Windmill Theatre’s Girl Asleep a hit at Adelaide Film Festival

By David Russell

If there was any doubt is Director Rosemary Myers’ mind that Adelaide Film Festival audiences would embrace her new film Girl Asleep it must have dissipated quickly when the credits rolled to rapturous applause at last night’s premiere (Tuesday 20 October).

Rosemary told Inside South Australia that to her the filmmaking process was a complete unknown.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever made a film… we’re really proud of it and we’re really happy with what we’ve done. But then you get close to putting it up in front of people and think ‘oh God’.

“I was nervous the whole way through (the premiere). (But) we’ve made a lot of plays for that audience with a lot of that similar kind of humour, so I felt fairly positive it would be received well.

“People told me their teenagers didn’t want the film to end, so that was really fantastic.”

Rosemary is Artistic Director at South Australia’s Windmill Theatre, which has been making award-winning theatre for children, teens and families since 2002. Windmill’s productions are fast becoming a valuable South Australian commodity, with shows like Pinocchio wowing audiences on Broadway and Grug recently embarking on a 70-performance tour of China. Windmill has long incorporated film techniques in their productions, using things like slow motion and animation.

It was that theatre background and unique perspective on filmmaking that lead to Windmill winning the funding to transform Girl Asleep from a stage production into a feature film through the HIVE fund, which is contributed to by the Adelaide Film Festival, the Australian Council for the Arts, Screen Australia and the ABC. True to Rosemary’s background Girl Asleep borrows heavily from theatre in terms of set design, costumes and sign-posting.

“In this film we really wanted to be true to our theatrical voice. I think that’s why we were funded to do it through Hive… they didn’t want us to go and try and emulate a conventional film… they wanted us to do what we do but in that medium (film).”

Bethany Whitmore at Greta in Girl Asleep.

Bethany Whitmore at Greta in Girl Asleep.

Rosemary said she was faced with a steep learning curve when it came time to shoot Girl Asleep.

“Its such a different medium…. You need to consider things like point of view… the Director of Photography and I spent a lot of time in pre-production just looking at story boarding.

“With a theatre show it reveals itself in the rehearsal room… you run the play and see what you’ve got and where you have to go.

“But with film so much of it happens in pre- and post-production. We started with pieces of high intensity… it was so broken up… you really need to be able to chart where you’re at in the story telling.”

Rosemary was amazed at the professionalism of the kids she worked with to make the film.

“It’s interesting… I didn’t find it that different (to working with adults). Bethany (in the lead role of Greta) is very experienced… but someone like Maiah who played the lead triplet (Greta’s adversary)… we uncovered her out of a general call. She’d never done a film before and she just walked onto the set and blew us all away.

“Sometimes they (Bethany and Harrison, who plays Elliott) were working out of their comfort zone, but they were really up for the challenge.”

Maiah Stewardson (centre) as Jade in Girl Asleep.

Maiah Stewardson (centre) as Jade in Girl Asleep.

Without the Hive funding, Rosemary doesn’t believe the film could have been made.

“It’s an expensive medium to work in. The great thing is once you have some people believe in you then other people chip in funding as well.”

Girl Asleep was shot and edited entirely in South Australia. Greta’s house is in the Adelaide suburb of Panorama, her school is Findon High School, and the forest that features in Greta’s dream is in Blackwood.

“I think the film industry here is amazing. It has great resources with the film studios and terrific people who are willing to work so hard and inventively on projects.

“And to have a festival that commissions work which has started a trend across the country… very lateral things come out (of South Australia) and become hugely popular.”

“We were able to bring a lot of investment from elsewhere to the state to make the film. The whole production budget was spent in the state generating employment… I think it’s a good return on investment.”

With such an impressive catalogue of theatre content, Rosemary hopes Windmill can do more film projects in the future. As for Girl Asleep, the reception and positive reviews the film has received in Adelaide has made the prospect of a big name international festival and a national release very real possibilities.

“We’re hoping out of this festival there will be some exciting developments for the film… but we have to wait and see.”