Focus On – Rochelle Oshlack on “The Tall Man”
The Tall Man reveals the circumstances of Cameron Doomadgee’s arrest, death and police cover up and the judicial proceedings. How did the edit approach the structure and achieve its cyclical nature?
The Tall Man is based on Chloe Hooper's book of the same name. Chloe was creatively consulted during the scripting and fine cut stages. Much of her knowledge regarding the structure of the story was invaluable. Many of the challenges she faced in the books construction were similar to our challenges, but the solutions were inevitably very different. Chloe's voice was present throughout her novel. Her astute, articulate personal perceptions contextualized each event as it unfolded. The film documentary had no narration and no main character. So rather than being lead by a single character we are being lead by events. The chronological structure of course included the investigations and the courts. Facts were repeated leading to this cyclical effect. Setting a clear context was the key in keeping the events 'fresh' even though the information was being repeated. Similar to cutting drama, the narrator or context, sat in the chapter headings. And also similar to cutting drama we were conscious of our inciting incidents, second act turning points and even a denouement!
The backdrop of Palm Island and the community environment is revealed throughout the film. Can you describe this feature and it’s poignancy?
The Production Company is an indigenous company helmed by Rachel Perkins, who Executive Produced and Producer Darren Dale. I believe this allowed for unique access to the Island and it's community. I’m sure some would disagree, but in my limited experience, indigenous filmmakers do an exceedingly better job with indigenous interviewees and vice versa. Having at least one indigenous crewmember at the helm seems to remo ve the need for pat questions and answers that keep the more complex emotions at bay. And Tony Krawitz having been raised in Apartheid South Africa, has no shyness in regards to race, social status and all it's machinations. Also, Darren's schedule split the shoot into three components. We screened a rough cut before the second shoot and therefore Tony returned to Palm with a clearer knowledge of what was needed. By the third shoot, familiarity with the people and place and the film we were making was key.
Chris Hurley did not agree to be a part of the film how did this shape the edit.
There were many attempts to get an interview with somebody from the Queensland Police force or Hurley's family, if not Chris himself. With completion dates looming and no sign of Hurley nor the police force participating, Darren managed to secure access to the court audio recordings of Hurley's Criminal Trial. This presented itself in practical terms as a WAV file containing one hundred and forty hours of Court recordings. So for three weeks First Assistant Editor Jeff Parker would commence and complete his day, real time logging the Court's WAV file against the printed transcripts and provided the edit room with a detailed time-coded list. Needless to say after sitting through the entire criminal court proceeding ostensibly, Jeff was emotionally shattered. He did an impeccable job with all the stock footage and varied formats. We littered the film with as much of Hurley's voice we had from these court recordings in an attempt to keep his points of empathy present and his side of story alive.
Refreshingly the narrator is absent from the Tall Man. How did this influence the style of the documentary?
Tony Krawitz was unrelenting in his vision in having no narrator. There was a sign on the edit room door reading "The audience is the jury".
What’s your favourite experience on this documentary?
It was an emotionally trying time for all of us dealing with the subject matter. But, it was very sobering experiencing the courage of the Palm Island community. The support we offered each other as a team also kept us our healthy perspective. My ’favourite’ experience sit a little outside the making of the doco. We were scheduled to lock off on 11pm Sunday 22nd January 2011. At 10:30 pm my partner, nine months pregnant, phoned saying her waters had broke. That night, I traveled from the edit suite to the delivery suite for the birth of our third son Arlo. Born with impeccable timing, some nine days late, after a 22 week edit.