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Triumphant return: Goldstone

Ivan Sen talks Goldstone's journey, from creating a town from scratch in remote Queensland, to bringing it to the big smoke for Sydney Film Festival.

Alex Russell and Aaron Pedersen in Goldstone

If you were to visit the tiny settlement of Middleton in outback Queensland, you would be forgiven for not realising it was the location for a feature film set.

For six weeks in 2015, the town’s population of three had a massive influx of visitors thanks to director Ivan Sen’s Goldstone, a follow-up to his ‘Outback Noir’ thriller Mystery Road.

Sen, who was also writer, composer, editor and cinematographer, says the biggest challenge was actually getting there, “and existing”.

“There was no power, no water, no phone, no nothing,” he says.

“We had to build our own existence out there.”

However, once they were established it was pretty smooth sailing.

“After that there was no real challenge. The location was within five minutes of my tent.”

In Goldstone, Aaron Pedersen returns to the role Sen created for him in Mystery Road, as detective Jay Swan, who arrives in a small frontier town following the case of a missing Chinese woman. However when he arrives and starts asking questions of the mayor (played by Jacki Weaver), local cop (Alex Russell), mine manager (David Wenham) and Aboriginal elder (David Gulpilil), he starts unravelling a much bigger story of corruption and greed.

Pedersen says despite the serious and dramatic nature of the story – which deals with everything from land rights, to human trafficking, to bringing cultures together – once the cameras weren’t rolling there was a lot of laughter.

“It’s a small film, but it’s such an important film. It deals with serious issues, but you also just got to have fun too,” Pedersen says.

“I’m always stirring (Ivan). He’s always telling me to shut up… It’s fun. Filmmaking should be fun.”

Sen says he and Pedersen were the last ones there when shooting wrapped and when they looked out at the landscape, it suddenly had a vastly different feeling to it.

“We gave a lot of love to that location,” he says, from the sets, to the cast and crew.

“I actually felt emotional when they starting pulling the sets down.

“There’s just a lot of me in this film and when that started to get deconstructed, I felt myself being deconstructed at the same time. It’s like there was no evidence we were there at all.”

Except of course, that now, almost a year to the day later, the finished film is making its world premiere as opening night film at Sydney Film Festival, with a theatrical release to follow on 7 July. Sen will also be involved in two events at the festival – a Meet the Filmmakers talk on June 11 and a Vivid Ideas panel on June 12 about Indigeneity and Australian Screen Storytelling.

It’s not Sen’s first experience with Sydney Film Festival. In 2011, Toomelah was In Competition, and Mystery Road was also In Competition as well as opening the festival in 2013.

“And (SFF Festival Director) Nashen Moodley first saw Beneath Clouds in 2002 when he was at the Durban Film Festival in South Africa and has been a fan of my work since then, so that’s been a very long relationship.”

Now there is the possibility of the world of Mystery Road and Goldstone going even further. It appears there’s still more that Pedersen’s detective could do yet.

“(Aaron and I) spoke about the possible third instalment while we were having dinner out at the pub in Middleton and it’s a totally different idea. You wouldn’t see it coming,” he says.

“But if we did do a third one it would need to be like that. We have plans for a TV series in the works too – he’s the sort of character that lends himself to television quite easily.”

Regardless, it would seem audiences haven’t seen the last of Jay Swan yet.

Goldstone is In Competition at Sydney Film Festival and screening on June 10, 11 and 12. It will release theatrically from 7 July.