From La Trobe to MIFF: life as an emerging filmmaker

From La Trobe to MIFF: life as an emerging filmmaker

La Trobe Creative Arts graduate Elizabeth Fermanis will have her short film Hospitality screened at this year’s prestigious Melbourne International Film Festival.

An intelligent and heart-warming film about (dis)connection across generations and culture, Hospitality screens as part of MIFF’s Accelerator program, which showcases the best emerging filmmakers from Australia and New Zealand.

We spoke with Fermanis about forging a career in the creative arts, and how studying as a mature-age student turned out to be an advantage.

What does it mean to be selected for MIFF?

MIFF is a really well-known and highly respected festival, both locally and internationally, so for my film to be in the official selection is such an honour. It’s really important as a short filmmaker to have the film screen at a notable festival as it really validates your work and gives you much needed exposure.

I love that the film is premiering at MIFF because it also means that all the people who worked on it, often for free or very little money, can also share in the exposure and hopefully benefit from it in some way.

How did your undergrad studies at La Trobe help prepare you for a career in the creative arts?

The creative arts degree at La Trobe was a really great course for me. Initially I was more interested in pursuing theatre and writing for performance, but after taking some screenwriting and film history classes my focus began to change.

The great thing about the course was that you didn’t have to choose a major, so I studied both disciplines pretty much equally. What I was really starting to learn was what stories I liked, what stories I wanted to tell and how to tell them in a way that would resonate with an audience.

On a practical note, my undergrad at La Trobe gave me the opportunity to make a few short films, which I could use in my applications for postgrad film courses. This is really important because you need to have a portfolio of work to show.

You began your Bachelor of Creative Arts in your mid-20s. Do you feel like embarking on further study a little later on was an advantage?

I think it was an advantage in a lot of ways. By my mid-20s, I had moved from the country to the city; had travelled and lived overseas; worked in bars, restaurants, call centres and a bowling alley; completed a few TAFE certificates and a diploma; and had had several failed romances. So I guess by that stage I had a little life experience to draw on. I had some things I wanted to write about and some stories I wanted to tell.

I was also a more dedicated student as I didn’t feel the need to stay out partying until 5am anymore! In some ways, you feel a lot of pressure to succeed. There is this expectation that by your mid-to-late-20s you have some kind of career going. At 30, I was still studying (Masters of Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts) so sometimes I did feel like I was lagging behind somehow.

You studied at the University of California, Berkley, as part of La Trobe’s exchange program. How was that experience?

I would highly recommend it, it was an unbelievable experience. I met so many incredibly talented and passionate people, both students and teachers, who really inspired me.

Also, I think just living overseas, stepping out of your comfort zone and having to make new friends, navigate a new culture and a new school system, it gives you so much more confidence to face challenging situations in your everyday life.

hospitality short film

Now that you’ve finished study, what’s an average day like for you as a filmmaker?

I don’t think there is an average day or week for a filmmaker! It’s really varied. Right now I’m mainly focusing on writing a feature screenplay and also another short. Apart from writing new material a lot of my time is also spent on festival submissions and promotion for completed films and also researching funding opportunities.

I’m just starting out so I’m still sussing out how to make a career in this industry. Unfortunately, the stats tell us that most Australian writers/directors only make a feature film every 5-10 years, so  that’s a long time between drinks!

In the meantime, I think a lot of filmmakers work in other roles in the industry or do smaller projects like short films; music, web and corporate videos; work in advertising or TV; in film schools and organisations; or do something totally unrelated to pay the bills.

Lastly, which films are you most looking forward to seeing at this year’s MIFF?

In no particular order, I’m excited to see After the Storm by Hirokazu Kore-eda, The Unknown Girl by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Salesman by Asghar Farhadi, No Regrets For Our Youth by Akira Kurosawa, and Tokyo Story by Yosujiro Ozu.

The last two are old films, and I probably should be recommending new ones, but I’m very excited to see these two masters on the big screen!

Hospitality will play in Accelerator 1 on Saturday the 6th of August, 4pm at Hoyts Melbourne Central and again on Monday the 8th of August, 9:15pm at Kino Cinemas.

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