Zombies, Lesbians, and Tasmanian Film: Rebecca Thomson

Rebecca Thomson. Image supplied.

Rebecca Thomson is modest when it comes to her knowledge of the silver screen.

“I definitely cannot describe myself as a film buff,” Rebecca admits.

“I hang out with people who quote from feature films and they just pull references here or there. I’ve seen the same films and I can’t remember anything – I’m left with feelings and impressions.”

Despite her inability to quote from movies word for word, Rebecca plays an active role in the state’s film industry as one of its finest directors. The Tasmanian born mother of three has achieved global recognition for her locally produced short films. Her productions have won her a number of awards and have exported contemporary Tasmanian culture around the globe through more than 60 festivals.

Although she started out in musical theatre acting during her Ogilvie High School days, Rebecca soon became interested in what goes on behind the camera and looked to filmmaking – a move influenced by her fascination with otherworldly tales.

“I’ve always been attracted to stories that have a fantasy nature. In my teen years, I definitely went through a horror period. I like things which take me out of real life.”

Tied to Tasmania by her family and love for the state, Rebecca decided to follow her dream of becoming a top Tassie filmmaker.

“I thought if I’m going to stay in Tasmania, then I’ve got to make things happen for myself. I just loved the idea that film was a way that you could tell stories from Tasmania that could reach the world.”

After having her first child Spike, now 6, Rebecca entered her first film into Tropfest and confesses it “wasn’t well done, but it was a start.”

Now nurturing two more children, Coco, 6 and Sunny, 1, Rebecca has directed six short films and is planning her first feature after winning the 2012 Holding Redlich Pitch Competition.

Rebecca stood before hundreds of Australia’s top producers to present her idea for a feature length version of her hilarious 2010 short comedy Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical. Receiving first prize and a trip to this year’s Cannes Film Festival, she secured Screen Tasmania funding for script development and attracted producer Martin Brown, who worked with Baz Luhrmann on Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.

“Winning the pitch was really important. It was probably a good thing for lots of people in Tasmania because they probably thought, ‘if Rebecca can do it, I can do it!’.”

Rebecca is conscious of the difficulties faced in shooting a film with three young children, but is no stranger to having her family behind the scenes.

“Making a film is not a family friendly activity. They’re going to have to be zombies in it – they’re going to have to be all involved.”

Rebecca’s husband, Paul, and their children joined her in Cannes, exploring the film festival and even starting a film among themselves, set in the magnificent castles and ruins of France.

Wisely, Rebecca used the once in a lifetime opportunity to build relationships for further down the track in her filmmaking career.

“Everywhere you go in that town – beach, restaurant – the person next to you will always be in the film industry so there’s networking opportunities everywhere. It can be quite overwhelming because there’s things going on every hour of the day. I hardly saw any films, sadly – I was too busy trying to meet people.”

Rebecca’s experience taught her that coming from a small community like Tasmania isn’t an inhibiting factor in pursuing even the biggest of dreams.

“You can become very small minded being here about what’s possible, what standard you should be aiming for and who is accessible. Going to Cannes made me think beyond and think bigger. Everybody I talked to was very interested in the idea of Tasmania. I think the idea of setting my film in Tasmania is good – it does have this exotic appeal.”

While Rebecca’s films often feature cultural references exclusive to Tassie, many of her productions delve into the issues of gender equality and themes of femininity.

Along with Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical, her 2010 LGBT erotic sci-fi Slashed and this years’ black comedy The Jelly Wrestler also explore her interest in female sexuality. Her collection has been screened and won awards at LGBT and women’s film festivals around the world.

“I’m always naturally drawn to female protagonists and wanting to share that experience. Maybe it’s growing up as a middle class white female in Australia. I don’t think we have gender equality yet, and maybe we never will in certain respects. I won’t pretend that I can do it with my films alone, but it’s something I definitely believe in for people with different sexualities to have equality.”

Rebecca’s feminist themes are comically presented in her films through sci-fi and horror. She recently teamed up with filmmaker Briony Kidd to create Tasmania’s Stranger With My Face Horror Film Festival, which has been given a place in the Top Five Coolest Women’s Film Festivals in the world by MovieMaker Magazine.

“Stranger With My Face certainly found an audience, and I think the fact that it is so niche is really attractive to a certain group of people.”

While Rebecca anticipates big things to come for Tassie, her own productions undoubtedly help put the state on the map.

“There’s a sense that the Tassie film industry is really building. There’s a lot of exciting things happening. I would love to be able to make films and survive in Tasmania, from Tasmania, but for me the focus is more to make films from Tasmania that people want to watch. The most satisfying thing is taking an idea and seeing it up on screen and have other people enjoying it as well.”


This featured in Aphra Magazine, January 2014

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