“I like taking risks. I like looking at the parts of ourselves that are not so pretty.” Miranda Nation is a brave director. 

She recently returned from the Thai-Burma border, staging Shakespeare’s Pericles with a troupe of young refugees at the Mae La camp. Melbourne-based Nation dished out inspiration again with Eli The Invincible, a film made entirely through an after-school program with kids from Melbourne’s northern suburbs who’d never acted before. This time around delving into the world of stripping and motherhood, Nation takes another big risk with her latest short film Perception, a confronting take on mortality and identity debuting at Sydney Film Festival (SFF).

 

Hard-hitting and candidly executed, Perception finds itself a big contender amongst a handpicked lineup of the best new Aussie short films at this year’s SFF, all finalists in the 2013 Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films. Nation’s sincere drama will battle it out with some serious talent including AWGIE winner Nicholas Verso (The Last Time I Saw Richard), AFI nominee Simon Rippingale (A Cautionary Tail) and Emmy-nominated actor-now-first-time-director David Lyons (Record).

 

Originally finding her stage right and left as an actor, Nation’s indisputable directing talent took her from AFTRS to Paris, where she made her first short film while studying at the Jacques Lecoq school on the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship. Inspired by her favourite directors Alejandro González Iñárritu, Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold, Nation is now one of Australia’s most stimulating young artists, winning shiny accolades and screening at festivals in Hamburg, Seattle, LA, Edinburgh and Melbourne.

 

Perception follows the story of Crystal, a complex woman with many hats to wear (and sadly take off). She’s a mother, daughter, lover, stripper and survivor whose own discernment of her true self is laid bare when she faces her own mortality. Played with devastating honesty and bare talent, Crystal is made the nucleus of the film by Melburnian bright spark Maia Thomas (Matthew Saville’s celebrated feature Noise, Channel Ten series Rush, The Hunter with Willem Dafoe). “To be honest, I always had her in mind,” admits Nation. “I’ve loved her work ever since I saw her in Noise and I just think she’s got something really special and unique about her… I think everyone will be glued to Maia’s performance, she really inhabits the character and I hope people really feel for her struggle.”

 

Nation developed the idea for Perception through a personal interest in people and the multiple parts they play, how many subtle shifts in different roles can reveal just how we might tick overall. “Parts of your personality are like these habitual behaviours that are hangovers from the past, that are perhaps not really serving you anymore but they’re familiar,” she says. “It takes something like being faced with your own mortality to see those aspects of yourself, or see yourself clearly.”

 

It takes a keen eye for comprehensive detail to make a solid short, but Nation believes the key to making a short film like Perception is deceivingly straightforward. “Look, to be honest, I think it’s probably simplicity,” she says. “I’m not sure if it’s something I’m very good at… I feel like I’m trying to cram the whole story of a feature into a short. But it’s a chance to be more experimental perhaps and really to use visual language. I think the short is an art form in itself.”

 

BY SHANNON CONNELLAN

 

Perception is showing at Sydney Film Festival 2013 in the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films program.

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