Ten years ago, during a difficult period of her life, Priscilla Cameron was sitting alone in a park in Sydney when she had a vision of a teenager boy sitting on a stone step outside an old building, waiting for someone.
That was the kernel of the idea for The Butterfly Tree, writer-director Cameron’s debut feature which will have its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Two years later a close female friend developed breast cancer and died, a tragic event which Cameron wove into the screenplay.
In the intervening period she produced short films, developed several projects, worked as a lecturer in screen studies at Brisbane’s Griffith Film School, lost one child at birth and raised three children.
So those experiences informed Cameron as she wrote and directed the film which stars Melissa George, Ewen Leslie, Ed Oxenbould and Sophie Lowe, shot on Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Oxenbould is 13-year-old Fin, who lives with his father Al (Leslie), a creative writing teacher. Both are mourning the loss of Fin’s mother three years earlier. While Al beds Shelley (Lowe), one of his students, Fin becomes infatuated with the exotic Evelyn (George), a local florist and former burlesque queen. Unbeknown to him, Evelyn is terminally ill. When Fin finds out his father fancies Evelyn, sparks fly.
Producer Bridget Callow-Wright, who nurtured the project from the start, raised the budget from Screen Queensland, the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund, the Post Lounge, private investors, the Australian distributor Vendetta Films and Film Victoria. The film is expected to be released theatrically in October.
The development process included the MIFF 37 Market in 2009, being workshopped at a Cinema Nova and Film Victoria Script Alive program and being selected as one of eight projects from around the world to participate in the intensive six months directors’ lab at The Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam.
Cameron was convinced George was ideal for the role after seeing her in The Slap, telling IF: “On screen she is very raw, with a depth and fragility.”
She auditioned fairly widely for the role of Fin and saw Oxenbould as perfect as a boy on the cusp of manhood.
Leslie greatly impressed her in The Daughter and she said Lowe brought a complexity to the playful and mischievous Shelley.
Cast and crew worked for award wages so the director strove to make sure each person could feel creative ownership of the film.
Cameron is heartened by the positive reactions to test screenings with audiences of fewer than 100 people. She acknowledges she is both excited and terrified about the MIFF premiere.
For her next film she is keen to make The Breathing Sea, co-written with Heather Phillips, a drama set in two time zones which addresses the issue of a married couple who fall out of love but still live together and face the prospect of dying alone.