Fertile dream fields

May 2, 1997

The latest low-budget feature to emerge from Australia's film-school alumni continues a success rate young British filmmakers can only dream of. Chris Johnston reports.

We were just dying to make a film ... I think we did things backwards. We decided to make a film and then came up with the story." That is Emma-Kate Croghan's answer to a question about the inspiration for her debut low-budget feature film. The 25-year-old Australian director has hit the jackpot with Love and Other Catastrophes, a comedy about five young people grappling with life's big issues: love, sex and fate, as well as library fines and university bureaucracy.

Croghan, who attended the Victorian College of the Arts' film and television school, and friend Stavros Andonis Efthymiou, who went to the Australian Film Television and Radio School, were frustrated by not being able to practise their craft after graduating. They decided to self-fund a film using credit cards, but found that banks do not give plastic to the unemployed. Undeterred, Croghan recalls: "Stavros said, 'if we set a date and say in six weeks' time we're going to be shooting the film no matter what, it will happen', and he was right, it did."

The budget of $Aus45,000 (Pounds 22,000) was scraped together from friends and family to pay for the 17-day shoot (done partly at the University of Melbourne). The story is about five students at a fictional Australian university. Mia is unsure about her girlfriend, Danni, moving into her apartment. She is also obsessed with her favourite lecturer and wages a last-minute paper battle to change courses and follow him to his new department. Her flatmate, Alice, a frustrated perfectionist three years' late with her PhD thesis ("Doris Day as feminist warrior"), falls for the totally unsuitable Ari, classics student and part-time gigolo. However, she has a secret admirer - shy medical student Michael. During one day, the lives and loves of the five characters prove in turn to be wildly amusing, faintly ridiculous, and poignant without being overly sentimental.

Some of the highlights are found in the subheadings which link the scenes, featuring quotes from sources as diverse as Alice in Wonderland, and the Bee Gees' hit single Staying Alive. Croghan says: "I enjoy the fact that the Bee Gees have just as much relevance as Sartre ... that's popular culture."

The film did well at the Australian box office, was released in the United States in March and opens in Britain on May 23. Croghan says she expected nothing, so any success is seen as a bonus. Even more pleasing is that the young cast is getting more work on the strength of the movie, and that the mums and dads who never expected to see their Aus$1,000 investment again will not only get their money back but make some.

To question how realistically the film portrays university students is to miss its point - the campus setting is merely a vehicle for the story. Nonetheless, audience members have told Croghan how Love brought back fond memories of their university days, or how they wished their experiences had been more like those depicted on screen. The only thing she found a little perturbing was the comment: "I saw your film and I'm thinking of going to university now". "That one's a bit dangerous," she quips.

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