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The greatest actors are fearless: Phillip Noyce in his filmmaking masterclass

Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce likens the director to a circus ringmaster as he discusses elements of filmmaking at the Kolkata International Film Festival 2018.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Patriot Games (1992), Clear And Present Danger (1994), The Bone Collector (1999), The Quiet American (2002), Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and Salt (2010) are just a few of the many hits of Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce who has straddled mainstream Hollywood and smaller independent projects with equal comfort.

Felicitated at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival with a retrospective of his works, Noyce shared his journey in cinema in a rather unusual yet immensely enjoyable masterclass.

The Australian took the eager participants through the journey of making films, beginning with a simple yet crucial exercise to build trust amongst one another. Leading the participants through the corridors of the Nandan theatre complex, the filmmaker urged the participants to realize the teamwork and trust that lays the foundation for any successful film.

Incidentally, this month marks 50 years of Noyce making films and he took the audience through his own journey as a filmmaker, sharing lessons and guidelines that he had absorbed and practised in his career.

He began by talking about the history of Australian cinema, which faced an onslaught from Hollywood and practically ceased to exist after World War II. “When I was growing up," Noyce pointed out, "I couldn’t hear the Australian voice, I couldn’t hear an Australian bird. There was no such thing as becoming an Australian director.”

He then described how he stumbled upon an underground circuit of shooting and exhibiting films that was enabling the rise of an Australian voice, and how it began stirring the creativity in him.

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Tracing his journey from making his first film to becoming one of the most successful Australian filmmakers in Hollywood, Noyce said, “It is a god-given gift to make movies, particularly in Australia, where we never expected to be making movies at the time when we were making them.”

He quickly added that technology, the mobile phone in particular, had changed that scenario completely in modern times. "This is the machine [the mobile phone] that imprisons us, but it has liberated cinema,” he remarked.

Talking about his films, Rabbit-Proof Fence in particular, Noyce highlighted the importance of music and sound, elements that are sometimes overlooked as one tends to concentrate more on the visuals.

Playing a track composed by English rock musician Peter Gabriel for Rabbit-Proof Fence, Noyce said, “To me, music is the glue that binds everything together in a movie.” He went on to describe ways in which the music of his films had altered their fate for the better.

In the course of his career, Phillip Noyce has worked with several Hollywood A-listers from Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman and Michael Caine to Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone. Sharing some moments of his interactions with these stars, he talked about the craft of acting. “The greatest actors are fearless," the filmmaker said. "Fear eats the soul and destroys creativity. For me, good acting is about the actor finding the character. They have to take control of the character.”

He also revealed that he prefers to trust his artistes to do their work and offers minimal intervention. Describing the work of a director as being akin to that of the ringmaster in a circus, Noyce said, “It [the film] is not just about the director. It’s about this big wonderful centipede which is the crew. The director is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.”

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Kolkata International Film Festival