Venice 2019: An Interview With ‘Austral Fever’ Director Thomas Woodroffe

Thomas Woodroffe’s Austral Fever (Fiebre Austral) will screen at this year’s Venice International Film Festival.

The short film follows middle-aged Amanda (played by Francisca Gavilan) and her teenaged son as they invite his friend to their remote cottage for the holidays. When the friend is wounded, it introduces an unexpected emotional dynamic into the group, in this visceral and wildly original fever dream about the body and intimacy.

Q: Can you tell us about the relationship between Amanda and her son Daniel? How does their dynamic change when Daniel’s friend gets wounded?

A: This is not expressed very explicitly in the short because the previous relationship that existed between Amanda and Daniel is not shown in the film. However, it seems to me that Daniel had a relationship of great dependence and complicity with Amanda. That’s why Daniel is so bothered by Octavio’s presence in the house and the fact that Amanda’s attention is focused on him.

Q: You worked with Camila Aboitiz and Gabriel Goicoechea on the script. How was that process and what were you looking to explore?

A: The three of us are very close friends. For me it was very natural to start writing a project with them because we share many interests and a vision of cinema.

Gabriel is a very good dialoguist, he achieves very natural conversations and parliaments. Camila has a very reflective vision about gender, body and sexuality, and I believe that those contributions were fundamental for the project to be carried out.

Q: Is there a specific reason why the film takes us back to 1986?

A: I would like to clarify that in the current version of the short film there are no clear indications of the time in which we are, it could be almost any time between the late 70s and mid 90s. We only used that specific year to guide us when shooting the film, to have a clear guideline for production design, music and words that were popular at that time.  

I decided to place it in the recent past because I was interested in the idea of isolation. I think that in very isolated contexts human relationships are easily twisted to completely unexpected directions. If the short film were set in an era with cell phones, that would be very difficult. 

Q: How was your experience working with an experienced actress such as Francisca Gavilán? What did she bring to the project?

A: Francisca is an incredible actress. She has a lot of experience and she is always proposing ideas from the performance to improve the project.

Besides, for me it was very interesting that she had previously played the permeating role of Violeta Parra in Andrés Wood’s film [Violeta Went To Heaven, 2011]. For that she had to prepare very deeply, studying the Chilean rural universe, which is characterised by certain forms of speech, expressions and a whole cosmovision. This was a very long work that had already been done and it was a great contribution for Austral Fever.

Q: The film takes place on the outskirts of Liquiñe. What role does this isolated and stunning setting have on this story?

A: As I said before regarding the year where it is settled, I find very interesting what happens in the contexts of isolation and confinement: references to what is normal socially are taken away and people stop acting as they would do normally.

In that sense, I tried to come up with different strategies to generate that isolation inside the house, seeking to build a stage where is more feasible that the perverse events of the short film occur. 

Q: What was your collaboration like with cinematographer Emilia Martín? How did you approach the visual style?

A: Emilia has a very special aesthetic sensibility, we’ve been working together for a long time and I plan to continue working with her. I like very much that she doesn’t try to make photography impressive or outstanding, but she puts the camera thinking that the image is at the service of the story and the emotion. In short, she is on the side opposed to pretension. I think the results end up being even more impressive, because her visual search always feels mature and reflective. 

Every time we work together, I am forced to rewrite the script, because her visual ideas make me rethink the scenes and the interactions between the characters change.

Q: Is ‘Austral Fever’ a good indicator of the type of films you want to tell in the future?

A: Not so much. I don’t feel like closing myself to just one style or genre. I try to make films that attract me as I am attracted to the works of the directors I admire most, and the directors I admire are very diverse. When I started with Austral Fever I was obsessed with the films of Tsai Ming Liang and Anita Rocha. I think the relationship between the cinema of both of them and my short film is visible.

Today I’m developing a essay-documentary feature film, which is very different. It is based on an ethnographic movie that was filmed by some French people in the extreme south of Chile in 1925. My reflection is more linked to the articulation of memory and the reconstruction of the past through its remains. And of course, my references are very different, perhaps closer to the films by Eric Baudelaire or Chantal Akerman.

Q: ‘Austral Fever’ will screen at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival. What are your feelings and hopes heading into the festival?

A: I think the mere fact of being selected in such a prestigious festival is a great prize. I hope the audience appreciates the film, and above all, I hope the audience feels uncomfortable watching it. The works are uncomfortable when they are outside the framework of cultural hegemony, and that discomfort remains as a burden on the viewer, it forces him/her to continue reflecting on the subject after leaving the cinema.

I firmly believe that films are reflective when they make you feel somehow uncomfortable.

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