn't know Athina was a filmmaker.  So I don't see it the same.   My sister is my sister and will always be my sister.  You don't lose them.  But you can lose a friend.  And I am happy I found Christopher again.
Skilbeck: Can you talk a little about how and when you first met Christopher, in Adelaide I believe, and what you and he were doing then?
Tsoulis: Christopher and I met at Teacher's College in Adelaide.  It was a very conservative institution, so we were drawn to each other as misfits.  Christopher was very engaged in political activism, his poetry and theatre.  I was more interested in having a good time.  I wasn't engaged by his work, just with him as a friend.  He was a brother I never had.  And he was a wild child who was always getting into trouble, with an entourage of admirers - women loved him just as he loved and felt safe in the company of women.  One day he came over with his poetry books and announced that he was entrusting me with them, and that I was to be the guardian of his work.  I felt honoured for a second.  Then virtually every day he'd come and take one at a time to give to some new girl he'd met until they were all gone!  
My friends thought I was mad hanging around him.  But Christopher and I had a bond - we were working class kids brought up with many dangers and understood how racist and inequitable society can be.  At that time kids like us didn't go to university or tertiary institutions.  There was a class element.  I would always be of immigrants and Christopher from housing trust.  So we were fish out of water, surrounded by middle-class peers - intellectually we fitted but our realities were so different to everyone else's.   We didn't fit in with the immigrant/housing trust stereotype, or with the educated middle class Australians.  So we took comfort in our friendship.  We knew how tough life could be - we were "angry young teenagers" for it, and we allowed each other to be that.
Christopher Barnett as Mayakovsky in his play Selling Ourselves for Dinner, 1982
Christopher Barnett as Mayakovsky in his play Selling Ourselves for Dinner, 1982
Skilbeck: Could you say something about the time that you knew Christopher Barnett when he was working in Australia, in the 1970s and 80s, what were you doing then, what was your involvement in what’s been called the Australian underground art scene?
Tsoulis: Christopher produced amazing work.  He was prolific.  He drew people to him. They wanted to be part of whatever he was doing or creating.  I actually knew very little about his political activism.  I knew he was communist, but many were in those days - you weren't cool if you weren't a communist or wore a Che t-shirt or beret.  I had no idea how involved he was with the Party. I remember him standing on Beehive Corner in CBD Adelaide, handing out Vanguard – a communist rag.  Christopher led many secret lives, much that I knew very little about at the time.  I take people at face value - I adored Christopher not for what he did but for who is was as a person - someone whose company was always engaging and interesting.  I don't think I even went to the Carclew poetry readings he set up with fellow Adelaide writers.  I was into music and socialised mainly with Blues and Jazz musicians until I became a punk and moved to Melbourne in the late 70's.  
Adelaide with Don Dunstan was the place to be.  The Arts flourished. Everyone was coming down to Adelaide to live and study - pot was legal, it was a cheap place to live and we had a Premier who gave free reign to artists and created the first major Arts festival in Australia - and of course the South Australian Film Corporation.  Hell, they were even coming from overseas to live in Adelaide.  Some of our greatest talents were born during this period. It was so fertile for artists like Christopher.  I always loved the arts and literature but I was never an artist. I had no ambition or even contemplation of being a writer or filmmaker.   Christopher was the writer.  My friends were the artists.
All Out Ensemble performance of Selling Ourselves for Dinner in the Rundle Mall Car Park, in Adelaide
All Out Ensemble performance of Selling Ourselves for Dinner in the Rundle Mall Car Park, in Adelaide
I went to Teachers College to please my parents.  Finished one year of teaching, resigned, went on the dole and hightailed to Melbourne when the Liberal government got in and Dunstan was no longer.  Christopher's wild ways soon came to a crescendo and he was no longer safe in Adelaide.  He moved to Melbourne shortly after me.  At first I loved Melbourne.  I loved the punk scene in Melbourne with its "fuck you society" mantra.  Christopher came and fitted in perfectly.  His work was highly experimental; I guess you could call it avant-garde although that sounds a bit clichéd now.  We drifted apart in Melbourne.  Christopher was abusing alcohol and all and so immersed in his theatre work and poetry, we didn't see a lot of each other.  He always came with an entourage of followers.  He was getting too obnoxious for me and like he says, he was disintegrating.  The environment became sinister with everyone in Melbourne getting into heroin and self-destructive behaviour.  The Art scene began to feel very caustic and dangerous.   My survival instinct kicked in and I left Melbourne in '81 to live overseas.   So many of our friends from those days are dead now.  Christopher's survival instinct kicked in in  '87 when, and till this day, he stopped drinking alcohol and taking drugs and also fled overseas.  We never saw each other again till 2010 when I went to France for the doco.  
