A viewing of The Turning (or more correctly Tim Winton’s The Turning, ‘the championed Australian film of 2013’) is a singular experience, and one far more enjoyable than I had anticipated. As the title makes clear, the film is an adaption of Tim Winton’s award-winning short story collection of the same name, which has been rendered in film by producer/director Robert Connolly. Connolly, however, is not the only director.
As a way of maintaining Winton’s short story narrative, as well as his enigmatic style, Connolly gathered together 17 other directors—each with their own crew and cast—assigning them all their own story and eventually drawing the short films together to make a whole. The directors were left alone to interpret their allocated stories in their own individual ways and visually recreate what they had gleaned from Winton’s stories. The result is a three-hour collection of loosely interlocking and vaguely connected vignettes, each with its own distinctive cinematic style that explore the lives of those living in the fictional sea-side town of Angelus, Western Australia, over a thirty year period. All are hauntingly beautiful and all are complete films in their own right.
By staging the film as he has done, Connolly has been able to successfully maintain Winton’s disordered and disorientating approach to the stories, while also showcasing Australian talent across numerous fields. Funded through a number of different channels—including the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Premiere Fund where it had its world premiere on August 3—the project was okay-ed with only the various directors attached and given a budget of less than $5 million.
The compilation is bookended by Marieka Walsh’s mesmerising sand-animation and in between we see the directorial debuts of noted Australian actors David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska. Rose Byrne plays an abused trailer-park mother finding Jesus, Hugo Weaving is an ex-alcoholic, and one story is told entirely through dance. Most of the stories focus in some way around the sometime-protagonist Victor Lang—from early childhood to well into his adult years—and the people who share his life and town. Often you don’t know which characters or what stage of their lives you are viewing at any given time. The actors playing Lang range from pre-teen to mature adult, red-headed or scarred, Caucasian and indigenous.
The film demands a lot from its audience but it has good intentions and more importantly the effort it demands is deserved. Connelly and the others attached to the project should be commended for creating such a unique visual experience for viewers. Like many Australians I tend to have a degree of cynicism—deserved or not—towards our film industry, so it is welcoming to be able to support a film that not only showcases numerous strengths in Australian filmmaking, but does so in such an elegant manner.
The use of 18 different directors, cinematic styles, actors, time periods, and settings is not the film’s only strategy of disorientation. Adding to the effect is the way in which the film will be screened. Due to its extended length, only selected cinemas will show a full run of the film from September 26 and the season will last only two weeks. These screenings will be shown once a day with an intermission and programme provided, as well as occasional guest appearances by some of the cast and crew attached the work. For others it will play as different collections of the short films, or as part of interactive exhibits on split-screens in galleries across Australia.
Eleanor Colla co-curates the long-running monthly film night CineCult303 for enthusiasts of obscure, obsessive cinema.