Local first-time filmmaker Rhiannon Bannenberg is elated that her feature film Ambrosia will premiere in her hometown of Wollongong before being released in cinemas nationally.
A reflection of Bannenberg's own personal struggles of growing up with chronic pain, Ambrosia is visually breathtaking having been filmed exclusively on our very own beaches with a cast and crew of Illawarra based rising talents.
Not only has 25 year-old Bannenberg achieved the amazing feat of writing, directing, scoring and filming Ambrosia but she also recently won the Special Jury Prize at the 2015 International Gulf of Naples Festival.
We had the pleasure of asking the filmmaker some revealing questions about the story behind Ambrosia and her inspiring journey so far.
How has growing up in the Illawarra shaped who you are today?
Growing up in the Illawarra has given me a wonderful array of experiences and perspectives on life. Being surrounded by the beautiful and diverse natural environments such as beaches, dairy farms and rainforests, to our built environment that depicts Illawarra’s colonial and industrial history, growing up in the Illawarra has always given me a strong context to who I am and what is it means to have a ‘home’. I also think the diversity of the Illawarra’s landscape, community and history has shown me the value of a strong community and the importance of maintaining a sense of pride and connection to your local area.
Where did the idea for Ambrosia come from?
Whilst I was studying music at university, I began writing a character named India who is an outwardly healthy, energetic young woman, but suffers from chronic pain. I wanted her story to unravel as she was spending a beautiful, dreamy summer with her closet friends. It was from here that I began to develop the story and as it grew, I felt compelled to tell India’s story and film seemed the perfect medium to express these ideas in a rich, evocative way. I had a clear visual image in my head of how every scene should look and what the music should sound like from very early on.
Was there any one moment that ignited a spark in you to create Ambrosia?
I wanted the story of India and her experiences to take place in a slightly altered reality, one where there was an ambiguity of time and place. Once I began thinking about this, I knew the Illawarra was the perfect place to set the story. I was really driven to bring the characters to life in the very places I spent my own childhood, the beautiful Illawarra and make the film with a team of local, talented artists.
What were you aiming for when you started filming Ambrosia?
I’ve always known I was really lucky growing up in the Illawarra and I was excited set my story and characters against such a visually rich backdrop. I wanted to work together with my cast and crew to tell a sensitive and sometimes sombre story through beautiful and magical imagery, costume and music.
What emotions were you hoping to evoke in viewers and do you think you have achieved that?
Ambrosia has always been about subtlety and the invisible parts of our selves that lie beneath the surface. I never set out to tell the story in one particular way, but rather leave enough ambiguity for interpretation and space for peoples own experiences to shape their understanding and connection to the film.
Tell us a bit about the local people that contributed to the making of Ambrosia? How did you find them?
It was important that the cast and crew knew the Illawarra well because filming here was so much a part of the films tone and style. Once I had a draft script, I collaborated with actor/writer Elias Jamieson Brown to finalise the script, a process that took around 2 months. I then brought together a group of wonderfully talented young creatives to come on board as cast and crew, some I had met at school, others I knew through friends.
The main cast, Rebecca Montalit, Elias Jamieson Brown, Debbie Neilson, Natasha Velkova and Scott Lee were all living in the Wollongong and Southern Highlands area. Costume designer Stephanie Bannenberg, Hair & Make Up artist Alice Herraman, Sound Recordist Stuart Hope, Graphic Designer Christopher Anderson, Musicians Jane Aubourg, Sophie Hanlon and Timothy James Bowen were all local artists that were also good friends of mine.
I saw so much incredible talent and enthusiasm in these young artists that I was really excited to work with them on such an ambitious project. Since making Ambrosia, they have all gone on to pursue their creative areas and I’m really excited to see what’s next for such a talented and inspiring group of young artists.
Filming the complete feature in the Illawarra, what were your major challenges?
The visual tapestry of the film was influenced heavily by my home environment and my own desire to find and be immersed in beautiful, haunting places. I wanted the story of India and her experiences to take place in a slightly altered reality, one where there was an ambiguity of time and place. I also wanted to bring the characters to life in the very places I spent my own childhood – the beautiful Illawarra on the South Coast of NSW. The only real challenge of shooting in the Illawarra was choosing from so many fantastic locations!
What did you learn along the way?
My initial point of reference for beginning this feature was taking my existing experience in creating and producing music and transferring that to the film medium. I felt many of the music production skills and desire to evoke emotions through music were relevant to the film making process. In terms of technical problem solving, I spent many hours learning from youtube tutorials and reading books from my local library. I tried to avoid becoming too overwhelmed with the scale of the project by continually focusing on each process and always referring back to my original aesthetic and tone for the film.
How much of your own character is reflected in the characters of your film?
The film is not autobiographical, but draws on incidents and experiences from my life, my circle of friends and my imagination. When I was 13, I had a horse-riding fall that left me with chronic pain. In Ambrosia, I felt it was very important to explore the themes of chronic pain with a subtle and sensitive tone. I wanted to keep India’s pain masked and invisible, an undercurrent that remained with her at all times.
What are you most proud of when you think of your accomplishments?
We recently held a pre-screening in Sydney through Pain Australia for their National Pain Week and I was overwhelmed by the response from the audience. I was moved by the sincerity and openness of audience members who came and spoke to me after the screening and how they connected to the story of India. I’m extremely proud of all the people who helped me make Ambrosia and for their constant support and commitment to the project.
I’m also very excited to be Premiering Ambrosia at our very own independent cinema, the Gala Cinema in Warrawong on the 8th of August.
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it may be your life and your living?
Music, cinematography and stories have been the centre of everything I have done and for me it is the ultimate combination to continue to explore the world around me and the people in it. I have always been excited and driven to work in the arts, but making Ambrosia has certainly solidified that decision to make film making a life long career choice - and life passion.
You work across a range of creative platforms. What is your main passion? / Where do you see Ambrosia taking you?
Before I made Ambrosia and whilst at university, I released an album of original music called ‘Across This Ground’ under the name Anwen when I was 18 and was fairly well set on a career in music and performance. Making Ambrosia has offered me a broader canvas to explore and proved to be a wonderful experience that enriched and challenged many aspects of my creative and technical ability.
I am particularly thrilled that the work of the cast and crew is being recognized because collaborating with such an energetic and passionate group of people has been inspiring. The film has also put me in contact with some very generous and creative powerhouses like Shane Burrell from Final Post, Producer Steve Jaggi, and Danny Lachevre and Walter Bienz from The Solid State. I am very grateful for their advice and expertise and am excited to work with them again.
What are your goals from here?
Music, cinematography and stories have been the centre of everything I have done and for me it is the ultimate combination to continue to explore the world around me and the people in it. Since Ambrosia I have worked as cinematographer on several feature films and am currently finalizing the script for my next feature, hoping to commence principal photography before the end of the year.
With a story of physical and inner turmoil you will be captivated by this extraordinary achievement.
Ambrosia will make its debut premiere right here at Gala Cinemas Warrawong on Saturday, 8 August.
This special presentation will feature an intimate Q&A with the director and cast about the making of this personal film set in the Illawarra region in NSW.