Christopher Barnett arrives in Nantes in 1993 and starts up theatre company Les Derniers Spectateur.
Christopher Barnett arrives in Nantes in 1993 and starts up theatre company Les Derniers Spectateur.
Skilbeck: There was a radical political philosophy movement in Adelaide in the 70s and 80s that included Maoists, Marxists; and philosopher activists, such as Brian Medlin, Professor of Philosophy at Flinders University, who was jailed for three weeks for leading anti-war Vietnam protests in the early 70s. (He studied at Oxford and is also internationally renowned for his contributions to a materialist philosophy of Identity Theory). Were you involved in these movements of politics and art and philosophy as Christopher Barnett was then?
Tsoulis: I was young then, an adolescent.  My brother-in-law and sister are artists and a decade older than me.  They were friends of Brian Medlin and Annie Newmarch.   I used to hang out at Brian Medlin's place from the age of twelve. They had heated carpet on the floor! because Brian used to be an electrician if I remember right.  I loved Brian and Annie- they made such an impression on my young mind.   They were so cool.  People wore army fatigues back then as street dress and were called “militants.”  You don’t hear that word any more. People went on strike at the drop of a hat and no-one was adverse to calling a "capitalist pig" a "capitalist pig". Another expression you don't hear of anymore.
I went to Vietnam demonstrations with my father.  My father was a leading member of the Greek community, an ex-communist and ferocious socialist. He was a communist, partisan soldier during WWII and the dictatorship in Greece.  Our Sunday lunches were always fraught with arguments over political discussions.  I was brought up politically aware on every level.  I was brought up to discuss and engage in politics - to be aware of racism and social injustices.  In this Christopher and I share the same experience because his parents were poor but highly educated, politically minded and active.
I didn't understand what feminism was about because no one had told me that men were superior or I inferior as a woman.  It never entered my head that most men would be so stupid to think they were superior to us.   My parents had six daughters. My mother was virtually illiterate so she know the value of education. And there, where every other Greek mother was trying to marry off their daughters to be stay-at-home housewives, we were told from the day we were born that we had to go to uni and get a higher education. My mother ruled our house, I had all older older sisters and went to an all-girls school - women ruled in my world.  My mother's mantra was you can't rely on a man to financially support you.   We had no choice in the matter than to get a higher education and for that I am eternally grateful.  I've been given flack about making a doco about a man- I'm not making a doco about a man. I'm making a doco about Christopher Barnett. Just as there is this presumption about being Greek, [there is a presumption of] male dominance, I could never get used to that.
I got most of my knowledge about the world through books.  I was only 15 when I did my final year of high school.  Sixteen when I went to teacher's college, much younger than everyone else.  So I was exposed to so much so young, especially in literature.  I'd read Genet, Camus, Vonnegut, Kafka and all the classic masters along with the beat poets etc by the age of fifteen.  It was these authors and books that gave me an understanding of philosophy and identity that went beyond what I was getting at home or within Adelaide society.  It was only after reading Genet that I knew that such a thing as homosexuality existed. What an introduction! 
Skilbeck: How and when did you reconnect and resume contact with Christopher?
Tsoulis: I'd lost contact with Christopher for over 25 years.  Every so often I would try and locate him or ask about him.  I was once told he married a wealthy woman and lived in France.  I was sort of happy for him that he was safe but disappointed that he took an easy road.  But I was very much mistaken and this was just another an urban myth that surrounded him.  
At the end of 2009 I saw a post on facebook by Richard Jones who was asking if anyone had Christopher's contact details.  I immediately responded that I wanted to make contact.  So eventually I was given an email address. Christopher and I began writing to each other and it was as if time stood still. He told me all about his work in France for the past 20 years and I was so proud of him.  Proud of the work he was doing in giving to others - in using his art to help others survive their horrific circumstances.  Christopher has been living his art since he left Australia and I was so happy to hear of it.  But I was also distressed to hear of his ill-health and I could feel in him a lack of desire to keep living because of the pain he's been in.
