Struggling with a cold as he introduced latest film Goldstone at the opening of the 63rd Sydney Film Festival, a nonetheless witty auteur Ivan Sen indulged in a bit of hearty banter with “brother boy” Aaron Pedersen, returning as determined cop Jay Swan, last seen in Mystery Road.
Jovially heckling from the audience, Pedersen suggests the reason they’ve revisited the character is down to his persistent badgering on the phone. Sitting next to each other on a sofa at the ParkRoyal Darling Harbour, Pedersen, relaxed and barefoot, laughs. “I wouldn’t say I hassled him, I know my limitations, but I pushed so far then I let it percolate. It was Ivan’s idea to bend it a little, put some jagged edges on it.”
Sen needed little coaxing. “We get each other, we’ve come out of a certain cultural landscape and stepped into another, for the sake of our careers, and to actually talk about the world that we come from.”
Jay’s a different man to the city cop returning to the bush town where he grew up we met three years earlier, when Mystery Road also kicked off the festival. Dishevelled, the uniform and the discipline have gone. Caught drink driving as he cruises into Goldstone, the isolated mining town of the title, local officer Josh, played by Cut Snake’s Alex Russell, locks him up to dry out. It’s the beginning of a fractious relationship that moves from outright hostility to something more like grudging respect.
Behind the scenes of a broiling community dispute over land rights and the expansion of a vast mining outfit at the ominously titled Furnace Creek, Jacki Weaver’s mayor is in cahoots with David Wenham’s weasely mining boss. Tommy Lewis’ corrupt land council figure is on the take, setting him against David Gulpilil’s cultural custodian Jimmy.
“Since contact, there has been the opportunity to be corrupted by the invaders,” Sen says. “Now the stakes are much higher with billion dollar mining contracts.”
Further complicating matters is a human trafficking scheme led by Cheng Pei-Pei’s madam Mrs Lao, confiscating the passports of young Chinese girls and forcing them into sex work at seedy brothel The Ranch.
Juggling cultural clashes on multiple levels, Goldstone is smart, slow burn outback noir. Amazingly, Sen completed the first draft of the script in ten days. Nine if you count the day lost driving between the Central Coast and Brisbane. Despite the speed with which it came together, it expands considerably on the ideas explored by Mystery Road, addressing complex issues Sen says are often glossed over by mainstream media.
“When you sit down to write a piece of music, generally it comes from improvisation. You’ll sit at a piano and it will come out. Then ok, there’s the structure and you start putting these bits together which have come totally innately. Why can’t scripts be like that?”
Since his feature debut Beneath Clouds in 2002, Sen has scored his own movies as well as handling writing and directing duties. As of 2009’s UFO-chasing Dreamland, he’s also taken on cinematography and editing too, fast becoming one of the country’s most exciting and original voices.
“There’s a dance to everything in this film. [..] It’s part of me being an indigenous filmmaker; I’m giving respect to every detail, especially the land it’s set on.”
Sen feels a duty to ensure that every beat matters, and that includes Goldstone’s visceral car chase, occasionally discussed with special effects man Daniel Durao in naught but a towel on the way to the shower, and also its thrillingly staged gun fights. “Every bullet has a rhythm to it,” he says. “There’s a dance to everything in this film. Shootouts are real, right, they happen in real life. It deserves to be given weight. American films just shoot the fuck out of everything. There’s a lack of respect. It’s part of me being an indigenous filmmaker; I’m giving respect to every detail, especially the land it’s set on.”
Pedersen feels a similar responsibility, wanting to convey a fragility to Jay as he deals with his own past and tries to find the missing girl in an unforgiving landscape. “It takes a man who’s not in the best way to come out and show care, concern and love.”
Working with Russell was a rewarding experience. Pedersen says the younger man had rarely had the opportunity to meet Aboriginal people, let alone work closely with them. That lent credence to their characters’ clash. “There was this great transformation within Alex and I as brother boys by the end of it.”
Shooting near Middleton in remote central Queensland had its fair share of trials, but the isolation also brought cast and crew closer together. “There’s nothing around except the most gorgeous backdrop of red rocky outcrops and plains and there’s no one there except for us, and so you just bond,” Sen says. “The country bonds to you at the same time.”
Pedersen agrees. “Being off the grid made everybody connect with each other. We spent human time together.”
He hopes he and Sen will come together for a third and possibly final outing for Jay, something that Mystery Road co-star Hugo Weaving insisted on after the Goldstone screening. “Ivan has a very radical idea and it feels like a rounding off piece in a lot of ways. We had the discussion in a Middleton pub during shooting. Don’t worry, I’ll be ringing him again.”
There’s the briefest beat as Sen turn to Pedersen and back again with a sly grin, “I’ve changed my phone number.”
Watch the Goldstone trailer below:
Friday 9 July, 9:30pm on NITV & SBS World Movies (streaming after at SBS On Demand)
Genre: Thriller, Crime
Director: Ivan Sen
Starring: Aaron Pedersen, David Wenham, Jacki Weaver, David Gulpilil, Alex Russell