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TIFF Women Directors: Meet Sarah Spillane

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood September 10, 2013 at 10:00AM

Sarah Spillane has been writing and directing film and television for the past decade. Among her work is the documentary short The Apology (08) and the fiction short This Life (09). Around the Block (13) is her debut feature.
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Around the Block
Around the Block

Sarah Spillane has been writing and directing film and television for the past decade. Among her work is the documentary short The Apology (08) and the fiction short This Life (09). Around the Block (13) is her debut feature.

Around the Block is playing as a part of the Discovery program at TIFF.

Women and Hollywood: Please give us your description of the film playing at TIFF.

Sarah Spillane: Around the Block is a story about Dino, a high school drama teacher (played by Christina Ricci) who lands a job at one of Sydney's toughest high schools and tries to stage a production of Hamlet with her 11th grade drama class. Dino casts Liam, a 16 year old Aboriginal boy (played by Hunter Page-Lochard) in the lead role and we soon discover that Liam's personal life closely parallels the plight of Hamlet as his father is in jail and he is expected to avenge his father's incarceration. Dino and Liam inspire each other to make decisions that will shape their futures forever.

WaH: What drew you to this script?

SS: The inspiration for me to write this script comes from a personal interest in the concept of existentialism; the notion that we are all free to choose our own paths in life and make decisions that determine our future. When I first started writing I was living in a tough neighborhood called Redfern, teaching at an Aboriginal arts college, and my students and peers seemed to be as far away from this concept of existential freedom as I could imagine. So ATB is an attempt to test the concept by dramatizing the story of two individuals; an idealist and an underdog, and by following their plights discover if personal freedom is in fact attainable for anyone.

WaH: What was the biggest challenge?

SS: The biggest challenge in making this film was finding finance. I started writing the script at a time when there were some fairly intense racial riots in Sydney, so due to the setting and the cultural background of many of my main characters, no one wanted to touch the story. I think also me being a white, female director, when almost all of my main cast (aside from Christina Ricci) are Aboriginal men, people probably thought 'how is she going pull this off'?

WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?

SS: My advise to other female directors is call yourself a director not a female director! Tell stories that resonate with you regardless of the sex of your characters. Be daring and smash boundaries.

WaH: What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

SS: The biggest misconception about me and my work is that I work better with other women, and that my stories are for women and about 'chick's stuff'. I admit I am an emotional hussy and love moving an audience to tears but I also love creating an awesome gun-fight or car chase.

WaH: What are the biggest challenges and or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?

SS: I think the greatest challenge with changing distribution mechanisms is getting people to go to the movie theatres. You simply cannot beat a big screen cinematic experience and I do not believe this only applies to Hollywood blockbuster movies. My concern is that independent films will no longer be screened in movie theatres and therefore we will lose the cinematic beauty of our art form.

WaH: Name your favorite women directed film and why.

SS: My favorite female-directed film? That's a tough one between Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry, Jodie Foster's Little Man Tate, and Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. Why? Because they are all bad ass films regardless of the director's sex.

This article is related to: Women Directors, Toronto Film Festival, Sarah Spillane, Around the Block


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