I felt I had to go over there immediately.  I was worried if he should die, all his works would be lost.  I guess I felt I had to go over there and fulfill that duty of being that guardian bestowed upon me so many years ago.  So the only way I could do it was to turn it into a film project.  I put an application together for the doco and applied to Screen Australia.  They told me they would only fund me if I got an experienced documentary producer on board.  At the time I was staying with Georgia.  Georgia knew Christopher through her deceased brother who had a friendship with Christopher.  The project resonated with her.  It also told part of Georgia's history as well, being very much part of that Melbourne movement.  It’s a sheer coincidence that Georgia's father too is a highly regarded poet.  I felt very fortunate that she came on board.  We got our funding and went over to France where we not only shot a lot of the doco but also were able to take care of Christopher through a very difficult time.
 Skilbeck:  How much of what was happening in Adelaide in the time you knew Christopher Barnett, is going into the film, in other words how much will it be a film documenting the times, society and culture, in Australia in the 1970s and 80s? (And has Adelaide changed much since then?)  Or will it focus more on Christopher’s work in France?
Tsoulis: I want to capture the spirit of Adelaide as it was during the Dunstan era for arts and politics and as I have described above.  But I also want to capture the mood of the 50's and 60's, important to Christopher and I because they were the years in which we grew up as vulnerable children in a very harsh and somewhat pioneering environment.   But this only one part of the story. There is also Melbourne to tell and of course France.
Skilbeck:  You were able to produce I’ll Make You Happy because you were able to secure finance of  $100,000 in New Zealand. But it started as a “no budget” film, and then attracted backing.  It costs a lot to make and produce a feature film or documentary. How much do you need to make These Heathen Dreams?
Tsoulis: The film was taken to rough-cut.  It cost 65k to make it to that point self-funded by Athina and Liz.  They took the rough cut to the NZ Film Commission.  They were so impressed they gave it  $400k - actually I think it was $450k to finish it in post-production.  It was obscene.  No one who worked on it in production got a cent - and yet in post the music and composer alone cost $100k.  The NZ Film Commissions insisted on being the sales agent as a stipulation of investing the money.  It sold everywhere.  To this day, we do not know how much money it made or who go it.  We didn't see a cent and Athina and Liz were stuck with a $65k loan they had to pay off.
When you make a film, the writer, director and producer are the last to get paid.  You have to have belief and passion in what you are doing.  We can't make a film without the DOPs [directors of photography/cinematographers], the editors, sound people and all the rest of the crew and facilities required and they are expensive.  I really don't believe in getting people to work for free unless they are a stakeholder of some sort.  To put a figure is difficult.  To make a documentary like this comfortably you need at least $400k.  To be forced to do it on the run like Georgia and I have, you need the money to pay for other people and expenses.  You need to use your wits to keep going, as most filmmakers in this country have become quite versed in doing.  It’s very hard, but I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
Skilbeck: Would it be fair to say that in comparison to some other countries, such as New Zealand and France, it is harder for Australian filmmakers to raise finance and attract backers? Do you have any thoughts on why this is and what impact this is having on Australian arts and culture, here in Australia and internationally in how Australia is seen in the world?
Tsoulis: Australia has become so conservative and the first to suffer is always the arts and the film industry.  I don't see much vision in Australia and it reflects and in the arts and the film industry.   I come from a background where people pull together to create art.  We now have a creative environment that is so divisive, and that no longer takes creative risks, and that is risky in itself.  I think that's all I want to say on the subject.
On how the world sees us?  Our French co-producers tell us that saying they are doing a co-production with Australia, they may as well be saying they're doing a co-pro with Croatia.  And it seems that Australia is equally unimpressed when we say we are doing a co-pro with France.
 Skilbeck: Can you talk a little about the Pozible campaign? What has been your experience of the process so far?
Tsoulis: Crowdfunding is liberating!  You have no idea how many submissions and applications we have written to get production funds from Australia. Unbelievable amount of work and time and effort with mountains of paper work that has led to zilch.  A bit like I’ll Make You Happy, enough is enough and time to go into action and just make it.  It’s going to be brilliant and when they see it they'll go "oh, is that what they're on about?"  We'll get our post-production financing.  I have learnt that what gets you through is resilience - keep at them and don't go away.  
