Helm puts a spotlight on the role of the director

Martin Freeman in 'Cargo'.

For Playground Films founder and director David Barker, there are many industry opportunities to discuss the business of filmmaking – less so the art of filmmaking.

To help redress this, earlier this year Playground Films launched Helm, a program of monthly film screenings ‘for directors, by directors’.

Held at at Sydney’s Golden Age Cinema & Bar, it sees directors present their work in-person, accompanied by a conversation about the art of directing.

So far, Helm has screened Jennifer Peedom and Joseph Nizeti’s River and Ben Lawrence’s Hearts & Bones. Next week will see Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling’s 2017 zombie thriller, Cargo, round out the winter program. The spring program will include Matthew Saville’s Noise, with other titles to be announced shortly.

“We wanted to create an experience, and a space, where we could inspire meaningful conversations about the role of the director and bring the creative community together after a couple of pretty rubbish years,” Barker explains to IF of Helm’s creation.

“Plus, we wanted the filmmakers to be present, to be in conversation, and shed light on their experiences.”

Barker, who directed 2018’s Pimped, has been enthused by the events so far, and to see people’s attention focused on the inherent challenges involved – and varied personal approaches to – creatively leading a film. Conversations span the practical and the philosophical.

“It’s interesting, while we do talk about aspects of the film we screen on the night, it’s more a jumping-off point into how these directors approach making films. What inspires them? What challenges them? How do they chose their stories?

“Or, in Jennifer’s case, how a story chose her, in a sense. Her determination is inspiring. She’s a slave to the story. In documentary, sometimes that can be an amorphous thing you’re chasing. In drama, there’s always a script to turn to. Her resolve and attention to story, under the most extraordinary circumstances, is evident in her extraordinary films.

“Similarly, Ben Lawrence shared some wonderful insights into the process of working with non-professional actors on Hearts and Bones. Andrew Luri – who played opposite one of the most experienced actors in the world, Hugo Weaving – was a first timer. That’s scary. So they set up two months of workshops and sessions in the Blue Mountains prior to the film. Insights like that inspire and teach.”

Playground Films has curated the films based on whether they “have something to say; something to challenge; something to celebrate. Whether that be in theme, genre, gender, sexuality, culturally or temperament.”

“These films cross boundaries, cross genres, explore and experiment. And they create discourse through the ideas they present, and through the stories they choose to tell,” Barker says.

After a documentary in River and a drama in Hearts & Bones, Playground Films chose Cargo as they found it be moving piece of genre filmmaking, and in recognition of its legacy as the first Australian film to acquired as a Netflix Original (in a reported multi-million dollar deal).

Set among a zombie pandemic, the film stars Martin Freeman as a father searching the Australian outback for someone willing to protect and care for his infant daughter. The cast also includes Susie Porter, Anthony Hayes, Caren Pistorius and the late David Gulpilil.

Cargo was Ramke and Howling’s feature debut, and the pair will discuss at Helm the intricacies of directing drama, how two minds can approach the directorial role, and what insights can be learned from working with A-list global talent on your first film.

Cargo will screen August 4, 6.15pm at the Golden Age in Surry Hills. ADG members receive a discount. More info: