PEJKOVIC: Hi Peter. How are you this morning?
DUNCAN: Fine, thank you.
MP: Unfinished Sky is a re-make of The Polish
Bride. Were you familiar with the film prior to being
approached to re-make it?
PD: No, I wasn't. The first I heard of it was when I was approached
by the producers.
MP: You were originally approached to write the screenplay, but
then it was also decided that you would be the best director
for the film. What was it about this project that made you made
to want direct again after a several year absence from directing?
PD: Well, it wasn't that I had been turned off directing at all.
It's just that I had been really focusing on writing for a few
years, and once the project was given to me you start to work
not only ways of how to approach it in terms of adaptation,
but also inherent in that process for me is looking at it in
the directorial sense as well. After I thought about the story
for a while, and the film as it existed, and how it would be
adapted to Australia
because this is was in 2003/2004
I started to think about 9/11 and the impact that had on us.
Not just in a practical sense, you know the hideousness of airports.
But also just culturally and socially and how people have become
more fearful of each other. And I thought making the film about
how that sort of fear can be calcifying and can really diminish
your life, and I thought it could be a really interesting thing
to make from that point of view. A film about overcoming those
MP: The film features a number of underlying political and social
themes, namely were immigration and sex trafficking. Was it
hard to keep those themes and issues at bay whilst developing
a love story?
PD: Well I hope not! It wasn't hard in execution. We didn't want
to get into long tracks about specific issues of Australian
immigration policy or how the sex trafficking works in Australia.
They exist as a couple of threads in what is a much more complicated
sort of fabric. And I didn't want to hit audiences over the
head with political themes and ideas. So the trick was getting
the balance right and making sure the drama was protected at
all costs and if you can sneak in some undercurrent of ideas
that's a great thing as well.
MP: You have found yourself in a unique position where your lead
actress was also the star of the film which you were re-making.
How did the casting of Monic Hendrickx come about? Was she on
your mind when you were writing the screenplay?
PD: No, she wasn't. As you probably are aware the company that produced
Unfinished Sky - New Holland Pictures - was a sort of joint
venture between a Dutch company IdtV Film and Australian producers
Cathy and Mark Overett. And because there was a fair bit of
Dutch investment it was put to me in a polite and gentle way
to at least consider Monic, and I was a bit cynical about that.
I said of course I would consider her but in the back of mind
I was saying this isn't the right thing, until I met her in
Amsterdam. She is so strong and so smart and such a lovely person
that it was within 90 seconds I thought she is fantastic! And
she has got that dark look which was so authentically Afghani.
In fact there was a fair bit of cynicism on the crews part too
until they actually met her, and then there jaws dropped when
I don't know why they were expecting a blonde
person or something. But she really impressed everyone.
MP: During the first few scenes of the movie, dialogue between William
McInnes' and Monic's characters was sparse as they try to get
over a language barrier. Could you delve into how you guide
your actors during those scenes?
PD: Well, it's really about making sure that that everyone (the
cast and crew) are aware where they are in the story at any
time obviously, because we were not shooting in sequence. The
issues really turned out to be issues of trust, because the
more they grew to trust each other the more they could communicate,
even if it was a non-verbal communication where they sort of
work out a language of their own. So it was very much about
in that first act keeping a pre-profound level of mistrust between
the two, and as a result of that -and as a result obviously
that they don't share a common language - there is very little
dialogue, and I think that really helps that tension.
MP: During those scenes you decided not to use subtitles when Monic
spoke Arabic. Was that so the audience could relate with the
confusion of William's character?
PD: Yes, that's right. It's pretty much from his point of view.
He is the Australian; she comes to his farm
I think, or
I am absolutely sure that it would have really dissipated the
tension of the film if the audience understood her back story
half and hour before he did. That is part of the mystery. That
is part of the fun. (Laughter) When Monic first saw the film
she thought there had been some mistake because there had been
no subtitles! She had done so much work getting it absolutely
right, and I said "Well, were never going to subtitle your
MP: There was a real nice, funny moment in the film where Monic
sings Heartbreak Hotel to William's character. Was that in the
script? Or did it come through rehearsals
PD: That was something I wrote.
MP: I love the photography in the film. Could you please delve into
the approach you and cinematographer (Robert Humphries) had
for the film.
PD: Bob and I had a really, really productive and fun creative partnership.
We did something together that I had never done before: we sat
down for many, many days and shot listed the whole movie. Not
that we used the shot list prescriptively, because it was a
tough shoot to day in five weeks, and we needed to plan within
an inch of our lives. And out of those conversations came a
lot of broad and detailed concepts. But what we were really
looking for at the start of the move was something that was
where the colours were crushed a bit, so it was a
bit greyer. Shot more hand held - I don't think used the dolly
until half way through the movie - so there was a sort of jaded
quality about it. There was something abrasive about it. Chasing.
And that was something that formed the way Suresh (Ayyar, editor)
cut the movie as well. So what happened in the second half,
the romance starts to kick in, the camera movements become more
fluid and the colours become more saturated and become richer.
MP: The Australian Film Industry is in an interesting place where
we are producing some of our best work in years, yet audiences
are choosing not to watch local productions. How would you describe
the current state of filmmaking in Australia?
PD: (Pause) Look, I think you are right. I think that we are making
some of our best work in years last year and I hope this year.
The production side seems to be something's going right there.
It's just such a fierce market. In relative terms we don't do
to badly, the Australian hasn't diminished over the last couple
of years but it is still not that high. And I think it is about
looking at the distribution aspect of the Australian industry,
and how we can help distributors and give them incentives to
invest in distribution a bit more. Because it is very hard to
cut through all the marketing that goes on every week for how
many films are being released. But you know, you do get films
that do break through. A film like Kenny, which
is because it is good and has a good heart and it is from a
good place, and people would come out of it feeling richer for
it. It is not science, it is sort of a weird art form. Let's
hope that a fair few will crack through.