By Zona Marie Tan

Set to premiere at SPAA Fringe on October 24 is Hairtales, an idiosyncratic documentary by Cath Moore, Scott Otto Anderson and Oliver Lawrance about the untangling of 12 individual’s hair stories.

The concept of Hairtales began as a personal story that writer-director Cath Moore faced with her own hair and African heritage, which she decided could be the root for a documentary about hair.

“Cath has crazy, curly hair that she finds unmanageable,” says Scott. “She became interested in African hair because she was searching for her identity. Her father was absent while she was growing up with her Caucasian mother, so she felt out of place. But she saw hair as distinctive to identities, then she had the idea for a doco and asked if I’d direct it.”

Scott then got Oliver on board as producer and DOP, and the three of them initiated the project by applying for funding from J TV docs (now Triple J TV, under the ABC), and later Screen Australia.

“We went through all kinds of ideas to the degree that we wrote an initial outline for a script that was equivalent to 27 one-hour pieces for a BBC multi-million pound production,” muses Scott.

“If you’re trying to do hair justice, it needs to be a huge series that explores everything – mythological and sub-cultural,” Oliver rationalises. “But it developed further and we decided that it was about finding good stories and characters that would allow us to make a one-hour documentary that stood by itself. If you try to do everything then you’re going to do it badly, so we just looked for some good characters.”

The quest for the right characters took six months of advertising over the radio, community boards, word-of-mouth and a lot of intensive research. The trio listened and sifted through stories from almost 200 people, inclusive of emails. But only met and spoke at length with about 50 people before shortlisting 25 for on-camera interviews.

Among them were a range of ordinary folks, academics and hair professionals, including the head of forensics at the Australian Federal Police who had written a couple of books on hair and forensics; and a formulating chemist who worked for a hair product company – both whom eventually didn’t make it into the doco. But the long drawn process of selecting the right stories and editing to the final piece eventually brought it down to 12 – six main and six secondary characters.

After four months of filming and post, the trio managed to deliver a brilliantly woven, quirky narrative of hair related stories by 12 strikingly different individuals in such an innovative and irreverent manner that’s easy for the audience to get drawn in.

“I think a big part of Hairtales for us was to play around with they way the characters were revealed – where you make assumptions about people,” says Oliver.

And it’s this style of storytelling in which they garnered influence from Errol Morris.

“We were influenced by his storytelling techniques to make documentaries more about an active audience rather than a descriptive or proscriptive documentary,” says Scott. “And his symphonic films too.”

After premiering at SPAA Fringe, Hairtales will be screening at the Dok Leipzig Festival in Germany in late October, and as part of the Videotheque section of the Sheffield International Documentary festival in November. Australian audiences will get to watch this hair-inspired doco when it airs nationally on ABC1 on November 20 at 9pm.

View Hairtales’ trailer here.

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