Crowdfunding is fabulous.  It’s not just about raising the finance, it’s about empowerment.  It’s about empowering each other with our creative visions. Since we began our crowdfunding campaign, I have pledged to three others and it makes me feel great doing so.  Crowdfunding also gives enormous exposure to the work and in doing so you're able to receive feedback to know if you have a product people want.  We have had amazing feedback and support.  Unfortunately we don't have many rich friends (or any maybe lol) but with many people giving small amounts, collectively we get the money we need to continue.    So far 160 people have contributed pledges of donations.  That knocks me out!  That makes us feel wanted and loved! Unfortunately we need a lot more and we're pumping to get it.   It’s a hard slog but many rewards along the way if you choose to see those rewards and not focus on the hard slog that it is or see yourself as begging.  I don't see it as begging for money as some do.  It’s been a very interesting process and a terrific vehicle for artists and filmmakers to see their creative visions actualised.
Skilbeck: What inspires you most as a writer and filmmaker? Who are your influences? What is your philosophy of writing and filmmaking?
Tsoulis: People inspire me.  I love people.  All the drama scripts that I write (that's my main focus in my work as a screenwriter) are character driven.  I am making this doco about Christopher because in my imagination I could never create a character that came close to his.  How could I resist writing and making a film about a character such as his?  Wendy Harmer [Australian comedian] said that Christopher was “someone you read about in a book, but never thought you’d actually get to meet.”  And she’s right.  Christopher's story is so rich, so original and so inspiring.    
In the early 90s Christopher Barnett returned to Australia to collaborate with Splinters Theatre Groups on a production of his  play " a place".
In the early 90s Christopher Barnett returned to Australia to collaborate with Splinters Theatre Group on a production of his play " a place".
My influences are short and sweet - Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan. They understood the depth of the human soul in all its intensity.  They understood character is the most exciting element of storytelling.  “Tom” an amazing biography on Tennessee Williams is my inspiration for this doco.  It’s brilliant.  Rather than talking and deconstructing Tennessee Williams’ work, it focuses on Tennessee’s formative years.  You have to know the person to fully understand what informed the art.  And this too is what I want for this documentary. 
I began writing in my early thirties, and as a healing process. At the time I had just separated and become a single mother.  I had returned to Adelaide after so many years of absence, was housebound, shell-shocked and bored out of my wits.  I continue to write because I don't know what else to do that I am good at.  I am good at writing - I know that and I love it.  I see myself as a writer more than a filmmaker – it’s the writer that creates the blueprint for any film, but unfortunately, and especially in this current climate, they are also the most undervalued in this industry.  In feature film dramas, there are not that many of us around who just see themselves first and foremost as feature film screenwriters.
Skilbeck: Where did you train as a filmmaker? Did you study film at university and if so what were your main influences there? Can you talk a little about the creative process of making a documentary how does it differ to making a feature, or a fictional film? What are you doing with the documentary form in These Heathen Dreams?
Tsoulis: I never went to film school or studied filmmaking or writing.  It came naturally to me.  Writing screenplays come naturally to me.  I spent my whole childhood watching old movies every weekend from morning to night on TV (that’s all they had on Channel 10 back then).  I learnt how to write while I was writing and from the thousands of movies I’d watched.  When someone tells me they want to learn how to write a script, I tell them, sit down, watch a movie and script it in you head while your watching it and you’ll get the hang of it.  But in the old days when I first started, writers could get funding to develop their scripts.  I had the imagination and the story, but it was my first script editor who taught me the craft while working on my first feature that was funded in development.  These days you can't get funding for your script unless you have a producer on board - and I might add, the funding you receive is less than what I was getting 20 years ago!  
In the same manner, I am learning to be a documentary filmmaker as I go along.  I am learning by my mistakes and successes.  I have no preconceived idea of making docos but I am a storyteller and I am treating this doco as I would if I was writing a feature film drama.  It’s all about character and strong and engaging storytelling.  I have a wealth of material to work with in telling this story about Christopher, his life and his work.  I don’t see it as a conventional Arts documentary.  That’s not what I want to make because that is not what it's about.
