Interview: Stephan Elliott

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The film provides a truly A-list Australian cast, from international pop-princess, Kylie Minogue (sporting a horrendous bowl cut), to an almost orange Guy Pearce, all who needed zero convincing to take part in this comedic Australian romp through the seventies

Australian writer and director, Stephan Elliott, (famed for his 1994 national and international hit, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) now brings audiences Swinging Safari, a hilariously accurate portrayal of growing up in beach loving, budgie-smuggling 1970’s Australia.

It’s interesting to first note that a significant part of the inspiration for this film didn’t come from the director’s home country itself, but rather a posh, exclusive Beverly Hills high school. While in Hollywood, a famous friend informed Elliott that the way this school was run was so ridiculous he just had to see it for himself; so they went to the high school and were gobsmacked by what they saw. As the siren rang for the end of the school day, multiple security guards, police officers and even a helicopter on the roof escorted these children out of their school and into the waiting cars with police escorts, whisking them off in a militarily precise, over-the-top security evacuation.

In shock, Elliott recounted his own much simpler childhood; one of 10-hour beach days with only a bit of zinc on the nose, solo two-and-a-half-hour trips on multiple forms of transport to and from school, and wandering the neighbourhood for hours on end with not a parent in sight. It was a time where if you fell off your bike, you were told to simply get right back on again with little to no fuss about your bleeding elbows and grazed knees. A time, clearly apparent to Elliott now, that seems to have disappeared in modern society, but which could in fact be brought back on the big screen in the shape of Swinging Safari. His motivation for the film was simple; to show the period of time that shaped him, and the Australian youth of the 1970’s.

The film provides a truly A-list Australian cast, from international pop-princess, Kylie Minogue (sporting a horrendous bowl cut), to an almost orange Guy Pearce, all who needed zero convincing to take part in this comedic Australian romp through the seventies. Elliott mentions that this is the first time a cast have all immediately said yes in their response to being a part of one of his projects, showing their unrestrained enthusiasm from the very get-go. And, despite having such big names leading to the possibility of big egos, Elliott claims there were zero issues and working with the talented cast was a dream come true. An even amount of screen time and lines were distributed to all the famous faces creating a true team effort and steering away from the un-balanced screen time and famous-face pandering that can sometimes be found in contemporary Hollywood productions.

Alongside the famous faces are also a fantastic cast of Australian youths who were discovered in the local areas of the Gold Coast. Instead of having the kids focus on learning lines and the stress of getting them 100% correct, Elliott had them take part in improvisation classes to get them feeling comfortable within their own skin and then gently slipped the lines in later. This seemed to work with the young cast giving authentic and genuine performances reminiscent of the iconic, coming-of-age Australian film, Puberty Blues.

An unmissable highlight of the film is the extensive range of bold costumes, giant hair and outrageous style – a not-so-surprising outcome considering Elliott’s re-collaboration with Oscar-winning stylist (and long-term friend) Lizzy Gardiner who won Best Costume Design on Priscilla. Elliott admits that a lot of fun was had playing with the boundaries of 70’s stylistic excess, such as how big you could make a hairstyle (and yes, they’re probably as big as you can get). He even garnered a huge compliment from talented hair stylist and makeup artist, Rick Findlater, who claimed his work on Swinging Safari was more fun than his previous experience on the worldwide, blockbuster film Avatar. He revelled in Elliott’s pushing of the stylistic boundaries to the point of hilarity, while still staying true to the style of the times.

Swinging Safari captures a much simpler time where growing up wasn’t full of warning labels and helicopter parenting, but rather the freedom to shape your own experiences, both good and bad. For older generations, especially Baby Boomers, this film will provide a nostalgic trip back in time to outdoor, sunburnt childhoods, fulfilling Elliott’s goal to open the memory floodgates. For younger viewers, the film provides an interesting and humorous portrait of Australian youth during a much simpler time, which will provide a provocative contrast to their own childhoods.

Swinging Safari opens on January 18th.
Check out the official site here.

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