The Weight of Elephants will screen in Invercargill tomorrow night before its nationwide release. Director Daniel Borgman talks to Lauren Hayes about shooting his first feature film in Southland.
Film-maker Daniel Joseph Borgman is not entirely serious when he compares making a movie to giving birth.
A woman once told him mothers were only open to having a second child because they forgot how painful childbirth was. It is kind of the same with film-making, he says.
"When you're in the middle of it, you're just, like, overwhelmed but then afterwards you just forget."
He also suggests running a marathon, or "anything else that's really long", would be an apt comparison to the film-making process.
Despite these slightly cynical descriptions, Borgman is clearly committed to film.
He has just completed his first feature-length offering, The Weight of Elephants - shot in Southland and about to be released nationwide - and has already started work on his next project.
However, it was a somewhat meandering journey into the industry for the director.
Borgman was an engineering student at Otago University, taking a couple of film papers on the side, when he found himself slowly drifting across disciplines.
In what could be a scene plucked from the cinema, the 32-year-old describes a walk with his father, where, after lengthy discussions, he first decided he would give film-making a go for real.
"We just decided, forget about a career and everything, and just think about making films. [He said] when you're 30 and if it seems like nothing's going to happen . . . then I would retrain.
"The moment that I made that choice, things started to happen."
Those things include several award-winning and festival-approved short films, and now The Weight of Elephants, a co-venture between the New Zealand Film Commission, the Danish Film Institute and Film i Vast, with additional support from the Invercargill City Council and the Southern Institute of Technology.
The film explores the universe of 11-year-old Adrian, growing up in small-town New Zealand with his grandmother and unstable uncle. It is based on the award-winning novel Of A Boy by Sonya Hartnett, but the director says he has no authorship qualms about adapting someone else's story for the screen.
"The thing I like about film-making is it's sort of like filling in the gaps and filling in the texture, so I'm not that hung up on who came up with the story . . . it just had to be the right story."
Borgman was already working on a script, featuring characters similar to those in Of A Boy, when he picked up the novel by chance.
The similarities were too immense to ignore, he says.
"I kind of stumbled upon it randomly . . . and all of what I had been working through in my own script was in a book."
Borgman was attracted to the story by the close, psychological study of the central character - it's here he explains he would have studied psychology if film-making had not worked out, an option he has not yet taken off the table completely - and the challenges of conveying Adrian's inner world through film, a medium dominated by action.
Despite naming New Zealand film-makers Jane Campion and Vincent Ward among his inspirations, Borgman has completed most of his cinematic work in Denmark, his base for about six months every year.
Coming home to Southland made the "terrifying" process of starting his first feature a little less daunting, he says.
"It was the first time I've made something at home in New Zealand and it just felt like I knew everything in a way that I hadn't before. I knew the language and I knew the way people spoke, and I knew the environment."
Southland played a prominent role in the production.
The cast and crew camped out in Riverton holiday homes during filming and even hired the Aparima Tavern, pre-fiery inferno, for the completion wrap party. The film itself was largely shot about 25 minutes away, in an old house at Otautau.
Borgman knew he wanted to film the story in Southland but the crew scouted several southern towns, including Gore and Bluff, before settling on Otautau.
"My grandfather grew up in Otautau and was buried there.
"It added a weird kind of circular element to the whole situation, which was coincidental."
With a feature-length film slated for cinematic release on his plate, Borgman had access to a bigger budget than he was used to but money was not something he could afford to be worried about, he says.
"You can't make art if you're worried about business and you can't make business if you're worried about art, and that's what's really complicated about film-making.
"The worst thing you can do is fall between two chairs and make something that's not really artistically strong enough to be interesting, but that's not broadly entertaining enough to make money."
The director is careful to differentiate between cinema and movies, or film as an artform and film as a way to entertain the masses.
With the changing role and location of technology in the lives of audiences, he predicts cineplexes screening movies will struggle in the near future, while cinema will continue to buoy boutique theatres through.
It is the artistic elements of cinema, a category Borgman hopes his work falls into, which he believes will ensure its survival.
"There will always be a space for that, just like painting."
The Weight of Elephants will show at an invitation-only pre-screening at Reading Cinemas in Invercargill tomorrow night, ahead of the general New Zealand release on August 29.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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