Last year filmmaker Johanna Garvin wrote and directed the satire, Milky Pop Kid, for the I.C.E. My Life My Art project. This year Sydney Film Festival selected her short film to be screened as part of the Screenability program. It’s a huge honour and we could not be happier for Jo along with her cast and crew. Here we chat with her about why she made it and working in the comedy genre.
Your film tackles issues around the representation of people with disability; why do you think it’s important for people with disability to tell their own story?
I think it is important for people who live with a disability to tell their own story because there is nothing like the reality of the lived experience. We all have our own unique insights and experiences. Living with a disability is not for the feint hearted and the experience is rich with great stories. Authentic sharing of experiences gives people living with a disability creative control over their stories. I think by doing this you avoid the clichés that are often used by able bodied people to tell stories of the lived experience of disability. I think if we are going to change the community’s perception then it is most important we have a strong voice. Our stories are powerful and worth hearing. When we tell our stories we challenge the stereotypes.
This is your first time writing and directing comedy; what did you learn from the experience?
I learnt that you have to really think about what makes you laugh, what’s funny. You need to be a really keen observer. Writing a comedy is quite challenging because what you think is funny may not necessary be funny to an audience. I also learnt that through comedy you can examine very confronting issues and make people think about them in a clever way. This is because while someone maybe laughing at something they are also taking in the message of the joke. It is a more subtle way of communicating your message. I also realized that doing improvisation with actors is a great way to write comedy especially when you have a group of actors and crew who connect. Through improvisation you are able to try things out and bounce ideas around with the cast and crew. It helps you and your writing to think of new ideas. I also learnt that it is great to use your own network for advice and feedback on what you are trying to do.
How do you think comedy can be used to examine social issues?
Through comedy I think you can explore complex and confronting issues in a way that allows you to take risks. Risks that you would not necessarily take if you were writing in another genre. Comedy gives you a lot of freedom to push boundaries. You can really deliver powerful messages through comedy. Out of interest I listened to several interviews with Tim Ferguson. I thought a lot about what he says where comedy can deliver truth. Tim talks about how when audiences are laughing they can really digest a message and it encourages them to examine their behavior and attitudes. I am a big fan of the TV show, Please Like Me and I drew inspiration from the way Josh Thomas writes about challenging issues.
What does it mean for you to have your film included in Sydney Film Festival?
It is a great honour and a dream come true. I never thought in my remotest dreams that would happen. The inclusion of the Screenability program in the Sydney Film Festival is tangent evidence that there is a real shift in the industry’s thinking. And that too is very exciting. It is a really exciting time for filmmakers who live with a disability and I can’t believe my good fortune that I have lucked in at exactly the right time to be involved in the film industry.
What is next for you?
I am always on the lookout for new ideas for films. What I love about filmmaking is the power it has to change. I want to engage with the industry as much as I can and continue to develop my skills and network. I have the bare bones of an idea I am working on at the moment. I just really want to keep learning and developing my craft and looking for challenges.
Milky Pop Kid screens with feature film My Name is Emily at Sydney Film Festival on:
Thursday 15 June | 4.30pm | Dendy Newtown
Friday 16 June | 6.45pm | Dendy Newtown
For tickets and more information: http://tix.sff.org.au/html/s_TheMilkyPopKid.htm
Photo: Saara March and Hugh Clark