Award-winning film shot in St Kilda

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By Nathan Barillaro

Dubbed as Australia’s first mumblecore film, Pretty Good Friends is the debut feature offering from local resident Sophie Townsend – an enjoyable combination of comedy, romance and drama exploring the concept of the ‘emotional affair’.

The film follows Jules (Jenni Townsend) as she moves back home to Melbourne with the hope of re-inventing herself in time for her 25th birthday. Moving in with her childhood friend Sam (Rain Fuller) and her boyfriend Alex (Nathan Barillaro), Jules quickly finds herself juggling the demands of rekindling an old friendship while an exciting new one emerges.

Shot locally throughout St Kilda, Balaclava and Elwood, Pretty Good Friends recently played at the Classic Cinemas in Elsternwick as part of their Australian Film Focus series. The film has also enjoyed success on the festival circuit, winning the Best International Feature award at the Starlite Film Festival earlier this year as well as screening as part of the 2015 Going Green Film Festival via VOD service Roku, available to over 8 million viewers throughout North America.

We chatted to director Sophie Townsend about the benefits of incorporating her local area into her films and the challenges of producing independent features outside of the traditional system.

What inspired you to set Pretty Good Friends in and around St Kilda?
I’d just moved into an apartment in Balaclava a couple of months before we began shooting the film so I’d already planned to film around the area as I’ve always loved this part of Melbourne. It’s got a lot of visually beautiful places around the bay and the urban areas also have a lot of character and are always filled with interesting people. Carlisle St and Glen Eira Road both feature a lot in the film and local businesses were always very welcoming in allowing us to film in their shops which was great.

What was it like having the film played in a theatre around the corner from where it was made?
I was really happy to have the film screened at the Classic, it’s probably my favourite cinema in Melbourne and I also live very close by. It was really great to be involved with the program and with a cinema that wants to make emerging Australian content available to local audiences. We had a really good turnout at the Classic and then again at the Cameo in Belgrave a few days later as part of the same program which was also really good. We did q-and-a’s at both screenings and the whole experience was a lot of fun and one I hope to have again.

What are some of the biggest challenges of making feature films on such a small scale?
The main challenge at the moment is probably just the amount of money that is available to us as all the films I’ve been involved with have been self-financed, so of course there’s compromises everywhere in comparison to films that are getting made with a budget. But I think overall the positives of working with a small, dedicated crew definitely outweigh the financial challenges – you get to learn so much more and work with a freedom that you might not have in more conventional environments. The hardest part is just having enough money, time and energy to actually make the film while holding down a normal day job, but I suppose that is true of many things.

Do you plan on making another film in the Port Philip area? What’s next for Sophie Townsend?
I’ve already helped work closely on another feature called Free Of Thought that was shot around the area and will be coming out soon. We actually used some of the same locations as in Pretty Good Friends and it has some other connections to the film that will become obvious when people see it. I definitely want to make another movie in Port Philip, I think it’s such an interesting area and there are many stories to be told here. I still live in the area and am making another film in a couple of months that will be filmed around here and also in the Yarra Valley, so I’m working on that at the moment. I also acted in a film called Islands Apart that we made in Indonesia last year, so I’m looking forward to seeing that once it comes out.

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