Drama, Coming-of-age, Rated (M) in Australia
By: Siddiq Sulaiman Zainal Azhar
Part I- Film Information
- Key Cast and Crew
- Release Date
- Bibliography of Interviews
- Bibliography of Reviews
- Film Presence in Web Literature
Part II- Critical Review
- Critical Review of Film
- Own Commentary
- Critical Uptake during Release and Afterwards
- Circumstances of Production and Release
- Subsequent or Prior Work
- September as an Australian Film
Part I- Film Information
Key Cast (order as appear in credits)
Xavier Samuel Ed Anderson
Clarence John Ryan Paddy Parker
Kieran Darcy-Smith Rick Anderson
Kelton Parker Micheal Parker
(rest of cast alphabetically)
Sibylla Budd Miss Gregory
Lisa Flanagan Leena Parker
Paul Gleeson John Hamilton
Alice McConnell Eva Anderson
Tara Morice Jennifer Hamilton
Mia Wasikowska Amelia Hamilton
Director Peter Carstairs
Writers Peter Carstairs
Producer John Polson
Co-producer Serena Paull
Executive Producer Tony Forrest
Consulting Producer Michele Bennett
Line Producer Sandra Alexander
Cinematography Jules O’Loughlin
Film Editing Martin Connor
Music Roger Mason
Production Design Sam Hobbs
Art Direction Sophie Nash
Set Decoration Martin Williams
Costume Design Cappi Ireland
Casting Anousha Zarkesh
Extra Film Information
Genre Drama, coming of age
Runtime: 85 mins (Toronto Film Festival)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35: 1
Production Company TropFest Feature Program
Distributor Hopscotch Productions
Sales Agent Arclight Films
Sound Post-production Big Bang Sound
Australia 3 August 2007 (Melbourne International Film Festival)
Canada 7 September 2007 (Toronto Film Festival)
Australia 29 November 2007
Germany 10 February 2008 (Berlin International Film Festival)
All information presented above were adapted from International Movie Data Base (IMDB) at (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903644/)
Bibliography of Interviews
Interview between Melbourne International Film Festival and Peter Carstairs asking about his inspirations for September.
Peter: “I was very interested in two different ideas that came together at the same time. Firstly, I was interested in writing a film about friendship and, secondly, I was interested in exploring race relations in a pivotal but little known chapter in Australia's racial history – the late 1960s” (Interview with Peter Carstairs, 2008, sec. 1, par. 3)
Interview of Peter Carstairs at the Toronto International Film Festival in regards to the biggest challenge of September.
Carstairs: “The biggest single challenge I faced throughout the whole process was the lack of time – in planning, preproduction, and post, but particularly during the shoot. Because of our low budget we could only shoot for 25 days” (indieWIRE 2007, sec. 1 par. 17).
Interview between Alexa Moses of Brisbane Times and John Polson on September.
Polson: “Honestly, it tanked. I didn't expect it to totally tank. It was selected for Berlin [the international film festival] and for Toronto, it got amazing reviews, so I'm incredibly proud of the film, but commercially it was just devastating, to be honest. And I don't know why, I just don't know why. There are a million reasons you can come up with. People don't want to watch Aboriginal issues, it's rural, it's period” (Moses 2008, 2)
Interview with Xavier Samuels and Clarence John Ryan about their experiences in September.
Ryan: “Off-set we hated each other (jokingly). Nah, after the scenes it was all jokes; we just joked around afterwards?. It's the exact opposite to what happens as the film progresses.”
Samuel: “It kind of has a dialogue of its own, which is quite an interesting film-making process” (Charlotte n.d, sec. 2, par. 3)
Bibliography of Reviews
Below are some reviews from various sources from the internet containing both positive and negative responses. As September only came out on Australian screens on 29 November 2007, the presence was stronger online.
It’s Better in the Dark: film reviews with an Australian focus.
