The Australian Sundance winner speaks with us from the Berlin Film Festival about the collaboration process behind 52 Tuesdays and its newfound distribution possibilities.
14 Feb 2014 - 11:43 AM  UPDATED 14 Apr 2014 - 3:34 PM

The spaceship-like Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin's Tiergarten remains my favorite Berlinale venue and is the site for the Generations section of cinema for younger folk. The buzz was building in the huge cinema last Saturday night as Adelaide director and accomplished documentarian Sophie Hyde tested the European waters with her feature directing debut, 52 Tuesdays, fresh from her best director win in Sundance. We sat down for a chat the following morning.

We wanted to make something that we wouldn't have a chance to make another time or in any other way

Did winning in Sundance come as a surprise?

Yeah, it's funny because I had a terrible flu by the end of the festival, so that day I wasn't really talking. You don't really go into Sundance thinking about awards. It's so amazing to be at a festival like that.

They don't even give out acting awards.

The awards ceremony is something that you attend to see everybody and I really very nearly didn't turn up because I was so sick. But from the moment I heard my name I just went into autopilot. I just walked up on stage and thought 'I've gotta get through this, I've gotta say something.' I really have no distinct memory apart from that.

Winning the best direction award is incredible because the film is very collaborative. We worked with that cast for such a long time and Brian, who is one of the producers, is the cinematographer and editor, and then the writer is also a producer of the film. We all work very closely and it's lovely to take a moment like that for yourself as well, to go 'Wow, I led those people through such an intense amazing time and we've come out with a film'. Direction is also a great award for a film like this because it was a hard film to make. It just took so much energy and time and love.

Tell me about the process and why the film didn't have a distributor and how you plan to get it out there.

In the US, they were certainly interested straight away and when we made the film we never thought it would release in the US. We've sold to Kino Lorber, a prestigious arthouse distributor and they want to do a fairly good release. We didn't create the film thinking about that. It comes from a South Australian Film Corporation development program, FilmLab, which is about taking risks and it was always designed to not have a market attached. For film funding in Australia you either have a distributor or a sales agent, mostly both, and often TV as well and that's what triggers your government funding. So Film Lab is very unusual. We wanted to make something that we wouldn't have a chance to make another time or in any other way and we would never have made this without that program. So that's why it doesn't have Australian distribution.

It's also a particular kind of film and Australians [distributors] think that this sort of film is difficult. I think it's not as experimental a film as people come into it thinking it might be. It's still a story.

The structure is interesting and that's what has garnered the attention. The content never would have. We can't look at it as only being a gay story because that's the death for distribution.

That's true in Australia.

In the US too. I was talking to Stacie Passon and Robin Weigert regarding their fabulous film Concussion, which didn't release in Australia—and is soon going to DVD. Even if it released through the Weinstein's Radius banner in the US, it only had 400,000 viewers.

So often with these films people do love it when they see it. It's just they don't want to go to the cinema and the distributors in Australia know that. It's sad, and a film like 52 Tuesdays will always be a small release that requires a lot of work and there are not that many distributors in Australia who can put the time into a film like this. They need to do other things. So we'll release it ourselves in Australia although we are talking to some people about working with us on it now. Australia is a tiny market. Long term, with all the ancillary and stuff, we would need to work with someone but we are working directly with some cinemas and it's nice to work with them. They are so connected to their audience, and that's great for us. That's what we'd like to do.

Which cinemas?

Cinema Nova in Melbourne, Dendy in Newtown, The Luna in Perth, a couple of others in other places but they are the ones driving it with us.

I have always loved the small movies and they are dying a death now at the Australian box office.

When we talk about little movies now they so often have big casts. I think with something like 52 Tuesdays, we can't think about it even on those levels. For us, if we spend well and smartly and show it to lots of people, that's the goal. We are playing at the Mardi Gras in Sydney and at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, because we want to be there. A lot of the distributors would have wanted us to hold out and go to the Melbourne and Sydney festivals but we've had the film for quite a long time so we want to release it. We don't want to get pigeon-holed into something, but we also want to go out to the people who want to see our film.

Last night your cast of newcomers were very enthusiastic, especially Sam Althuizen, who proved quite a character in his jacket replete with large red roses, his pencil pants and wild hair.

I love him. He is so just there; he is willing to be there. It was a great role and everyone laughed last night because he is so outrageous. He was such a lovely person to work with because he is kind of a bit out there and has always been in a bit of trouble, but emotionally he's really great. Those three together (the lead, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Imogen Archer and Althuizen indulge in sexual experimentation together) are really open and fantastic to work with. Sam came to the opening of the Adelaide Film Festival in a hot pink jacket, jeans and this massive cowboy boots, but he just pulls it off! I am like, thank God! They are a beautiful hotch potch bunch. One of the things of going around with them to film festivals, I feel really proud that all of us are quite different.

Cobham-Hervey really has the wow factor.

Yeah, she has completely been chased by US agents. She is now 19 but they are really pursuing her. I have never seen that before at Sundance. Just popping up everywhere.

Why was this story important to you?

Funnily enough, the form came before the story for us. Matt came to us with this idea of every Tuesday two people meet and we are going to shoot it on Tuesdays, only Tuesdays and that was about change and time and authenticity. We developed the characters together within that concept, and the story is interesting and important to me for a lot of reasons. But one is because as a child I think there is a point in all of our lives when we have to meet our parents as themselves, as adults and decide what kind of relationship we want to have with them. We all do that and I think Billie is doing that in the film and I think a lot of the time we pretend that parents are supposed to be this parental figure and not even themselves.

So we wanted to show the other side of it. As a parent, how do you show your child who you are? And when do you do it? And when do you live that life that's not being someone's mum but balancing those two things in your life? James's conflict of being a mother and a man and showing his child who he is, is a very dramatic version of that. It's an extreme version. But I think we all do that, we all question how we present ourselves to our kids.

What was the different reaction between Sundance and Berlin?

Americans are so vocal in some ways, so you get this thing I am not used to in Australia which is sort of like 'Oh my God, it's such an important film'. In Berlin, there were intelligent questions, people coming and talking to us really genuinely about the personal connection that they have to the film. The way they present the film in Generations, the audience is so warm and huge and they are all there to see the film and want to love it. I anticipate more difficult questions here, which I think is a nice thing about Germany. Real questions: they are not embarrassed to ask those.

Germans are pretty risqué with depicting sexuality.

Just that we are in Generations 14 plus with this film is incredible. In Australia we would not be in a teenagers strand. Like, no way! We hardly ever show sex on film, we love to avoid sex. And we are very tame in how we actually present the sex. For a lot of people this film feels very frank in its portrayal of teenage sex.