Dena Curtis

  • Words . Manuela Leigh and Cait Emma Burke

Film | April 18 2017

The upcoming For Film’s Sake Festival is a festival worth getting excited about, featuring a whole bunch of amazing work by even more amazing female filmmakers. Nan and a Whole Lot of Trouble is one of the many short films on the line up, written by Sue McPherson and directed by award-winning filmmaker Dena Curtis. The film is about Nan, a woman of Aboriginal and Irish descent who keeps a photo album of dead family members, which her sister believes to be culturally inappropriate. The film explores cultural traditions and taboos, grief, family tension and sibling rivalry in a funny and poignant way. Check out Dena’s questionnaire answers below, and see the film in person on Friday April 28th at 10am, screening alongside I Am Eleven. Head to For Film’s Sake to purchase tickets and while you’re at it like them on Facebook and Instagram to keep in the loop with all the very exciting events they have planned.

What film will you be showing at For Film’s Sake?

Nan and a Whole of Trouble

What’s it about?

It’s about two elderly Aboriginal-Irish sisters, Nan and Aunty Min; they are fighting over family traditions vs. culture and taboos. When Aunty Min loses her beloved dog, she proves Nan right, in the argument that sometimes family traditions come before community cultural protocols.

Tell us about making it!

Lois and Sue invited me to direct and I instantly loved the script as it was funny and challenged the idea of family traditions vs. culture – not that one is more important than the other, but rather that they both have a place and one tradition shouldn’t be lost because of another. I said yes straight away. We made N&WoT in and around Lismore NSW. Anna Howard was the DOP and Tania Nehme was the Editor. To cast Nan I went on an epic 24 hour trip where I flew from Lismore to Sydney, Sydney to Dubbo and then drove 4 hours out to Brewarinna to audition Noeleen Shearer, who I had become familiar with through a documentary I edited a couple of months earlier. I spent half an hour with her then turned around and made my way back to Lismore. It was crazy but I enjoyed every moment of it and Noeleen did a great job as Nan – It was her first acting gig at the age of 70! I was really blessed with a great cast and crew. Lois, Sue and I enjoyed collaborating and have continued to do so. We’ve developed a children’s TV series, loosely based on the novel (the same novel the Characters for N&WoT came from). We go into production this year in July.

Have perceptions towards female directors/filmmakers changed since you started directing?

I think that with the help of programs like Gender Matters and Female focused initiatives things are really starting to change in the grand scheme of things. I also feel that some of the best Australian Features/TV Programs to come out in recent years have been with Female directors or creative teams – so yeah I guess things have changed.


Do you remember your very first time watching a movie that made you feel proud to be a woman?

Hmm this is a tough one. I don’t remember a movie, but I remember finding out that Tripitaka on Monkey Magic was female and I thought that was the best thing ever!! A Kung-Fu chick that was BOSS! After that I was Tripitaka in all Monkey Magic fight re-enactments with my cousins…needless to say I won.

What’s the hardest part of being a female filmmaker?

Actually convincing people that I know what I’m talking about. Not that I try to convince people, they can take it or leave it, but it is frustrating when their eyes glaze over during a conversation.

What female filmmakers are doing interesting things right now?

I really admire Shonda Rhimes. She has been and continues to produce/create programs that include colourblind/non-traditional casting and programs with super complex and strong female leads and because of this has had a big hand in smash hit TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder to name a few. I also really like Sue Maslin and I think she tackles stories using all genres and platforms that reveal Australians stories from an original perspective.

If you had a chance to redirect any movie, which would you pick?

Hmmm I think it would be Cosi or Devil in a Blue Dress but only if Denzel agreed to replay Easy Rawlins. It might have to be the sequel – Devil in a Blue Dress…again.

Any advice for aspiring female filmmakers?

Just ask! Ask someone amazing to collaborate with you – the worst you’ll get is a no. Ask “stupid” questions as you’ll either get your “stupid” answer or make people look at the subject differently. Oh and don’t let “No” or “I can’t” be your first answer – it’s boring and unproductive.

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