“If you're looking for a high-energy, hard-hitting parable about race-relations in this country, keep walking. This film is content to be its own thing, and while the story might have wider implications that's for you to find” (Morris 2007, sec. 1, par. 1).
Last Night with Riviera: films to flavour your dreams, words to kickstart your morning.
“Rather than aim for emotional catharsis, the director maintains a quiet, laconic tone throughout. The thin narrative is composed of layers upon layers of subtle observations, achieved through excellent acting and stunning photography” (Riviera 2007, sec. 1, par. 7).
“It’s a perfect match for its time and location. A fresh cast give strong, credible performances though the film’s brilliance lies in its score and cinematography. Here runs a line of muted exchange as striking landscapes conduct a sublime underscore to the immediate drama” (Fraser 2007, sec.1, par. 1)
“A flashback to one of Australia's racist blind spots awkwardly ducks and weaves before landing a killer punch in the warmly expressed Oz meller "September."Feature bow by Peter Carstairs shows signs of his transition from shorts, but is elevated by a sincere script that's successful despite many technical obstacles” (Edwards 2007, sec. 2, par. 1)
“Indeed, all the cast delivers wonderfully nuanced performances, even in the smallest support roles. The flaws come from the screenplay and direction. Other than respectful festival audiences, I can't imagine who the film is made for” (Urban 2007, sec. 3, par. 3).
Film Presence in Web Literature
Interestingly, by naming the film September, it creates some problems for online search engines. For one, as the title is the same name as one of the months in the English calendar, typing September on Google will not bring out the film September as one of its top ten results. Instead, Google even suggested a search result for September 11 instead. But if one was to search on Google Australia, then only will the film September appears though the September 11 suggestion is still there.
However, the presence of September can be felt within the film industry website such as the International Film Data Base (IMDB), and especially in film festival sites such as the Melbourne International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and Berlin International Film Festival. This is interesting because even though September was only released in Australia cinemas on 29 November 2007, it has garnered quite a number of attention within the short time.
Part II- Critical Review
Critical Review of Film
Set in the late 60s in Australia, September is about two teenagers growing up in the middle of nowhere and learning about the value of friendship and how fragile it can be. The film is a reflection of 1960s Australian life in a time where the Aboriginals were starting to get some rights and recognition that were denied to them before. Growing up in this period would have a major impact as it would help define the social structure of the future and what better way to grow up than having a “sort of rite of passage” in life.
September tells the story of friendship between two teenagers Ed Anderson (Xavier Samuel) and Paddy Parker (Clarence John Ryan) growing in the late 1960s in a wheat farm in Australia. Ed is the son of a white Australian farmer while Paddy is an Aboriginal teen living with his family whom is working for the Anderson family. Their friendship and their love for boxing were put to the test when unexpected events such as the arrival of a new girl neighbour and the establishment of rights for Aboriginal came into the picture. Torn apart by these conflicts, Ed and Paddy then have to decide their own fate without jeopardising their friendship.
As a foreign student studying in Australia, September was an interesting and powerful film not only because of its relevance in terms of the relationship amongst the Aboriginals and the “Westerners” but also because of the images and messages of Australia that is presented in the film. In terms of the relationship with the Aboriginals, I could sympathise and relate to the discrimination that the Aboriginal Australians, or the Parker family in September had to go through because where I came from, the natives, the Orang Asli, were also discriminated by the other races in Malaysia.
The images and messages of the film were conveyed beautifully and intelligently. Images of wheat fields and the sceneries through out September portray a glimpse of Australian life in the 1960s. If one should describe September in a short phrase, I would say “actions speak louder than words” as the film was filled with moments whereby speech is not needed to express the emotions or the thoughts of the characters. Furthermore, the themes of friendship and growing up or coming-of-age were relevant personally as these themes play a vital role in university life.
