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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Interview with Australian film-maker Josephine Mackeras

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Alice is on as part of the Byron Bay International Film Festival


Byron Bay International Film Festival  |  Byron Theatre, Community Centre  |  Saturday 19 Oct  |  8pm

Sometimes, when you really believe in something, nothing will stop you. For Australian film-maker Josephine Mackeras, who took out the SXSW Grand Jury Prize this year for her film Alice – the story of one woman’s empowerment, that also destigmatises common ideas about sex work – not having a producer wasn’t going to stop her.

From Brisbane, but French born and living in Paris, Mackeras knew the script she had written was good, so she decided to make the film herself, in her apartment. This meant the film moved from English to French.

‘It took about two and half years. Nobody was paid’ says the filmmaker.

‘I come from the theatre, so acting is my thing. When it came to film-making and story telling I was inspired by the work from Nordic countries. I love their stuff because it’s always great acting, with a great script, and beautifully filmed. No car chases. The performances were everything in Alice. It was all I had going for the film – the stories and the performances. We didn’t have big stars.’

I was surprised. Alice is a feature film that runs 1 hour and 45 minutes. The acting is superb. It was brilliantly shot. It certainly doesn’t come off as a low-budget film. This story about Alice (Emilie Piponnier), who has what seems like a perfect life in Paris – with her husband François, and their young son Jules – is engaging from the get-go. A lot to do with the script, but also because it’s just so well cast.

‘I met Martin Swabey, who plays François in Cannes – we had an intense conversation on a boat – I had forgotten about him, I saw his headshot, and sent the script to him in Belgium. Chloe Bolrehm (Lisa) I met in Belgium too, and she was perfect. And Emilie I met through a friend who is a casting agent.’

‘None of the actors are known. For the actors this was an opportunity – because it’s so rare to get such great roles. It was the script that got them all in. If I had a producer, I wouldn’t have been allowed to use them, because they want to use known actors as the lead. So it gave me a lot of freedom in the end.’

Alice was shot all on one camera by an inexperienced DP with loads of talent. He had his own camera and managed to shoot each scene, one angle at a time, with just two lights!

‘I wanted the story made’ says Josephine. ‘I had an idea about this couple grappling with lots of questions. Where he pushes the limits and has lots of problems. He’s had a bad childhood and all that, and women can get into this cycle of forgiving…’

Joesphine Mackerras has crafted an understated and unadorned debut; striking for its lack of melodrama and unsensationalised representation of sex work. Piponnier, as Alice, is riveting as a woman who has always done what’s expected of her, and is suddenly pushed to do what she never imagined she would have to. Alice’s transformation is revolutionary – defying patriarchy’s suffocating constraints and raising complex ethical questions without ever moralising on them.

Alice screens as part of the Byron Bay International Film Festival at the Byron Theatre, at the Community Centre, on Saturday 19 October at 8pm. Tix from bbff.com.au

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