HAMISH DOWNIE IS A NOVOCASTRIAN DOING BIG THINGS OVERSEAS. OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN IN FACT (SORT OF). HAMISH IS A TOKYO-BASED AUSTRALIAN FILM-MAKER CURRENTLY GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS OF PROMOTING HIS NEWEST FILM, AN AMERICAN PIANO. WE CAUGHT UP WITH THE ARTIST TO GET THE LOWDOWN ON HIS TIME IN NEWCASTLE, TOKYO, AND THE FUTURE.
Why did you move to Tokyo?
In 2004, I had almost got a development deal with one of the Australian TV Networks for an Animated TV series I had created. But, when that didn’t go through, I decided to try my luck in the world’s second-largest Animation market. I came very close to getting a deal here in Japan too, but that also fell through. Ironically, my big break came back in Australia when I got the chance to make a music video for Robyn Loau (the former lead singer of “Girlfriend”), and through that experience I got to meet Paul, who directed “An American Piano”.
How do you feel about Newcastle now?
Growing up, I thought Newcastle was just a backwater mining town, and to a large degree it was. But, since leaving Newcastle I’ve really learnt to appreciate all the many wonderful opportunities in Newcastle that I just took for granted. In Tokyo, I really miss places like Showcase Cinema and the Regal. Margaret (owner of the Showcase - RIP) was such a tough old bird, but she was so passionate about film (and about yelling at ratty kids for not treating her cinema with respect). Back when I was unemployed, I used to go there on cheap Tuesday every week to watch a different film that she’d put on, and once she’d noticed that I was a regular, she let me into her little circle to talk about film. However, my time in her inner circle was short lived, as I expressed an opinion that she didn’t agree with. Bruce was much kinder, but just as passionate about film, especially Widow’s Peak and Wallace and Grommet. So many of the films that influenced me to become a filmmaker, I watched there. Like the Three Colours Trilogy. I just can’t thank him, and his choc-tops enough. I’m so glad that someone has decided to re-open the cinema.
I also learnt from Janet, Charles Jordan and others at the Ron Hartree Art School. When I was there it was a kind of bohemian paradise, filled with talented artists willing to share their skills with us young kids.
I also spent a long time learning traditional Chinese watercolour from a Chinese-Australian woman, who had studied under the Emperor’s official artist, and had escaped communism to come to Australia. I learnt so much from her, like how to be a working artist, and how to be disciplined with your work (although I wasn’t very disciplined at the time). She also taught me that I should marry a Chinese woman (because they will stay beautiful - like her) and that Chinese men were like Bamboo, “they bend, but do not break”. She certainly taught us all strictly, but fairly. And I wouldn’t be living in Asia now if it wasn’t for her.
How long have you been making films for?
I’ve been a professional filmmaker for about three years now, starting out co-directing the music video for Robyn Loau’s single Never Let You Down with Paul Leeming. However, I’ve been writing on and off for most of my life. The first thing I ever wrote was around age 6 or 7, when my sister was given a school assignment to write and draw a children’s book. I loved the book she made so much. Well, you know how kids always want to do whatever their older siblings are doing, I then attempted to write my own children’s book. And so I caught the writing bug...
What is the film about?
An American Piano is the true story of a young Japanese girl who played the piano for Allied POWs interned in Japan during WW2. I became interested in the story while researching a feature script I was writing on a similar subject. There are a lot of stories, even now, that are yet to be told about WW2. My Grandfather was a naval officer in Japan and was at the signing of the end of the war. His ship became the British Embassy after the war. He always said that it wasn’t a “people’s war”, and that stayed in my mind all this time. Living in Japan, and living through the Great Tohoku Earthquake has also influenced my perception of that time.
When is the film out?
We’ve just realised the trailer to youtube, and we are submitting the film to festivals around the world. Hopefully sometime this year, we will be able to announce a festival in Newcastle. Eventually, I’d love it if the newly opened Regal Cinema supported it. For now, if there are people out there who are interested in watching the film, I’d ask them to follow us on facebook or twitter, check out the trailer, and take a look at some of our other work online - like Paul Leeming’s film Birth, Silent Hill: Stolen Heart and Robyn Loau’s Never Let You Down.