Paul Ireland could hardly be termed a newbie, having been part of the British and Australian film and television industries for some 20 years. But his debut film, “Pawno,” which competes in the Tridens First Feature Competition, definitely marks a fresh departure for the actor, recently seen in the ambitious Australian portmanteau film “The Turning,” based on short stories by writer Tim Winton. Like that film, “Pawno” is an ensemble piece, focusing on a single day at a pawnbroker’s shop in the multicultural suburb of Footscray in Melbourne.
Explains Ireland, “It’s a very simple story about a day in the life of 12 very different characters whose lives collide and intersect throughout the course of one day. At the heart of it is a simple love story, although love is rarely simple. The film has a lot of heart, yet it remains a raw examination of a multicultural slice of Melbourne’s society. Footscray plays a very important part in the film – it’s like another character. It’s one of the last suburbs in Melbourne that remains very ethnic and multicultural, so it was important to me that we filmed there, to capture what I feel is a side of Australia that is very rarely shown in film.”
The script was written by Damian Hill – another experienced actor, this one making his feature debut as a screenwriter.
“Damian and I first met while we were working on a theater production together, and we remained close friends,” says Ireland. “He gave me the script to read one summer and asked for my input. Directing had always been in the back of my mind, and so when the opportunity arose, I decided to take the leap, as I loved it so much.”
The duo then collaborated over the next two years on various different drafts before going about the process of raising the finance and then on to production, channeling everything they did together through their production company, Toothless Pictures.
“The fundraising process was extremely difficult,” he recalls. “All funds were raised through private investment, as we didn’t qualify for any filmmaking grants from any of the government-run film funding bodies. Luckily we came across some very generous philanthropic types who believed in us and our film. It is very rare in Australia to finance a film this way.”
Despite the tough route to financing, Ireland says filming went swimmingly. “The shoot was brilliant,” he says, “as I’d surrounded myself with both the experience of some of the best in the business and the hunger and the passion of first-timers, which made things run very smoothly. The advice I would give to a first-time director is that you have to surround yourself with good and experienced people. Get the casting right, have faith in your actors and let them play, and always follow your vision.”
The film’s selection by the Black Nights team, following its well-received home bow at the Melbourne Intl. Film Festival in August, suggests Ireland was right to follow his instincts. “The Black Nights Film Festival has been amazing,” he says. “Nothing but kind and helpful. ‘Pawno’ is up against some really great films and it’s good for us to be in that type of company.”