Critical Uptake during Release and Afterwards
An interesting aspect of September is the mixed reaction from various audiences. Personally, as I think it was more of an art house film, September appears to be more suitable as a film festival screening rather than for normal commercial screening. This is obvious from all of the positive comments which come from various film festival critiques as September is not a film whereby one can watch it passively without engaging the film if one wishes to understand the film.
However, as mentioned by John Polson in an interview with Alexa Moses (2008), September was not popular amongst the commercial audience which was surprising given the numerous awards it had won in various international film festivals. Polson made an interesting observation that could account for the lack of popularity or support. He said that people especially Australians were not interested in watching a movie involving Aboriginals (Moses 2008, 2) In a way, Polson could be right as some times people tend to deny any problem that they had and seeing a film like September could be similar to a slap on the face. In addition, as films were meant to be entertaining, perhaps the long takes and cinematography in September could be considered as dry and boring to in the commercial eyes thus reducing the popularity of the film.
Circumstances of Production and Release
September is unique because it was the inaugural production of Tropfest Feature Program (TFP). TFP is another initiative of Sony Tropfest. Basically, the finalist directors from Tropfest Short Film Festival receive a chance to see one of their scripts be converted into a full length feature film. And this is where September and Peter Carstairs, the director, comes in. His script won the attention of the Tropfest Feature Program and was then made into the film that is called September.
Teaming up with John Polson as the producer ensures that Carstairs would have the proper guidance in terms of directing and running a full length feature film, and creative process. With Polson’s extensive experience along with Jules O’ Loughlin on cinematography, September became a film filled with superb cinematography and creative direction which is one of the reasons why September won numerous awards in several local and international film festivals.
Subsequent or Prior Work
As mentioned before, September was Peter Carstairs first full length feature film. Prior to that, Carstairs works consist of short films. The known works of Carstairs that were listed on IMDB (http://www.imdb.com) are Pacific in 2006, The Paddock in 2003, and Gate in 2000 where he was both the director and writer of the works. However, the lack of work did not show in September as the film was executed excellently.
However, the lack of experience cannot be said about the producer, John Polson, as he is not a stranger in the Australian film scene. A full list of his filmography as a director, producer, writer, and actor, from his early appearance as an actor in a TV show titled Shout! The Story of Johnny O’Keefe (1985), The Sum of Us (1994), and Mission Impossible II (2000) to producing big budget features such as several Without a Trace episodes, Hide and Seek (2005), Swinfan (2002), and of course September (2007) is available at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0689852/. John Polson also was the founder of Tropfest Short Film Festival in 1993 which has now become the world’s largest short film festival (TropInc n.d, sec 1, par 1) and without the creation of Tropfest Short Film Festival, September would not have been possible.
Jules O’Loughlin, the cinematographer of September, has an interesting portfolio. He started his career as a still photographer specializing in outdoor photography. But his career as a cinematographer started while Loughlin was attending AFTRS where he shot over 15 short films and documentaries (Conference Information 2008, sec. 1, par. 3). Amongst his work include Pacific (2006), Kokoda (2006), Car Park (2003) and his upcoming work, How to Change in 9 Weeks (2008).
Another part that is worth mentioning is the inaugural appearance of Xavier Samuel and Clarence John Ryan on a feature film. They were chosen from the auditions for September and they seemed to be perfect for the roles.
September as an Australian Film
When trying to define or categorise September into genre(s) within the Australian cinema context, one would put it as a coming-of-age film for several reasons. Gillard (2006, sec. 2, par 4) mentioned that a coming-of-age film basically defines itself through the process of maturation of different entities, such as the characters in the film, careers of actors, film industry, and Australian history itself. This maturation could mean anything, from a character growing physically, emotionally, or mentally into adulthood to film makers doing something different from their previous work.
