AFF 2014: Q&A with director of “One Eyed Girl”

Australian director/writer Nick Matthews' film "One Eyed Girl" had its world premiere on Friday, Oct. 24. Matthews sat down with Shuffle to talk about the dark drama. Photo by Barbi Barbee.
Australian director/writer Nick Matthews’ film “One Eyed Girl” had its world premiere on Friday, Oct. 24. Matthews sat down with Shuffle to talk about the dark drama. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

Since Austin Film Festival kicked off on Thursday, Shuffle sat down with the “One Eyed Girl” cast and crew. We spoke with director/writer Nick Matthews, writer/actor Craig Behenna, and actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey. “One Eyed Girl” has its world premiere on Friday at the State Theatre. The second screening is next Tuesday, Oct. 28 at the Galaxy Highland Theatre.

Interview conducted by ChinLin Pan

“One Eyed Girl” centers on distressed psychiatrist Travis (Mark Leonard Winter), who is haunted by the death of his former patient. As he struggles to go about his everyday life, Travis comes across Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand) and his group, who takes him in. He meets Grace (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and learns more about the group and its secrets. When all breaks loose at the farm, Travis is given a chance for redemption.

Shuffle: What inspired you to write and direct this film?

Nick Matthews: I think it’s probably, most of all, a fascination of people who want to live in alternative ways. I think that the consequences of the clash between alternative ways of thinking and being in the traditional, status quo of life. Those clashes are what dramatizes that story and hopefully makes it an exciting ride. We were—myself and the producer David Ngo and co-writer Craig Behenna—all accepted into a program down in South Australia that was a film funding program called FilmLab, that was essentially a program to support Australian directors, writers, and producers.

Shuffle: What made you want to tell this story?

Nick: I suppose the catalyst for this story was actually a long time when I saw a documentary on TV about a girl who spent a long time in a cult in Utah. She had wanted to explore that alternative way of living and live with that religious dogma. Then she had broken free of it and gone into the normal world and then she’d gone back again. It seemed like she had escaped but it just drew her back in. The interviewer formed a close bond with her. He said to her, just when it seemed like you had gotten free of this dogma and control, you’ve gone back and how could you go back? She said well I don’t know what’s better or worse. I’m sitting here drinking gallons of Coke and my little brother is playing these horrible war video games. You tell me—in what ways is that better or worse than dancing around in circles with handkerchiefs and singing weird songs. That, for me, was the real catalyst, kind of just thinking about the predicament of someone who was conflicted by a supposed place in an ideologically strong environment. Someone who had grown up in that but was also beginning to question.

Father Jay's group holds a bonfire late at night in "One Eyed Girl." Photo courtesy of Projector Films.
Father Jay’s group holds a bonfire late at night in “One Eyed Girl.” Photo courtesy of Projector Films.

Shuffle: Do you feel the film brought awareness to what cults are like in real life?

Nick: There are many threads to that exploration in my mind and in the mind of Craig about what we wanted our exploration of the cult to be. One of the things that we kind of vacillated between was the idea that they were highly religious in one of the drafts. It was all about that traditional, Bible bashing dogmatic, paternalistic group. I remember reading that and going, “This is horrible; this is what I don’t want to do—critique religion and religious culture. That’s not what the film is about: it’s about dogma and control and power. It’s not about religion. It is not in my interest to critique religious thinking. I hope that what people find from the film is that Father Jay and his group is neither good nor bad. Like all people, they are elements of both. There is much to be learned.

When you do a lot of research to write a movie about cults, what you find is that there is a narrative that runs through all that research. These places are essentially bad and that things go wrong. People are controlled. The notion of something being a cult and someone being a cult leader is somewhat of a spurious notion, because I’ve never thought of someone setting out to have a cult. You could go out to the woods with a bunch of friends with the best intentions, just to grow your own vegetables, have a lovely time, and swim in the river. Next thing you know, it’s imposed to other people to say, “Oh those guys are weird. They’ve made these odd choices. They’re a cult.” That’s why I had an awful pathological fear of the word “cult” when we were making the film. I banned it from the set. It became one of those things where I hated hearing the word, because I felt like it would influence the cast. I felt like they would start playing spooky, playing the atmosphere and faking cult-like, which was not of any interest to me at all.

I hope the brand of cult and cult leader that Steve Le Marquand, who plays Father Jay, imbues intelligence and wisdom, albeit flawed power but one that is charismatic and interesting and beyond charisma and control. He talks a lot of sense.

Steve Le Marquand (left), Mark Leonard Winter (middle) and Matt Crook (right) go hunting in "One Eyed Girl." Photo courtesy of Projector Films.
Steve Le Marquand (left), Mark Leonard Winter (middle) and Matt Crook (right) go hunting in “One Eyed Girl.” Photo courtesy of Projector Films.

Shuffle: Let’s talk more about Father Jay.

Nick: The way I like to think about Jay is that he’s sort of a guy who he sees what people needs. One of the things that Travis lacks in his life is his connection to his masculinity. I think he’s emasculated and it’s by no accident in the screenplay that Father Jay is very physical and demonstrative. He is the flip side of Travis, who is in the sense of inner focus and he’s an urban dweller. Father Jay is a rural man.

Travis lives in little boxes and works in a room under fluorescent lights. Travis doesn’t touch anybody in his job, and when he does, things go wrong. Whereas Father Jay is about wrestling, fighting, drowning and bashing bats. It’s like a return to the natural sphere. Travis needs to reconnect with himself, in the way that I suppose those kind of men’s groups do. Those definitely kind of influence…Now that I think about it retrospectively, I think it is.

Shuffle: Sometimes, you just need a boys’ night out.

Nick: Exactly!

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