Friday 23 December 2011

Swinging It With Quito Washington

Image courtesy of Auki Henry
Quito Washington has been shooting movies since 1999. In 2003 he won Best Short Film at the Down Under International Film Festival, going on to become a finalist in both the 2005 and 2006 series of Australia's Project Greeenlight. Last year he was awarded Best Comedy at the American International Film Festival for his first feature-length film: Swing It!

Originally from the US, Quito is a permanent resident of Darwin. Here, he talks about what inspires him and why dancing is so important.

Your first feature film, Swing It! won Best Comedy at the American International Film Festival. That's quite an achievement. How did it make you feel?

Amazing, really, that someone watched it and thought enough of it to say so publicly.

Where did the funding for this film come from? 

I raised the money myself through working a lot and calling in favours where and when I could.

Do you think, in the current financial climate, that it's becoming harder for aspiring filmmakers to get backing?

In today's market, it's stupid hard to get funding. If you are waiting on funding, forget it. Make films with whatever you can find.

It's clear that you have a thing for swing. Where did this come from?

I love the music, the lifestyle, the clothing. Most of that came from my grandmother. She was a woman who faced adversity from the get go. She was born in 1914, so slavery was less than a generation above her. There was a lot of resentment in the US towards Negroes, so any and all accomplishments were to be celebrated. Mostly because they were far and few between. She could have been really depressed and knocked back, but instead she did celebrate, a lot, with music. I liked that. No matter what happened, she could take a moment to enjoy music. She was also good with people, all the time, everyone - she never let anyone get her down. If she encountered a bad attitude, she put it down to: "They must be having a bad day." I can't think of one person she didn't like.

Rumour has it you're an impressive dancer?

I host a swing social every Sunday called The Big Swing Show. Every Wednesday, I run a swing lesson at The Darwin Railway Social Club Inc. Lots of fun, and we have the hardest working big band in Australia. Every Wednesday night they are there making it happen for the dancers. Having a great band, a fantastic venue, it makes it a brilliant experience.

Take the Lead, Dirty Dancing, Strictly Ballroom - why do you think people like movies about dancing so much?

Because everyone either can dance, or wishes they could dance. In the frustratingly restrained movies of the forties and today, dance on screen is a substitute for sex. It's easy to watch and appreciate in film.

You started out as an actor in Dress Gray. Why did you want to make the switch to writing and directing?

I just wanted to make films. As an actor, you have to wait for someone else. I admire the "producer, writer, director, starring" tags in films, that's a lot of work.

With Swing It! were you writing the parts for actors you already had in mind? How did you find the right people for the roles?

That's kinda funny to me, as the names of the characters are all the names of the actors for the roles. It was simpler to use their real names in the initial drafts. I intended to change them before they reached the actor stage, but that never happened. For example, one of the lead actresses was to be Ruby. When I watch the film, I get a chuckle out of that.

Who are your inspirations?

My grandmother, of course, and generally a whole host of creative people, known and unknown.

What's the movie scene like in Australia at the moment?

There's more focus on niche films, and a lot more competition from outside of Australia.

Any more projects in the pipeline?

At the moment, I am really into doing radio dramas and animations. More flexibility, faster turn around, and generally better received.

Any tips for aspiring writers or filmmakers?

Keep writing as your passion. Get help, ask questions, and remember that 'done' is better than 'perfect'.

Friday 16 December 2011

Elf Yourself

Along the festive lines of Make-A-Flake, you can also Elf Yourself. This is perhaps the silliest of all the festive programmes.

Head to the Elf Yourself website and follow the instructions. You'll be asked to upload a picture of yourself (or a friend), either from your computer or Facebook. You'll need a fairly clear face shot. Then you use a little tool to point out where your mouth is and, before you know it, you're an elf:

You can then perform a range of increasingly ridiculous dances including hip-hop, disco and, my personal favourite, the Charleston. This has evolved quite a bit over the years and you can now add up to four other faces to dance alongside you - creating your very own Euro Elf entry.

Get down. Get funky. Get elved.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Carte Blanche

This one won first place in the Swanezine Short Story Competition in December 2011. Although a small competition, the standard of entry was very high - please do check them out. It's a piece of writing that I'm particularly proud of, so this one means a lot. The critique was extremely touching, thank you:

Marion Grace Woolley's story, Carte Blanche, holds deep, haunting pain in its every sentence. On a more profound level, it examines whether the choice of a lover need be based on gender or emotion. The narrator seems to intuit her friend's understanding of her desire to draw their friendship into a deeper dimension. The physical slap in the narrator's face, hints at some level of guilt at her own hidden wish for their friendship to slide into a more intimate form.


