Media and Communications alumni premiere short film at Venice Film Festival

2 October 2012

Nick King and Sophie Weisner
Media and Communications alumni Nick King and Sophie Wiesner travelled to Venice International Film Festival for the premiere of their short film, MARLA. Photo: Alex Nash.

From humble beginnings as a low budget Sydney University Drama Society (SUDS) play costing only $300 to produce, MARLA has burst from the Cellar Theatre to the world stage at the Venice International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Media and Communications alumnus Nick King, and co-produced with his former classmate Sophie Wiesner, the short film premiered in the Orizzonti category of the 69th Venice Film Festival this September.

King first penned the script for his darkly romantic tale back in 2003, and crafted a feature-length version soon after while visiting his brother in Cambodia.

Launching the short film from stage to screen proved to be an entrepreneurial and international undertaking. Shot and produced over a period of two years by production teams scattered across the globe, King relied on contra arrangements with Bridge Road Post Production and Quail TV to get the project off the ground. After endless Skype chats and bartering, the short film was completed for just $14,000.

"It was an honour to premiere MARLA at the Venice Film Festival," King says. "I'm really thankful to the festival for selecting it, and to Screen Australia for helping me and my team travel to Italy.

"It's a film I'm really proud of - a magical blend of very interesting people came together for the project and I feel very lucky to have worked with them."

King and Wiesner, who were both part of the first cohort of students to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) degree, shared the life-changing experience of attending the premiere of MARLA at the world's oldest film festival. MARLA was one of three Australian films to feature at the festival alongside 50 other films from across the globe at this year's event from 29th August to 8th September.

Touted by production team Storehouse Films as 'the strangest love story you've seen', MARLA delves into a confronting narrative direction quite suddenly - as Wiesner acknowledges, "things get a bit weird" in the film.

Nick King
MARLA Director Nick King on the red carpet at the Venice International Film Festival. Photo: Alex Nash.

As a genre-defying, twisted take on the classic boy-meets-girl love story, King describes his script as "a romantic drama with elements of medical horror mixed in."

Unsurprisingly then, King was a little unsure how the massive international audience of up to 30,000 people would respond to the film's unexpected plot, and felt pre-screening jitters at its premiere.

"On the day of the first screening I was actually very nervous, which doesn't make sense in a way - it's not like I could change what the audience would see," King explains.

"But MARLA screened within a broader program of shorts, all of which were engaging and funny and interesting, so once the film started up I quickly relaxed into it and really enjoyed the experience."

King and Wiesner were in good company at the festival, with fellow University of Sydney alumna Haifaa Al Mansour also screening her acclaimed film Wadjda in the Orizzonti competition segment. Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia's first female filmmaker, is a graduate of the University of Sydney's Master of Film Studies program.

Both King and Wiesner took the road less travelled from Camperdown to Venice, foregoing a strictly vocational approach to their higher education in favour of a more creative and diverse University experience.

The Media and Communications program's blend of traditional Arts and Humanities units with practical news production training enabled the pair to pursue wide-ranging passions, including film, theatre, acting and media.

"I felt like a broad, arts-based degree would be a good fit for me," King says. "I wasn't ready to commit to any single discipline; I wanted to read broadly and develop a critical eye with which to view the world."

Alex Nash, Sophie Wiesner, Nick King and Alana Adye
From left: Alex Nash (Delegation Assistant), Sophie Wiesner (Producer), Nick King (Director) and Alana Adye (Associate Producer) representing short film MARLA at the Venice International Film Festival. Photo: Paul Struthers.

This critical approach has helped inform a variety of roles in King's professional life spanning screenwriting, directing, graphic design, TV editing and documentary camerawork.

"I've picked up technical skills along the way, but I feel like the analytical, critical thinking that I developed at University has been invaluable," King says. "I would still throw myself into every discipline because you can't predict what will inspire, interest or excite you. I did a unit in classical mythology and some art history along the way and I value that learning, even though it may not be strictly relevant to what I do now."

Wiesner agrees that the degree's variety, coupled with an active student life spanning SUDS, Arts Revues and Honi Soit, was a critical part of the pair's success.

"The course was great at offering both the theoretical and the practical training, both for your brain and for your hands!" Wiesner says.

"It's true that MeCo [sic] grads really do end up everywhere; the degree sets you up to really indulge your different interests."

After graduating, Wiesner landed a job as a researcher on ABC TV's Enough Rope program before working for three years in London researching, shooting and production managing documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4.

Even after their profound success, the remarkable pair show no signs of slowing down. King is currently in Los Angeles working to adapt MARLA into a feature-length film entitled DONORS.

Wiesner, who will stay on as the feature film's producer, maintains that though the script and treatment for the film are underway, it's still "very early days" for their newest project.

But King adds: "It [Venice] was an incredibly inspiring experience and it's left me energised to get stuck into my next project which expands on MARLA and takes the story to even stranger places. Stay tuned!"

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Contact: Emily Jones

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