#SHORTVIEW: “Madam Black”, by Ivan Barge

Synopsis:

When a glamour photographer runs over a child’s pet, he’s forced to fabricate a story about its disappearance.


HIGHS AND LOWS


> First off, the setup of the short is pretty unique. How did you find this story, and why were you interested in shooting it?

Before shooting this story, I’d worked with Matthew Harris (its writer) on a previous short, called “Snooze Time”. I really enjoyed the experience, and the relationship between us worked really well. I was keen on doing another short, and out of the blue, he emailed me the script for “Madam Black”. I read it straight away, and loved it – it was original, humorous, and touching. I thought that it’d make a wonderful short.

> The death of the cat is not in itself a funny event, yet the film chooses to turn the whole scenario into something funny. Why so?

I think there’s a misconception in thinking that we only laugh when we’re having fun, but we also tend to laugh when -for example- we feel awkward, or can’t cope with a situation, or are caught unguarded, or something unexpected happens. I guess this is the kind of humor that underlines “Madam Black” – and I’m not sure if we need more from this kind of humor or not, but it’s fun to acknowledge that it’s normal to laugh about these things.

> Why do you think we use this kind of “white lies” with each other?

That’s very much one of the main themes of the film: the lies we tell ourselves and others to get by. It’s all about making compromises -of personal comfort- in order to connect with others. Shakespeare pointed out in one of his sonnets that we should always choose to believe people when they say kind things to us (even if we know they’re exaggerating) because, in a way, they’re telling us that the way we see the world means as much to them as their own.

In a way, that’s the greatest form of kindness: accepting others, not just for who they are, but for how they need to see themselves.

> There are many more dramatic short movies than comical ones. Why do you think that is?

It’s said that comedy is the hardest thing to do, and perhaps that’s the reason – I’ve read a lot of scripts that tried to be funny, but they were very much not. In my case, I hoped that the film would be more than just comedy, as I’m attracted to stories that have both a humor side and a “pathos” side: a narrative, so to speak. I see them as two different sides of the same coin, and when you take an audience through an emotional journey, I think that the two have to feed into each other, so the audience can experience both the highs and the lows.

> And lastly, how was the general reception of the film?

It’s been quite crazy. The film had both a surprising and humbling success, and I’ve lost count of the numbers of festivals that we’ve been screened at – but, you know, when you release a film, you don’t really know if it’s good or bad, because you’re too close to it. It’s only over time that, hopefully, you appreciate what you made.


Ivan declared that “nothing fast happens in cinema”, but that “the key is to keep trying to get your stories made”. At the point of the interview, he had a feature in development with the New Zealand Film Commission: an adaptation of the Laurence Fearnley’s novel ‘Edwin & Matilda’.