We're like the sea, you and I. Rolling to a thick, deep rhythm that only we can hear. That invincible river of truth running between two distant shores. The type of truth you can drown in.

Some nights, that's exactly what happens. Dragged beneath the surface of my own consciousness. Pulled under by the crocodile teeth of my own lies, ready for that final death roll. I wake, sweat drenched and sour in my own scent. Afraid that I will never be able to rise again, back to the cool oxygen that my body craves.

That's the thing about cravings. Some things you crave because, without them, your flesh would die. You need to breathe, to eat, to drink. But other things - you need them just as much, but, in needing them, you're killing yourself.

You never understood that, did you? You never quite got it.

And now it's too late. Every day of our lives I tried to explain it to you. Tried to show you; make you aware. At first I thought you hadn't noticed - I really was that subtle. Pouring your champagne before mine. Helping you into your coat as we left the restaurant. Would I have noticed? Probably not.

But as time went by, I started to suspect. I knew you better than that, see. To me, you're like crackle glass. There's nothing transparent about you. If you were ordinary, I could look straight through you and know all there is to know. I could see our future on the other side of you. I could look you over, and look away.

But you're not. Your clarity changes with the light. Those thick fractures within you, they fascinate the eye. I could gaze at you for a lifetime and never see the complete picture. It takes a complicated person to be that beautiful. It takes intelligence to break itself upon the jarred rocks of self-realisation and denial.

That's how I knew that you were choosing not to acknowledge me. You were fully aware of my craving, yet you chose to overlook it. You chose to withdraw into the facetious playroom of childhood innocence. You chose to be stupid, blind and dumb.

And every part of me wanted you more for that.

I couldn't help what happened that night. The fairy lights twinkled as bright as stars about the garden trellis. Your husband and his fat, porky guests quaffing port like pigs in a mud hole. Drunk on their own fine taste and sense of self-worth. I watched you smile, like a string of pearls strung around a pauper. That fake, false way that I watched you cultivate over twenty years of marriage.

I missed the girl in you. I missed the part that was real; that was genuine. Where did she go? Sometimes when we'd take tea, or walk in the country, I'd imagine that I caught a glimpse of her. For a moment she would return as if from some far-flung adventure to the outer shores of existence. "I was always coming home," she'd say, then just as soon be off on her next escapade, far beyond my grasp.

I loved you from the first moment I saw you, standing in your skinny gym slip at St. Mary of the Immaculate Heart's. I cherished those all-girl dances we used to attend. Those were our salad days. Where no man could touch you, because none were invited.

Every sentence begins with 'I', because I never knew what you thought or felt. Did you ever look at me sideways in the showers? Did you ever wonder? Did you ever, for one brief moment, in the dark-enraptured night, consider what it might have been like?

Each of your boyfriends came and went, so literally. Yet I was always constant. After every heartbreak, after every betrayal - wasn't I always there, just as I ever was? Perhaps you believed my inventions, those imaginary boyfriends who never called and never sent me flowers. Surely you knew that there was only ever one. One person, out of the entire world, who held my full attention.

It had to be said. As we sat beneath the eaves of your grand affluence, staring out across the night-cooled lawns towards the lake. It had to be said.

The sting of your hand across my face burns still. That hot horror as you realised what I had been trying to tell you all our lives. And in that moment, as your eyes flashed and your pearls broke and scattered, I knew that you had known. I knew that, in your own way, you had expected this moment to come.

I suppose, if we're now to be honest, I had always known your reaction. What caused me to provoke you, I cannot say. The empty look of your Gould-guzzling guests, your husband's hollow laugh; the sheer plasticity of it all? The faintest recognition in the depths of my soul that there could be another life behind all of this. Something real. Something meaningful.

And now, there is nothing. Should I regret opening my mouth? Because I do, with every ounce of my being. If, by staying silent, I could look upon you every day for the rest of our lives - look, but never touch - I would sign my name to that contract. But it's too late. That river of truth touches both our continents, but forever keeps us worlds apart.

Should you ever return to the country of our birth, you will find me waiting. Here, beneath the eaves.