 Skilbeck:  On a related topic what is your novel about? Is it fiction or nonfiction? Do you prefer working in nonfiction?  On your recent award-winning screenplay Will and Harry am I right in assuming this is on the British princes? What inspired you to write this? Do you hope to get this produced?
Tsoulis: My novel is about the civilian face to war.  Its central character is a Palestinian woman.  I trace her life from a child in a culturally rich Palestine in the 1930's to 1948 with the birth of Israel, the 1964 war that led her to be a refugee in a Lebanese camp, to her migration to Australia.  It goes back and forth in time. The central story is about her estranged relationship with her son.  Instead of their ordeal in life bonding them, it has pulled them apart.  So we journey into the past to discover why.  It’s a very beautiful and emotional story.  I have finished writing it - I just can't get my head around showing it to publishers.
But it is also a film script that was funded in development through the SAFC and that I am working towards seeing made as a film.   I am very proud of it and, for me, the most important story I have written.
Will and Harry is a social drama that has nothing to do with the Princes -although I like the title for that association because it is the antithesis of privileged people.  It’s about societies abandonment of youth.  It was inspired by a true story involving an eighteen year old indigenous youth I took into my house for three years - who was largely on home detention or night curfew the whole time he was with me.  The experience made me discover how contemptuous society can really be in its negligence of our youth, and in particular Aboriginal youth. People didn't understand how I got involved for so long in trying to support him.  To my mind, how could I abandon him?  What if he were my son under such circumstances - I would hope someone would do the same for him.   It is a low-budget feature I am also working on with Georgia that I want to direct.  
Skilbeck: What themes most interest you and that you return to in your work? Would you say that These Heathen Dreams comes into a genre of documentaries on Australia radicals akin to Hippy Hippy Shake on radical author and publisher Richard Neville? What’s the philosophy in your film?
Tsoulis: As you can gather, I am only interested in writing social issue stories whether they be in the form of comedies, bios, drama or documentaries - and they are always character driven and somewhat unconventional.  I remember when I first began my agent offering me gigs on soaps- I would have no idea about the lifestyle of people living in Ramsey Street [ in long running Australian soap Neighbours] to know how to write such a script.
When I am writing a drama, I don’t watch any drama films.  I don’t want to be influenced.  While working on These Heathen Dreams, I try not to watch any documentaries with similar themes or subject matter for the same reason. I have no preconceived notion or influence in making this documentary, except perhaps the biography of Williams that I mentioned before. It is organic and it keeps growing and evolving, and I am just as curious as to how it will be when it is finished as everyone else.
Skilbeck: Can art and film change the world? What do you hope for in the future, for your current project, These Heathen Dreams for yourself and for the world?
Tsoulis: I want people to discover Christopher Barnett, the brilliant writer and dramaturge that he is.  That's all I want.  To expose them to his work, to inspire and encourage future generations not to fear being different - to not fear challenging the system - to not fear experimenting with their art.  The other day I went to an art exhibition by 40 young artists. I saw the work and there was not one idea come out of any of them - pieces of nothing.  Art is a powerful voice and I want to say to young artists, use your voice.  Don't be afraid.  Be bold and make sure whatever art you create, that it makes a statement that you can be proud of and that tells the world who you are and what you stand for.
A recent photo of Christopher in the Nantes Cercle Rouge Cafe which he uses as his "office".
A recent photo of Christopher Barnett in the Nantes Cercle Rouge Cafe which he uses as his "office".
Skilbeck: Is there anything else you would like to say?
Tsoulis: We need your support to finish this film by going to the Pozible site and pledging a donation and in doing so send out a statement saying we support artists and filmmakers.  We need these sort of statements because as I said, the current conservative climate means that art and filmmakers are the first to feel the effects – it’s almost like a gagging process.  Conservatives don't like radical thinking, and if you want to put a lid on radical and progressive thinking, starve the arts and starve the filmmakers.
Anne, thank you for talking through email. Best of luck with the Pozible campaign and financing the documentary, I know that many people are behind you hoping to see These Heathen Dreams in full production, and on the screen, and hopefully we will see it before too long.     Ruth Skilbeck
These Heathen Dreams - Documentary   Pozible Crowdfunding campaign link
First published in Arts Features International, February 7, 2012