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Australian Director Robert Connolly on His Family Adventure Film ‘Blueback’: “Our Goal Was to Inspire a Love of the Ocean” (Exclusive)

The moving environmental drama was greeted with a warm welcome by reviewers in Toronto prior to its broad debut through Village Roadshow on Jan. 1.

After exploring the devastating effects of droughts in his film, the critically-acclaimed film The Dry, Australian director Robert Connolly takes a deep plunge into the vast submerged world of the ocean in Blueback the forthcoming environmentalist family film that stars Mia Wasikowska and Eric Bana.

Blueback has been loosely an adaptation of Booker Prize nominee Tim Winton’s critically acclaimed novella with the identical title. Connolly worked for more than 20 years working on the book and also wrote it with his co-authors. Connolly describes the book as “a family-friendly celebration of the natural world.”

It takes place across different periods of the life of a young woman the film tells the tale of an innocent girl is paired with an uninvolved blue groper when doing scuba diving. After she realizes that the fish and the species are in danger and she draws the inspiration of her mother, an environmentalist, to confront poachers in order to ensure the protection of the fish. This episode marks the start of her journey to protect the coral reefs of the world.

Wasikowska ( Alice in WonderlandCrimson Peak) plays alongside the newcomer Ariel Donoghue and Ilsa Fogg Both will portray young versions of the main character. Radha Mitchell ( London Has Fallen, Pitch Black) is the mother. Bana ( Hulk, Funny People) is an adored family member.

Blueback had its debut in September, at the Toronto International Film Festival and was greeted with enthusiasm by reviewers. Village Roadshow has set the film to be released in Australia beginning in January. 1st, 2023, and rollouts in other markets at the same time.

The Hollywood Reporter recently spoke to Connolly concerning the method of Tim Winton’s adored novella, now a classic, onto the screen.

Please share Blueback’s creative background with me. What inspired you to create this film?

It’s based on the novella written by Tim Winton, which I was awestruck by. Tim Winton is one of Australia’s most acclaimed authors, and his book is “a timeless fable for all ages” -and I enjoy the idea of that. In the past, I’ve talked about and thought about ways to make the book into a film. I experienced many successes in my family’s film Paper Planes(2014) and it was an extremely interesting experience for me as it came after I had made my war movie Balibo (2009). Making the film with my family was different, and I loved reaching out to a larger public. Thus, I was in search of another film that was a big family movie. The reason for me to choose this film is the fact that I’ve had a deep fascination with the ocean and an intense fascination with the issues which we face in terms of our environment as well as the natural world. It’s been my experience how the movement for environmental protection has truly taken on the idea of action by embracing optimism. Therefore, a film such as Blueback which has a very positive message about how our actions have a positive impact on the environment was a huge hit with me and felt relevant as well.

It is my understanding that you wrote the screenplay along with Tim Winton himself. What was the experience like?

It was my idea to write the story, and at the close of the process I passed it on to Tim to take a review, and then to complete some further work on it because it’s something so important for Tim. Therefore I worked on the script for many years, and in the end, it turned into this amazing collaboration. We’re friends who had worked together on The Turning together. It was great for him to be able to take a look at the final production order to add a hint of his style. For the author, it was an opportunity to relax regarding the changes I’d made. The novel, it’s about the story of a boy and not a girl. My daughter Kitty is twenty now, but when I first began developing the film, she expressed lots of grief over the possibility of making another film with a male and a boy protagonist. Therefore, it was for the girls that I switched to a female main character with Tim’s approval.

What was fascinating is that the film started to accelerate to be financed. I noticed the genuine feeling of a Greta Thunberg generation of women who are promoting the environmental cause. This was an extremely relevant and appropriate shift and Tim was very satisfied with that.

The result is a fantastic story of strong women and girls, creating change in their own way. As male filmmakers how did you manage to do to enter the head of an ambitious, but kind of young girl who was dreamy? Since you mentioned having daughters, were you able to reflect on their experiences useful to you? How did you approach it?

