Defusing the film jinx

By Alastair Bull

Director Athina Tsoulis' second feature, Jinx Sister, is one of many local movies taking their bows at the Auckland Film Festival. She talks to ALASTAIR BULL about the DIY production

Athina Tsoulis could have been excused for thinking her film-making career had a big fat jinx on it earlier this decade.

But nine years after earning good reviews with her short films and her 1999 debut feature I'll Make You Happy, the Auckland-based director is back with a new movie, Jinx Sister.

Tsoulis admits the idea for the movie, which screens at the Auckland Film Festival this month, has been in her mind for 10 years. But the delay between features has nothing to do with being fastidious or procrastination.

She's actually worked heavily on two film proposals, neither of which she ended up completing.

The most frustrating for the Greek-born, Australian-raised director came over an ethnic matrimony flick idea which was one of six scripts selected in 2001 for the Inaugural NZ Writer's Laboratory.

"I got a long way with a script I was working on called Wedding a la Grecque," Tsoulis said. "It was seen as something which could be a film.

"But then My Big Fat Greek Wedding (the independent US film which grossed $US370 million) came out in 2002, which stopped us in our tracks.

That was 25 drafts down the drain."

Tsoulis then worked for some time on Safety In Numbers, but after it got stuck over funding and casting issues, Tsoulis withdrew from it. The film was eventually made in Australia.

Instead she took up a job teaching film at Auckland's Unitec, where she rediscovered her passion for film-making and began work again on Jinx Sister.

Tsoulis decided the best way to get back into film-making was to work on a low-budget project of her own which she had full control over, rather than getting bogged down in script development hell.

The result is a $100,000 film funded largely by Tsoulis herself and made with a small crew that included several Unitec students.

"One thing that often happens with low-budget films is that everyone who's there is very committed to the project. They're not just there for the money," Tsoulis said.

"We had a tight 20-day time frame but given that, it was a very relaxed shoot."

Jinx Sister, starring Sara Wiseman, concerns a woman returning to Auckland from the United States who is still struggling to cope with the loss of her parents as a child.

Much of it focuses on the relationship between the central character Laura, who is unfocused and has trouble with commitment, and her sister Maree.

"I'm one of six sisters myself, so I'm very interested in the dynamics between them," Tsoulis said.

"I was very interested in the difference between the two sisters here _ one found it hard to commit to anyone, while the other married early and chose to have a lot of children and sought comfort that way."

Tsoulis said she drew inspiration from the Dogme film-making movement from Denmark, which made a virtue of a back-to-basics style to strip away the artifice of film-making.

"We have a lot in common with Denmark _ we are a small country with a small population that will find it difficult to compete with bigger players, so we need to find our own style and tell our own stories in our own way."

Tsoulis said she was grateful the film had been accepted by the festival and that it had been guaranteed a commercial release in New Zealand and Australia in October.

She has another film idea she is working on and again may look at a lower-budget production.

"A big budget could be good fun, but there's a lot of things you have to worry about when there's a lot at stake," Tsoulis said. "Doing it this way I can make my own mistakes."

LOWDOWN
What: Jinx Sister's premiere screenings at the Auckland International Film Festival
When & where: Academy Cinema, Saturday July 19 and Monday July 21

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