Interview Joe Weatherstone, Go-Betweens Sydney Film Festival
The first film to be commissioned under the Screen NSW – ABC TV Arts Documentary Feature Fund, The Go-Betweens: Right Here, documents an intensely passionate, creative and fraught set of relationships that formed one of the most loved bands in Australian rock history. We spoke with the film’s producer, Joe Weatherstone, ahead of the World Premiere at Sydney Film Festival.
Firstly, congratulations on your documentary screening at Sydney Film Festival, how does it feel?
It is always a dream to screen at the festival and in my hometown! Our film was funded through the Screen NSW – ABC TV Arts Documentary Feature initiative, and part of that fund was the opportunity to have a World Premiere at the festival, which meant that we were confident it would go ahead. But it was something new to have a guarantee to be going to the festival when it is so hard to be selected.
As you’ve mentioned The Go-Betweens: Right Here is the first production to be commissioned under the Screen NSW – ABC TV Arts Documentary Feature Fund. How important do you think funds like this are for the Australian documentary sector?
I think they are vital. Any funding towards documentary, especially a package that has an ‘end user’, as this fund does, is amazing. The initiative has been fantastic for us. The fund is also about art and different forms of artistic adventures. It isn’t just for filmmakers but visual artists, musicians. I know the fund is open now and I’ve heard it’s attracting a range of interesting applicants across disciplines.
Part of the criteria for applying for the fund was that the film would have broad appeal. Do you think you’ve been successful?
I have been so incredibly surprised about the uptake of the film so far, and I’ve been invited to more festivals than ever before with this film, although most of those are currently embargoed. We have 15 festivals on our radar with five official invites and 10 internationals standing by.
It’s really quite extraordinary. I’ve always fought and fought to get my films into festivals and to have them come to us is really something new.
So can you tell us what attracted you to this project?
The director, Kriv Stenders, had one of his first directing gigs shooting a Go-Betweens video clip, 16 lovers lane, so he has a standing relationship with them and documentaries are always dependent on good access. Kriv also had a relationship with Essential Media and Entertainment that are the production company for the film. He knew how to report on the Go-Betweens for them, how to develop the film and package it up.
With this production we were really lucky as everything fell into place, there was such a great story and everyone we spoke to were incredible Go-Between fans. It was also amazing to discover the reach that the Go-Betweens have had over the years. It's actually my first documentary so it’s been a bit of a challenge.
Considering it was your first documentary what was your greatest challenge taking on a new genre?
The biggest challenge is always predicting the future. You can guess what might happen but it’s always storytelling. The pieces of the puzzle do come together at the same time but the challenge is also about the unpredictable nature of people. You also can’t please everybody in a documentary; there is always a bit of displeasure as well as elation.
On the filmmaking side too there are the challenges of attaining copyrights and archive rights and dealing with real people who really are invested in the end product. Drama is predictable and documentary isn’t, and I find that interesting; you don’t know what you are going to get day-to-day.
The Go-Betweens and their music is an epic story that was first tackled by band member, Robert Forster, in his autobiography, Grant and I. As that really documents only the two men in the band how did you ensure that all the other voices of the band were heard?
The Go-Betweens is such a huge family of people actually, not just Robert and Grant, who were the founders of the band. While the book by Forster did inspire everybody, and it was full of so many great moments that helped the documentary, we didn’t base it on the book. We actually looked back at the chronological arch of their journey. The girls were just such a natural and huge force in that journey and they bring all the drama. They are pivotal to the story and the music that they produced when they were there is the stuff that is so well known.
What was your favourite moment in making the film?
One moment was when we shot a re-enactment, which was drama, which I am used to. Otherwise it was 20 days of interviews and questions. When somebody popped in interview, those were the moments I enjoyed most. And Kriv is such an amazing director; to sit there asking questions for 20 days is quite a feat. I also really enjoyed Steve Kilbey and Clinton Walker and I must say that I enjoyed Robert Forster, who is an eccentric that he is wonderful to be around, bringing him a cup of tea and a biscuit and enjoying the human interaction.
What’s next for you?
Killing Ground is being released in the US in July, in Australia August, and the UK in September. I will be dealing with that. I am doing another film with Damien Power who directed Killing Ground and I am developing a documentary or two, so I’ll see how I go!
Why did you think the Go-Betweens would make good content now?
I think their music is more popular now than it was in the 80s. Their music is used so widely in commercials, in the news, in the background of things you wouldn’t know.
The Go-Betweens story has never been told in its entirety and I think it has hit a time when people really wanted to know their story. Also, of course, Grant died. He created the trigger with the book that put the band back into the consciousness of people who wanted to remember the band and remind them of the music. I am hoping that a new generation come forward and love The Go-Betweens. I wasn’t a fan when I started this documentary and I think they are actually extraordinary and I can’t believe I missed it in my youth.
You sound too young to be a Go-Betweens fan, were you a fan?
I might have been an inadvertent listener, but hopefully your documentary will change that.
I really hope it puts them on the radar of a whole new generation and reminds the older generation, because they are so symbolic of a time and an era, and because their music still stands up. The Go-Betweens really are amazing musicians and people and they deserve a space in our consciousness and a place in the history of Australia. They are so Australian and they were so influential everywhere, Australia and overseas.
Is there anything else you wanted to share about this production?
I think what this documentary explores is the struggle of the artist in Australia. The Go-Betweens gave up 45 years of their lives to be artists and they feel that they are successful. It didn’t come with money and it didn’t come with fame. It really does explore what the definition of what it means to be successful is. Now if you sell records or if you make money, it is all about the numbers or hits. When you look at the Go-Between’s history they really are successful, but in the eyes of many they aren’t. And I think that is reference for most of us - filmmakers, to artists to musicians - is to redefine the definition of success.
And what do you think the definition of success for all our NSW practitioners could be?
To love what you do everyday is the biggest success. You might not have a big house or fancy things, but getting up and enjoying what you do and putting it out their from the heart is a success.
Tix are still available: Friday 16 June 8.15pm, Dendy Newtown: