Kate Lefoe

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Could you tell us a bit about your background and practice as a filmmaker?

I’m a screenwriter and film director based in Melbourne. I graduated with a Masters of Film and Television (Narrative) from the School of Film and Television, Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne. 

My philosophy of filmmaking is to explore my own darkest fears, bringing them into the light to share with an audience. By tapping into a raw truth, I believe these stories will always resonate with an audience. In my short films, my characters are struggling to take control of their lives, often in a world that is unforgiving and indifferent. For example in Plunge (2014)  a woman’s lover disappears without a trace, and in Somersault Pike (2016) a young diver struggles to dive from the ten-metre platform.

Your latest film, Somersault Pike, was accepted into the Accelerator Shorts Program at MIFF. Can you tell us about the film?

Somersault Pike is my Masters graduating film from the Victorian College of the Arts. Somersault Pike is a poetic exploration of the process of self-doubt, mentally preparing for action, and taking the final steps towards achieving a goal. It is played out on the ten-metre dive platform, where failure can mean serious injury. I was drawn into the world of competitive diving by the strength and commitment it demands to succeed. Divers chase the elusive perfect score of ten. Perfectionism can be a strong and powerful motivator, but it can be paralysing if the focus is too much on the outcome rather than the process. This is universal. The film suggests that the final results matter less than the journey to get there.

You were invited to participate in a week of industry programs as part of the Accelerator Program. What did you gain from this experience (personally and professionally)?

Being accepted into the MIFF Accelerator program was a dream come true. It’s an incredible week where I was immersed in the festival with intimate panel discussions with everyone from casting directors, production designers, cinematographers, editors, producers, actors, festival programmers and financiers. It’s an incredibly tough process with an average of 7 to 10 years to get a feature made. It was a great opportunity for me to grow my networks through the special functions and parties with funding bodies like Screen Australia and Film Vic, and also with my fellow Accelerator directors. I’m developing my own feature film, so the Accelerator program has helped me to see the path towards it more clearly, leaving me energised and inspired by the program. And I saw some amazing films!

Somersault Pike won Best Sound Design at Fleurieu Film Festival 2017, as well as Best Editing at the Canberra Short Film Festival 2017 – congratulations! Can you tell us about both the sound design and editing processes for the film? 

The process of working with experienced sound designer Livia Ruzic (Romeo + Juliet, A Beautiful Mind) was really great as I learnt how to communicate in a new language, whereas previously I had designed the sound on my shorts myself. I thought I would only use diegetic sound, as I believed it was my personal style. During the picture edit process, I realized that I wanted to use sound to heighten the audience’s sense of the diver's emotional state. I used sounds in a musical way such as drones and ringing to give a sense of the protagonist’s feelings and build the tension, but without it overwhelming the visuals. The result is that the audience feels the diver's anxiety and the tension with her as she prepares to dive.

As for editing, the process of editing Somersault Pike was challenging but ultimately it was where I was finally able find my voice and my vision. The first rough cuts of the film sat awkwardly between a narrative story and a poetic film. I drew on inspiration from director Lynne Ramsay’s films where her style is to focus on the details of the scene, believing that they say everything about it. I understand that being an editor is like being a doctor. A scene might not be working, but that maybe just a symptom, and the cause of that illness may lie in another scene.

A key influence was Herzog’s documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Wood Carver Steiner (Herzog 1976), which is a psychological study of the world champion “ski flyer” Steiner. I drew inspiration from the view he took of his god-like protagonist and the beautiful slow motion footage. The opening shot is a super slow motion of Steiner flying through the air, mouth open, floating through the blue sky. In my shooting script, I drew loosely on the opening structure from this documentary where Steiner is shown ski jumping beautifully, to be followed by several slow motion shots of competitors smashing down onto the mountain. In my opening sequence, I had my diver perform a beautiful dive, only to have her try another dive and smack the water. These scenes were cut in the edit suite, as it reduced the tension to see a dive so early, and I wanted to have the audience feel a more poetic sense of fear and anxiety. Then, I went too abstract with fast cuts of underwater drowning shots that left the audience lost within the plot. I eventually found a balance with one long slow motion underwater shot (1000FPS) of the lifeless diver sinking to the bottom of the pool intercut with an extreme wide shot of the diver on the top of the platform.

I continued to refine the film, seeking feedback from a select few people to protect myself from being overwhelmed. I worked with an editing consultant for a few sessions, and found this invaluable, as she was able to help me to process the feedback into action, e.g. diagnose the illness. On my last day of editing, I cut out about 1 minute of the mid-point of the film. And it worked! A few more tweaks on other shots, and it was finished. I found the editing process incredibly rewarding. It was only the last day of editing, that I became proud of my film. A film is reborn in the edit suite.

What has your experience been as an emerging filmmaker working in the Australian film and television industry? Have you considered working or studying overseas, or pursuing international professional development opportunities? What are you currently working on? What’s coming up next for you?

I believe it is important to see a career as a professional filmmaker as a marathon, not a sprint. It takes hard work and dedication, and requires passion to persevere with it.

I’m fortunate to have just started a professional mentorship program with the incredible film and TV director Glendyn Ivin (The Last Ride, Puberty Blues, 7 types of Ambiguity and much more). Last week I got to sit in the edit suite with him and his cinematographer as they worked through the final day of the colour grade for the new TV Miniseries Safe Harbour. Yesterday, I was an attachment on a commercial shoot for Beyond Blue where I had the opportunity to see a commercial being made. Glendyn is a fantastic mentor – articulate, knowledgeable and generous. I’m learning so much!

I was selected to participate in the Midsumma Future Artist program, a nine-month development and mentoring program, that brings together a diverse range of emerging cultural practitioners, creating a unique space for the intersection of ideas and modes of practice. Artists come from a variety of disciplines - including dance, visual art, film, theatre, drag and design. We meet for an intense one day workshop once a month – there is always a fantastic selection of interesting artists who speak to us about their practice, and I always leave feeling inspired both from the guest speakers and my fellow future artists.

I had a residency for 3 weeks in China through the Looking China Program with Suzhou University in 2014 where I wrote, directed, shot and edited a documentary Age, Height, Education about the marriage markets in the people’s square in Shanghai. It was an intense and wonderful experience.

Last year, I was awarded a place in the International Filmmaking Academy Masterclass in Italy in 2016, and spent 3 weeks learning from award-winning directors Danis Tanovic and Claudia Llosa alongside film graduates from all over the world.

I’d love to have an opportunity to participate in a longer international residency program, such as one through Asialink or Cité Internationale des Arts. I’d love to have an intense period of development for a feature I’m working on. It’s really important to create a space to develop work, and often new environments and new cultures help you to see the world differently and make connections you might miss in your everyday life.

You can watch Somersault Pike here.

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