Baz Luhrmann, the acclaimed Australian director known for films like Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, finds recent Pakistani films “really good”.
Some great movies are really coming from Pakistan, something is really happening there; “a go-to Pakistan”, he said to a query by Hira Yousafzai, a young Pakistani filmmaker, during a conversation on the seventh day of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah.
During the conversation with Riya Abirached, a Lebanese journalist, Lurhmann reminisced about his early life and formative years, coming from a tiny village in Australia and his entry into films.
One of his earliest influences was his father who was fond of photography and had a camera. “My dad remarried and I ran away. I knew I would never stay in this little village. Some people are born with wanderlust.
“I always wanted to know what’s around the corner.”
Luhrmann talked about how he reconnected with his mother and went to an all-boys school where his friends started calling him Baz (his first name was Mark Anthony) after a famous TV character due to his hair.
He started his career at the theatre company before he landed a role opposite Judy Davis in the Winter of Our Dreams in 1981 and a lucrative deal. At the start of his career in acting, he did odd jobs like selling jeans on the advice of Judy Davis to have an experience of real life, but his performance was hopeless at these jobs.
Speaking about Romeo and Juliet (1997), the director said the producers wanted him to make a musical, but he insisted on making a film on Shakespeare. He had chanced upon a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio even before Titanic in a magazine and saw Romeo in it.
“I managed to get two business class tickets (for Leo and his dad) for both to fly to Australia to attend a workshop to see whether they liked the idea (of the movie). Leo, being Leo, cashed in his tickets and flew bucket class, bringing his five friends with him.”
The friendship Baz formed with Leo became stronger with time and he went on to make The Great Gatsby, based on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, with him.
He described Leo as the agency in the development of the idea. “He won’t leave a stone unturned in asking the question and challenging the notion on how you gonna do it.”
Baz had heard the novel all night on iPad and wondered how it could turn out in a film.
The footage of his film, Australia, starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman, is being released in a TV series. He said he had shot two 2.5m feet of film on Australia. He got the idea of releasing with the advent of streaming where the footage could be released in episodes.
Luhrbazz did another film, Moulin Rouge, with Nicole Kidman. Asked about the film, he said it was technically challenging, being a musical having all the elaborate sets.
“I developed a visual script, but I also developed the musical language because I consider music as legitimate story-telling material as the spoken word or visual image. “That’s what cinema can do. It can take in all the forms to tell stories.”
He also dwelt upon his film Elvis, based on Elvis Presley’s life.
The conversation with Halle Berry started with a reference to her biggest achievement — a best actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball in 2001.
She said she did not expect to win the award as she had not won the Golden Globe. “Mostly the Golden Globe winners go on to win an Oscar.”
Berry said she was happy at being the first African-American woman to have won the award, but the sad part is that she is the only African-American woman to have won it so far.
About her role in James Bond, she said: “I love the franchise and I love being the Bond girl, but I wanted it to be more than that. A little bit more formidable.”
She said she wanted to modernise the Bond girl and since the filmmaker was open to the idea, the heroine was reimagined.
Talking about challenges faced by directors and actors, Halle Berry said since she was a woman as well as a black, the treatment “I endured was bad”.
According to her, had she been a man and a white, things would have been easier. “Because I was a woman of colour, it’s hell.”
Berry revealed that she intended to make an action comedy with Angelina Jolie and that she might film some scenes in Jeddah, too.
The Shakespeare in Love star was another attraction of the day.
Contrary to Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow has another view of women in the film industry, saying women enjoy “a bit of more latitude” here than in other professions.
She did not, however, forget to mention the darker side of Hollywood that had exploited women. She spoke about how she was spotted by an acting agent and how the incident launched her career.
In reply to a question about her mentors in the industry, she named David Fincher, Paul Anderson and Anthony Minghella.
Originally published in Dawn, December 8th, 2023