Making a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary on a feature film can be challenging at the best of times…

People are BUSY. They have priorities, deadlines to meet, places to be and too many things to do, at once. Most of the crew prefers to work behind the camera not infront of it and – TIME IS MONEY! The last thing anyone wants to do – or has time for – is an earnest interview with an earnest documentary maker shooting a film about their filmmaking efforts…

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That was my task on ‘Closed For Winter’, a film about a young woman, Elise (played by Natalie Imbruglia), trying to come to terms with the grief that has plagued her since her sister Frances (Danielle Catanzariti) went missing 20 years before. The silence surrounding the event; the lack of answers, the secrets, the paralysis she feels about living her life, the guilt about being the one left behind, and the painful relationship she and her mother share, a woman equally traumatized by that event.

‘Closed For Winter’ isn’t a documentary, it’s a fiction, but one based very much on the real life experiences of Georgia Blain, the author of the book from which this film is adapted. It’s a story that examines in close up pain, loss and grief; sadness, anger and frustration. Then, the moving on and finally, the letting go. This was the film we – the 40 or so cast and crew – had ahead of us.

We’ve all seen ‘behind the scenes’ docs on DVDs or late-night TV; often they are unremarkable and even worse, monotonous where the same old questions are wheeled out… “What was it like working with the director?” “What attracted you to the project?”  with tired old answers to match. The challenge – as it is with any documentary – is to try and make these on-camera exchanges transcend the publicity imperative they serve, to somehow make them meaningful and/or entertaining. Even better to hopefully reveal insight into not only the filmmaking process, but the person making the film. Again not necessarily an easy task when people are too busy to talk, and aren’t always comfortable in front of the camera.

I’m of the mind that people will always have something interesting to say if you ask them an interesting enough question. And each day on the set as we were collectively working to serve the same purpose – to tell this story about a missing person and the hole she left in her sister’s life – “Frances” and “Elise” were becoming increasingly real.  They could have been any one of us. All our of jobs meant we had to contemplate this tragic idea closely: what if someone went missing from our own lives? Could we imagine going through such an ordeal? And given the statistics – according to the AFP, around 35 000 people in Australia are reported missing each year, one every 15 minutes  – given that so many Australians are touched by this, why is it still such a ‘touchy’ subject to talk about in public?

The irony was not lost on me; Adelaide is seen as the ‘missing persons capital’ of Australia largely due to some very high profile cases that occurred in the 1970s. And we were shooting there with a largely Adelaidian crew… I did 33 interviews with cast and crew for ‘Closed For Winter’. With grips, caterers, techie guys, soundies, composers, money men, actors, directors, safety officers, wardrobe and make up folk, camera blokes and police technical advisors. Of course I asked them the expected questions about their jobs and experiences working on the film. And then one more: Has anyone ever gone missing from your life, or has your life ever been touched indirectly by a missing person?

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They answered. All of them. And the results were pretty astonishing. Many had been affected or had thought about it, deeply and often in detail. To not have asked the question seemed a disservice. The repsonses were honest, thoughtful, empathetic; often moving and ultimately brave. To have a conversation that  – while painful – could perhaps benefit those who might hear it.

Over the next few weeks you will be able to hear those answers and also, participate in that conversation should you choose. You can use this forum to listen to others and also to share your own thoughts, experiences and stories by posting them on this web forum.

Many thanks to the CFW cast and crew who shared. And I look forward to hearing from you too.

– Megan Spencer, Filmmaker/ CFW forum moderator

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