CLEARING THE AIR (SHORT DRAMA)
If you like your flicks subtle but serious, you’ll love this acting clinic by Rhys Wakefield and Marcus Graham. Graham plays a recovering alcoholic who has become estranged from his teenaged son.
The pair tease out a nuanced scene, leaving the audience to imagine the character’s shared past and ambiguous future.
7″ / Stars: Rhys Wakefield, Marcus Graham.
Key Art Poster Image by Patricia Casey / Distribution: QANTAS In-Flight Entertainment 2009
When I set out to make Clearing the Air my goal was to make a film that was, in the truest sense of the word, naturalistic. It’s a short and simple story – a fleeting reunion between an estranged father and his son, raggedly and impolitely thrown together at a hotel looking out on Sydney International Airport. Dad – a struggling entrepreneur – is rerouted from Papua New Guinea to Wellington via Sydney, and while there he reckons he’s “got to see” his boy. And so they come together for a few stolen moments – acutely aware that their reunion will end as soon as it’s begun. They go through their rituals, make small talk, listen and don’t hear, miss each other and occasionally connect.
This is not an entirely autobiographical film, although I admittedly drew on some of the circumstances around my own broken family. What I can tell you for certain is that real life doesn’t always involve yelling. Families die both noisily and sometimes with a deathly quietness. We don’t always say exactly what we think and hardly ever exactly what we feel. There is subterfuge, swallowed sputum, mumbles and silence. I’d like to thank Rhys Wakefield and Marcus Graham for trusting this instinct, and for illuminating all of the subtext that runs beneath their apparently prosaic review of AMEX cards, business assignments and life in a post-divorce world. They don’t raise their voices, there is no spleen venting – they just wallow together in a sad, sometimes hopeful sense of their changing relationship.
I wrote the role of ‘Dad’ for Colin Friels, who I’d directed in my photo-novel Modern Odysseus. When he became unavailable Marcus Graham stepped in and took the role in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. ‘Dad’, pre-50, became something like an ageing rock star – a man just beginning to fall out of touch with his son but clinging on for dear life. I won’t soon forget how Marcus conjured the necessary cheek and brittleness of his character to perfection in one magical first take.
I went to the same performing arts high school as young Rhys Wakefield, though we were a few years apart. I saw the plays he was in, and always thought he was an extremely promising actor. That he’s realised so much of this promise at such a young age is extraordinary. We caught up at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008 when he was there with The Black Balloon and I was there with Darling! I think we both decided it would be pretty fun to work together as soon as possible. He has a great gift for communicating the ineffable – so much is going on behind his limpid blue eyes. Rhys, in his phlegmatic stillness, was quite simply the perfect foil for the antic energy of ‘Dad.’
This is their film and I am grateful for the two trusting that not everything needed to be said, for hewing so close to the quilt of real life and for realising a dynamic that was – going back to that word – genuinely natural. I will always be grateful that they etched out a moment of such tenderness together in the final exchange – a brief and heartbreaking acknowledgement of a future that has now become deeply uncertain.
Julian Shaw, Sydney, 2009