Art & Design
Posted by Jenn Winterbine
27. May, 2011
Kasimir Burgess is one of Melbourne’s most promising new filmmakers. After winning over twenty awards, including the Qantas Spirit of Youth Award for film and the prestigious Crystal Bear for Best Short at Berlin International Film Festival 2011, he seems to have the world at his feet. His films are often fantastical, life affirming and tend to embrace marginalised outsider characters. As Burgess branches out from shorts, music videos and documentary into dramatic feature territory, we met with him to discuss self-transformation—the medium of storytelling and mortality.
How did you become a filmmaker? Were you inspired?
I started making sculpture during high school and was lucky to be invited to have a show at the National Gallery of Victoria. After that I got a bit cocky, I thought, yep, I’m a sculptor, so I enrolled in the Victorian College of the Arts. I’d go to the rubbish tip every weekend looking for materials, old time patterned objects I could give new life to. I loved it but it was very solitary, and I hungered for creative interaction. So I started to make films, using friends and classmates as actors. I found myself submitting films instead of sculpture with the excuse “I’m sculpting in time”. My teachers didn’t buy it and kindly suggested I apply for film school.
Your latest short film Lily was inspired by a painting by renowned artist Julia Ciccarone. Can you talk about the connection?
The thick dreamy atmosphere and narrative drama in Julia’s paintings provide inspiration for a story that can embark from reality and explore a realm that is heightened, beautiful and unsettling. The piece that inspired Lily features an enigmatic image of a man cloaked in a seaweed gown standing on the shoreline looking out to eternity. This image became the last frame of the film, the only difference is that the man is being held by a young girl – the daughter I imagined into the scenario. And so from the painting came a whole story, which could be described like this: on a caravan holiday by the ocean, a young girl inspires her dying father to face his own mortality with dignity and courage.
What gave you the idea for Lily, apart from the painting?
I’ve been quite sick for the last four years with Chronic Fatigue, which was triggered by viral meningitis. To some degree the father in Lily echoes me—he’s dealing with physical pain, his own mortality and being frustrated by a fragile and failing body.
You’ve won numerous awards in number of countries. What’s it like travelling and showcasing your films?
I couldn’t afford to travel; every spare cent went into film stock, so filmmaking (being invited to festivals), allowed me to experience other cultures. It’s rewarding to have my work seen in different countries and by different demographics. It’s amazing to mingle with filmmakers from all over the world and see life through such diverse outlooks. You can learn a lot and strengthen your storytelling by watching your film with an audience, especially one from another culture. Sneakily, I spend my entire screenings spying on the audience and observing their various responses. It’s a challenge to create something archetypal, a piece that audiences can relate to in Australia, Germany, Japan, Russia or anywhere else you can think of. To create something that may be Australian but first and foremost is universal.
Did winning the Crystal Bear at Berlin open up opportunities for you?
When you win an award at a major film festival like Berlin you need to make the most of the attention that you invariably attract. I’ve squandered opportunities in the past by simply not having a story that was ready to go. Windows open but only for a short while. This time I’m lucky to have a project ready, a whimsical and darkly comedic feature film (co written by Natasha Pincus), to be produced by acclaimed Australian producer John Maynard (The Boys, The Bank, Romulus, My Father).
Rachel Ward is a well-known actor, screenwriter and director. What was it like being mentored by her?
Rachel is a deeply feeling and intelligent filmmaker who makes beautiful and lyrical films. We found a real affinity and she inspired and motivated me no end. The mentoring has finished but we are still good mates. I’d encourage other filmmakers/creatives to seek out the guidance, advice and inspiration of more experienced artists. There is so much to learn as a filmmaker, I’m just starting to get my head around the basics.
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