Exclusive Interview : Michael James Rowland


The man behind “Lucky Miles”

Michael James Rowland has spent the last 38 hours in either airport lounges or on tarmacs. The director of the new Australian film “Lucky Miles” tells CLINT MORRIS that you’ve got to go to great lengths to promote an Australian movie – in this case, he’s been talking up a film about an Indonesian fishing boat abandons a group of Iraqi and Cambodian men on a remote part of the Western Australian coast, a piece that the filmmaker describes as a “great metaphor for a shrinking world”- and most of the time that requires cashing in your frequent flyer points.

Speaking from a hotel room in Melbourne, an understandably weary Rowland says his last stop was at the prestigious Karlovy Vary film festival in the Czech Repulic. After he has a good sleep, says the Adelaide-based filmmaker, it’s going to sink in that he just witnessed one of the most amazing festivals on the planet.

“I’ve never been to Cannes, so I can’t compare, but I think I just went to one of the biggest film festivals in the world. It was pretty astonishing”, he says, adding “It was full of all these European writers and directors, but then there’s this hardcore mainstream part of it with all your Danny De Vito’s and Renee Zellweger’s. It was really quite impressive. It was an eye-opener for me.”

Granted, the filmmaker didn’t exactly look the part. “I lost my luggage so I had to walk around in the one pair of King Gee pants for the entire duration of the festival”, he says, laughing “I just told them I was an Australian and that seemed to do the trick”.

“Lucky Miles” looks set to be one of the major Australian releases of the year yet despite the glowing reviews and awards the film is receiving, Rowland’s still not convinced he’s going to have the next “Crocodile Dundee”.

“We won the grand jury prize at the festival – that was huge! – but what was even better was we sold out both are screenings. They took it in the same way that Australian audiences have, which is just fantastic. I think that’s more important – that you get people to see your movie. We’re winning awards but the glittering prize for me will be whether we find our audience in Australia. We have half the marketing budget of most of the big movies so that ain’t going to be easy either.

“I think you’d have to reason that it’s a good film and hopefully through word of mouth people here about it”, Rowland says of the movie, which immediately attracted finance upon completion of the script. “There’s no money to advertise the film to any great degree, so that’s what it’s gonna take – we’re not like any other film; we don’t have stars or celebrities attached to it, everyone involved is unknown”,

Why don’t Aussie films have much of a marketing budget?

“I think people just assume they’re not going to take any more, so don’t bother”, he says. “A marketing guy told me recently that if Kenny had had a sizeable marketing budget it could’ve even been bigger. If FOX, for example, had taken on Kenny they would’ve spent 2 million dollars on promoting it rather than one hundred thousand. “

Marketing issues aside, Rowland, who says he despises online summarizes of the film saying his film is a “comedy about refugees”, says the Australian Film Industry is in great shape at the moment.

Citing his favourite film of last year as the local comedy “Kenny” (“It was just as good, if not better than Borat. I was charmed by it. I’ve got the DVD now. There’s a place for that film”) – and commenting that if it had an even bigger marketing budget it would’ve been an even bigger success – Rowland says he’s enjoyed a lot of the films of the past few years; largely because the FFC isn’t greenlighting any rubbish.

“I love Bazz Luhrmann’s movies; I love Muriel’s Wedding, too. What I hate is all the movies that try to copy those. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be too many of them around any more”, Rowland, who regards Peter Weir as his favourite local filmmaker, says. “I’ve put my fourteen dollars down a few times lately to see films, and I feel like I’ve got my money’s worth every time. I also have a lot of faith in the Australian public; I think they can smell a dog. I also think they know when an Aussie film is just someone’s showreel for a job in Los Angeles.

The sales agent for “Lucky Miles” is so confident that Rowland’s the next big thing that they’ve already agreed to back his next film. Just one problem – he hasn’t written a next film.

“I’ve got notes but I’m just really swamped with all this. Then it’ll be great to launch into something else”.

And though he doesn’t really have any aspirations to go to the states, Rowland would consider doing cable TV work. Maybe.

“One of our producers works at HBO and I’m really impressed by them. That I’d consider. But I can’t see me going to L.A for films…. Not at all”.

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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole. Loves David Lynch, David Fincher... actually, any filmmaker by the name of David.