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'.

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