Kriv Stenders is a busy man. The Brisbane-born filmmaker didn’t make it to Sundance to promote his Red Dog follow-up, Red Dog: True Blue, as he was editing his long-gestating feature-length documentary about Brisbane indie-rock group The Go-Betweens (and probably finishing off his Brisbane-set Foxtel feature, Australia Day).
A movie about The Go-Betweens? At a time when Hunters & Collectors are still making their presence felt and my one-time local member Peter Garrett is coming to Paris as part of a major tour with Midnight Oil (I was the first to buy a ticket), Stenders is right on target.
The Go-Betweens, originally formed by Robert Forster and Grant McLennan in 1977, for a decade included Lindy Morrison (who subsequently stood for the Democrats in my state electorate of Coogee). Also big in the UK, the band enjoyed their greatest success with their 1988 album '16 Lovers Lane' and single 'Streets of Your Town'. They had a chequered, drug-addled and ultimately tragic history. McLennan died of a sudden heart attack in 2006 after the boys reformed in 2000 without Morrison, who had felt sidelined.
HB: When are we going to see Right Here: Finding The Go-Betweens?
KS: It’s going to premiere at the Sydney Film Festival.
HB: Were you always a fan of the band?
KS: I was always a fan but basically it’s very personal. My connection with The Go-Betweens goes back to my growing up in Brisbane. I went to school in a suburb called Toowong and there was a record store called the Toowong Music Centre. When I was at high school I got a grant to make a film and I was on TV, I was on A Current Affair. So I walked into this record store and there was a guy called Damian Nelson, and it was one of the most fateful days of my life.
He said, “You were that kid on TV who was talking about making a film. We’re making a film – do you want to help us?” Damian had set up the Able Label, which The Go-Betweens were on and he’d basically financed the first recordings. The film (Heather’s Gloves, 12 minutes) was written by Grant McLennan and I went and shot it for him and his circle of friends. I was like the kid from Almost Famous. I became friends with the band because they were into cinema as well. I was taken on all these adventures and went to Sydney when I was still 17 or 18. Since then I’ve always been part of their circle I guess. I made a video clip for 'Streets of Your Town'.
HB: Since you know them intimately, did they have any qualms about you telling their story?
KS: No, no. They were really on board. They’re such a cinematic band. Their music and lyrics are timeless. They’re really unique. They've always been on the periphery, sort of skirting obscurity and I just felt it's a great epic story.
"Being a musician and deciding to live that creative life is like a rollercoaster ride. You pay a price for it, and the film is about that."
HB: What’s it about?
KS: It’s about two guys who met at uni and go on this incredible adventure. Being a musician and deciding to live that creative life is like a rollercoaster ride. You pay a price for it and the film is about that. I’m trying to make something that will work for Go-Between fans, but which works more as a story of a kind of family of people who went on this adventure and how it tore them apart and how it also brought some of them back together again. It’s high drama. It's a love triangle as well. There was Robert Forster who started the band, Lindy Morrison the drummer who became his girlfriend and his friend Grant McLennan. Grant hated the movie. It was always a conflict.
HB: Will there be a lot of music?
KS: Yes lots of music. It’s also a story about that era, that period in the '80s. It’s incredible what these guys did, what a lot of musicians did back then. They had to go to London and leave Australia.
HB: Have you made other documentaries?
KS: In 1994 I did a short called Motherland (51 minutes, shot in black and white) that played at the Sydney Film Festival. It won that year (in the Dendy Awards). And two years ago I made a feature length documentary with Sam Neill called Why Anzac that was on the ABC. I love making documentaries.
HB: What approach did you use to tell The Go-Betweens’ story?
KS: We got all the surviving band members back together and even flew some of them from New York. We gathered on my sister’s farm in this old rambling Queensland mansion, so it was kind of like ground zero, like Last Year in Marienbad*. They all confessed their stories, so it’s kind of an oral history. The house is very evocative, a really beautiful place and it sort of evokes Grant McLennan who died as he grew up on a Queensland cattle station.
HB: It’s poignant.
KS: Yeah, there’s a sort of presence of him. Then I did a whole series of interviews with friends and colleagues and shot them in the studio. Stylistically it’s very deliberate. There’s also archival footage that we weave through it, as well as re-enactments or re-enacted evocations from the band’s history.
HB: You shot the film in cinemascope?
KS: Yes I really wanted to do something where you’re transported by these people’s stories and by the whole history. There’s no narrator or anything like that. It’s very matter-of-fact and you just go bouncing through all these characters as they enter their history.