In many ways, it felt like a natural shift that the story kind of wanted. The shift has been massive in the Australian industry as well as in the film sets. We were gender-neutral in our crew. The film inspired me to think about my daughters and their incredibly spirited enthusiasm for wanting to save the planet from the effects of climate change and the devastation that’s occurring. They’re great people who love nature and I wanted to channel some of their passion. I also found myself kind in the mind of my mother. The film featured Radha Mitchell as the activist mother who was trying to instill in her daughter what you can do and what your obligation is to create change and create an impact.

So, I’m of the opinion that each film you make is a personal aspect. I’m sure I have broad commercial goals, but a large part of what I like about being a filmmaker is you’re able to explore the most personal aspects of your personal experiences in the real world. I’ve always admired truly humane filmmakers. For instance, Peter Weir was a huge influence on me.

I know that you’re typically politically motivated in your work. I’d say it’s your conviction that filmmaking could be a catalyst for change in the real world that’s right. In this case What kind of impact do you think this project could bring about?

It’s been a fascinating journey throughout my career, as some of my earlier films were more politically charged, creating a world believed they could influence and criticize. The film Blueback — which is described, you know it’s a “fable for all ages” that is filmed on an epic, cinematic scope it’s more about taking the viewer on a thrilling journey beneath the sea and trying to instill a sense of appreciation by using those methods.

I’m feeling I’m trying to figure out the most effective method of doing it. Jacques Cousteau used to talk about the notion that if you can make people feel a certain way, they’ll love it. Blueback’s mission is more in that direction. We’re hoping to bring an audience under the water to explore the amazing underwater world in a way that they’ve never experienced before, using huge format cameras, an incredible underwater team, and an amazing story. We were adamant that documentary films have looked at the world in a way that is truly amazing including Blue Planet to My Octopus Teacher However, narrative films haven’t been doing this for a while. Therefore, our aim was to instill a fascination with the ocean as well as an awareness of the responsibility that comes with it. However, rather than being an educational political piece, We wanted it to be an emotional and lyrical experience of examining and learning about the amazing fish it befriends. And the message, I believe, could be to be of help.

And lastly, I’d like to know some details about the process of filming that fish. The fish is created by the creature as an actor to some extent. What were the practical difficulties of that? And how did you approach this?

The first thing to note is that blue grouper is among the most stunning fish. They can live up to the age of 80 and can be the size of a human. They’re akin to the puppy dog from the ocean, which is why they’ll appear and play with you. A lot of people believe they will retain your past interactions. They’re quite incredible creatures. That’s why I worked with a fantastic Melbourne-based firm, Creature Technology who are well-known for the projects they’ve worked on regarding Walking with Dinosaurs. They create incredible puppets, in fact. I was looking into the cinema’s history through some of the most famous puppets dating into ET as well as Yoda. I was trying to find ways that cinema has embraced the concept of using the tactile method to create something rather than performing the typical VFX fish.

We actually shot in the ocean of the real world and all marine creatures featured in the movie are actually real. For the physical interactions between the fish, we made this incredible fish puppet. The puppeteers were extraordinary in how they came up with this character. It was obvious that Mia Wasikowska said she just lost herself in the scenes we shot in the deep sea beneath her. People are familiar with wall-to-wall visual effects that you cannot tell if a film is a digital animated of some sort or was actually made on the ground. We embraced the reality of this film. There were no stunts and all the actors were taught to dive for free in the ocean open. They were taught how to swim for 20 meters and then swim for a few minutes with just the air they breathed. The whole experience was extremely real, tangible, and true to our desire to film in the real world of the story.

Being part of this incredible team that designed the puppet was also extremely right for us because it was equally real and tactile. The majority of their work included not just carving and shaping the puppet and doing a swim with the groupers in order to comprehend the way they react to certain things and how they move around other people. It’s possible to imagine a film that was simply VFX, however, the method of doing it in the real world of the ocean felt like a true interpretation of the story.

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