One of the shorts in our “Interesting Individuals” program follows a man named Ali who is trapped in an Australian refugee prison. He keeps himself fit by endlessly running. “Ali 707” is a very charming short film about the strength of the human spirit and we were able to talk with writer/director Hannah Moore about being a first time director and what it was like to film such a physically demanding short.
Heartland Film Festival: Despite Ali being confined during the short, you still make use the stunning Australian landscape. What is it like filming with these surroundings?
Hannah: As a kid I spent time camping in the South Australian outback, and it’s a landscape I love. It’s beautiful especially at sunrise and sunset, but during the day it’s unrelentingly hot. The heat is dry and the sun burns. The extras spend most of their time inside but the crew were exposed for three full days. We had people running waters and fruit, which was wonderful, and we had to construct a shade for the camera because it started to get hot.
Late one night we were filming the scene of Ali in his room and we had to take a break to watch an incredibly lightening storm in the distance, it was like contained fireworks.
It’s an extreme place, with the heat, and then the cold at night, rainstorms. It’s unforgiving, and was therefore a perfect setting.
Heartland Film Festival: This was your first time as a writer/director. What had you learned on other film sets that prepared you for this short?
Hannah: I’ve worked mostly as an actor, so I was prepared for long days. But there was a lot less sitting around as a director. Things move so quickly, so finally I understood why things run overtime.
I was really excited to direct actors. Having been directed a number of different ways, I wanted the actors to feel comfortable and for them to clearly understand what we were going for.
Heartland Film Festival: You have the actor playing Ali, Baqir Rezai, running for majority of the short film. How long were you able to shoot with him exerting such physical energy?
Hannah: I feel a sudden surge of guilt! Baqir is a great friend of mine. He is a Hazara Afghan who came to Australia by himself as a 16-year-old refugee. He’s strong in many ways. I said to him early on, ‘you’re going to have to run a lot. So get training.’ He’s a naturally athletic guy. He would smile at me and say ‘Yes.’ But what he meant was ‘Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But I’ll do it on the day.’ And he did. He never complained and I did keep checking in to see that he was okay. We broke up the running scenes as much as we could. I guess the blocks were about an hour with breaks in between takes.
He exerted a lot of energy, but that’s what we needed. It was only when we were shooting the final shot of the final (fifth) day that we needed him to run full pelt that he got a sore knee. But it was really awful, I had to say ‘Is there any chance you do another one?’ because we had ten seconds left on the only card available and daylight was fading. You saw the film, so you know he ran that extra mile!
Heartland Film Festival: Now it’s difficult to talk about your film without talking about the ending—
Hannah: Oops. Just did.
Heartland Film Festival: Ha. I think we’re still being vague enough. Given what happens are we to assume that perhaps Ali was less than honest about some of the information he gives earlier in the short?
I like to think that Ali did what Ali needed to do, to survive. Honesty may have taken a back seat in proceedings, but he didn’t hurt anyone. The only person he was dishonest to understood it in the end.
Heartland Film Festival: Are you working on a next project?
Hannah: Yes. I’m writing a feature at the moment, loosely based on a job I once had as a touring performer.
And then I have a trilogy of shorts to get started on.
Heartland Film Festival: What are some moving films that inspired you as a filmmaker?
Hannah: I watched Muriel’s Wedding again recently (an Australian classic) and I was just so emotional throughout it, but it was cathartic. There was release. I’d like to see more characters like Muriel.
The films of Susanna Bier (Brothers, After the Wedding) depict such emotional turmoil and conflict. When I watched Brothers (the Danish version) I just wept in the cinema until the whole row was shaking. I’d like to take people to that place, where they can feel so deeply but be so safe in the cinema. I like a lot of foreign films, they’ll go to those dark places where things are really interesting.
You can purchase tickets for “Ali 707”, which will play with the “Interesting Individuals” shorts program, for the following days…
– Saturday, October 20 at 5:30 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Sunday, October 21 at 2:45 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Monday, October 22 at 12:15 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Friday, October 26 at 3:30 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
Interview conducted by Austin Lugar