For September, several maturation of different entities is evident. Firstly, the film revolves around the growing up of the two main lead, Ed Anderson played by Xavier Samuel and Paddy Parker played by Clarence John Ryan. Ed and Paddy are both in the development stage whereby a boy started to mature into an adult man. They go through what seems to be a normal process of growing up where they learn about the value of friendship, exposure and attraction to the opposite sex, and taking responsibilities as an adult man. For example, Ed and Paddy built their own makeshift boxing ring in order to express themselves and their passion to boxing. Creating the boxing ring showed maturity in both Ed and Parker because it showed that they are mature enough to make their own decisions and carry them out. And, because boxing was popular in Australia during that time, showing two adolescents passionate about boxing to the point of revolving some of their actions around it showed a glimpse of Australianness in the film.
Another example of the maturation of Ed and Paddy is their actions through out September. Personally, Paddy learning how to read from Ed, and training and disciplining himself in boxing showed that he is growing into a man. Ed on the other hand, experience growing up slightly different as he learns how to interact with the opposite sex, and to take responsibilities for his own actions. As friends, both Paddy and Ed grew up in September. From occasionally smoking cigarettes to Paddy deciding to join the boxing troupe and Ed sending him to the boxing troupe and rekindling their fragile relationship, it showed that both Paddy and Ed are maturing into men.
Putting the narrative of the film aside, September itself was a rite of passage. For Peter Carstairs, this was his first full length feature film so September was a rite of passage for him, evolving from short films to feature films. For the lead actors, Xavier Samuel and Clarence John Ryan, September was also their first appearance not only on a feature film but also on the silver screen. Therefore, for them, it is a growing up experience as actors.
Finally, September portrays one of Australia’s growing up period, a period in which Aboriginals began to gain some rights and recognition as “citizens” of Australia. As the film was narrating the difficulties Aboriginals had to go through before and after the 1960s, it showed a process of maturation in Australia’s history as she becomes more humane. And, recognising Aboriginals as part of Australia’s identity was a big step for the country as it showed an increase in maturity of thinking.
Hence, not only are there themes of coming-of-age within the narrative of September, there are also several aspects of growing up that come with the film. All these then create an emotional, intelligent, and creative masterpiece that is known to us as September.
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Conference Information, 2008. Australian Cinematographers Society. http://www.acs50.com.au/conference/speaker_info.cfm?objid=55&sid=34 (accessed 10 April 2008).
Edwards, Russell, 2007. September movie film review from the Berlin International Film Festival. Variety. http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=festivals&jump=review&id=2478&reviewid=VE1117934735&cs=1&p=0 (accessed 8 April 2008).
Fraser, Colin, 2007. September. MovieReview. http://www.moviereview.com.au/cfseptember.html (accessed 8 April 2008).
Gillard, Garry. 2006. Coming-of-age/Rite-of-passage Film. Australian Cinema. http://garrygillard.net/231/ (accessed 8 April 2008).
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indieWIRE 2007. Toronto '07 Discovery Interview: Peter Carstairs: “Cinema is ultimately becoming more international.” San Francisco Film Society. http://www.sf360.org/features/toronto-07-discovery-interview-peter-carstairs-cinema-is-ultimately-becoming-more-international (accessed 10 April 2008).
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Morris, Anthony, 2007. September. It’s Better in the Dark: film reviews with an Australian focus. http://itsbetterinthedark.blogspot.com/2007/12/september.html (accessed 8 April 2008).
Moses, Alexa. 2008. King of the shorts is still on a roll. BrisbaneTimes. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/film/king-of-the-shorts-is-still-on-a-roll/2008/02/15/1202760574142.html?page=2 (accessed 8 April 2008).
Riviera, Matt, 2007. Adolescent Australia (September). Last Night with Riviera: films to flavour your dreams, words to kickstart your morning. http://lastnightwithriviera.blogspot.com/2007/10/australias-coming-of-age-september.html (accessed 8 April 2008).
TropInc, n.d. History. Sony Tropfest. http://www.tropinc.com/sonytropfest/history.aspx (accessed 11 2008).
Urban, Andrew L, 2007. Urban Cinefile http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=13744&s=Reviews (accessed 8 April 2008).