by Dave Bradley.

Adelaide-based filmmaker (director, co-writer-of-sorts, co-producer at times, co-editor and more) Mike Retter speaks to us about Stanley’s Mouth, a nearly-no-budget, Port-Adelaide-created, SASA-nominated feature shot with a camcorder on its side to create the first (surely) vertical movie.

We ask Mike if this movie was truly a ‘no-budget’ effort.

“Really it cost us nothing except the catering,” he begins. “We used pre-existing or borrowed equipment, we never paid for the use of a location and or for an actor, so in the end it was just petrol in the car and the fuel for people’s stomachs. What it really cost, though, was time. We shot for three weeks but we edited it for about a year. We had hardware and software issues; we were using a cheap laptop and it would crash two or three times or more per session, depending upon the weather. So in the end it didn’t cost a lot financially, but it did cost a lot emotionally.”

Is it also true that you, producer/editor Allison Chhorn and the others who worked on the film are more than just filmmakers, and that you hope to create a filmmaking or artistic collective?Stanley's Mouth - Director Mike Retter - The Clothesline

“Yes, we are the Port Film Co-op,” Mike says. “There’s really no excuse not to make movies now if you want to. I mean, look at that mobile phone you’re recording this interview on: you could shoot something wonderful on that and make a great movie. The technology is now there, and all you need is the vision and the need to say something. And yes, I would like South Australia to make ten times the amount of feature films that it does; they make a few a year but they’re too expensive, and what I would like to see is risky projects without risky budgets.

“I would like to see us make a lot more micro-budget movies, and I would like to see a lot more output, but the industry is geared towards employing people and not serving the art form. I believe that if the art form was served best then you would have a viable industry, and you would therefore have jobs, but it’s the other way round: jobs first, art second. And frankly I don’t care about jobs as I never had one.”

Some have called Stanley’s Mouth “a contemporary work of religious art” while others have discussed its sexuality themes, but how exactly would you personally describe it?

“It’s an expressive coming-of-age drama. I think it is a religious film, but it’s not a fundamentalist one,” he says. “It’s not some American movie where Johnny enters a baseball game because he sees an angel on second base or something, but it’s not a clichéd, atheistic one either. I think it’s about older, vaguer European Christianity, which isn’t as loud or repressive as fundamentalist Christianity. I also think it’s a gay film, but a conservative gay film. I wanted it to be the story of someone who comes from a moderate Christian background but who is also gay, and who wants to fit in. He’s working it out. I don’t think it’s a political film.”

So, if it’s about religion and sexuality then it is a political film.

“Well, maybe. But I think that this film will piss off Christians as much as it will piss off atheists. The fact that I haven’t demonised religion will piss a lot of people off. And the narrative mirrored the production: we were shooting in churches with real priests, and we were doing Bible Studies with real Anglican ministers, and we really didn’t encounter any roadblocks, so this notion that there is inherent homophobia in Christianity is a myth, I think.

“I also wanted it to be a movie about young people, and about all that visceral stuff and the sense of danger as you move away from your parents and do all the stuff you do for the first time.”

Stanley Browning plays Stanley. How did you cast him and how did he find working with such challenging material?

“He was very young when he did the role and he didn’t have a sense of entitlement, so he just went with it,” Mike says. “I think he did find it challenging… We didn’t give him a lot of direction: the direction was all about how it was photographed and not really how it was performed. All we would say was ‘Strip away the acting’.

Stanley's Mouth Poster - Mike Retter - The Clothesline“Stanley was from a Channel 10 TV series for kids called Sam Fox: Extreme Adventures and it was rather perverse and satisfying to take him out of that background and throw him into a film without much structure, a film that’s experimental and one that has sex scenes like this. He’s a very good actor and I’m very proud of him. There was one day when it was raining he rode to the set on his scooter and he had an accident and wound up with blood all up one side. He didn’t tell us until we were shooting a sex scene and he had to take his clothes off! Young people are like rubber and they just bounce back.”

What’s it like filming in Port Adelaide, especially given the depressed nature of the area?

“It’s wonderful. Port Adelaide has a very, very good attitude to filmmakers,” he enthuses. “You ask the owner of a café like the Red Light Shack, for example, if you can film there and they’ll just say yes! So many great movies have been made in Port Adelaide: Look Both Ways, Bad Boy Bubby. And the community will support you: not only will they let you shoot in their premises but they’ll also ask, ‘What else do you need?

“We shot in the bakery and they did some catering pro bono… It’s just a great location too, as you could shoot a period drama or a sci-fi film there. It has a wonderful sense of emptiness, and filmmakers will miss that when it becomes busier, what with Renew Adelaide, the Port Adelaide Council, local entrepreneurs and people just moving to the area.”

Okay, so what do you do now? How do you follow up Stanley’s Mouth? Do you plan to make more short or non-feature films, or do you want to try something bigger?

Stanley’s Mouth is a mid-length feature. For the next movie we’re actually writing a script as Stanley’s Mouth was basically unscripted and improvised, and while we’ll still have actors paraphrasing and adlibbing we will actually be using a script,” Mike says. “It’ll be more structured so that it won’t require nine months of editing, but it will follow a similar low-budget methodology. It’ll be bigger and more ambitious and yes, definitely feature length. I define it as a Freudian stoner film.”

Stanley’s Mouth screens as part of the ‘Non Narrative’ thread of the South Australian Screen Awards Screening Program on Sun 15 May from 7.15pm at Mercury Cinema, with a DVD release to follow soon.

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