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Otto Bloom prepares to premiere at MIFF

Xavier Samuel was beckoned back by Belvoir Theatre. A year later, fortuitous timing has led to four features and a TV series shot almost back-to-back.

Xavier Samuel stars in The Death and Life of Otto Bloom/Suzy Wood

With the fluid nature of the industry, he expected it wouldn’t work out.

It’s around now the gifts of his character in The Death and Life of Otto Bloom would have been handy, as he could have found out how the future would pan out. Instead, he was astonished when everything lined up like clockwork.

First there was The Dog/The Cat at Belvoir from June to August 2015, followed by shooting on romantic comedy feature Spin Out for four weeks in August/September. Comedy sequel A Few Less Men began in late October, while Otto Bloom filmed around Christmas/New Year’s. After a trip to Sundance Film Festival to premiere Love & Friendship, Samuel returned to Australia to film Matchbox Pictures’ six-part ABC TV drama Seven Types of Ambiguity in April 2016, with the shoot for feature thriller Bad Blood beginning in late June.

“It was like, ‘wow, I can’t believe that actually just happened’,” Samuel says.

“It’s so unlikely that things go back to back like that, especially in Australia. It’s hard enough to get a film up and running… but then it just sort of all slotted into place which was unreal.”

The first of those films and TV series is about to screen before audiences, with Cris JonesThe Death and Life of Otto Bloom making its world premiere at the opening night gala for Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) on July 28.

It’s one of a number of Screen Australia-supported feature films premiering at the festival, which also include Sotiris DounoukosJoe Cinque’s Consolation (recently announced in the line-up for Toronto International Film Festival), thriller Killing Ground from writer/director Damien Power, and Emo the Musical from writer/director Neil Triffett.

Documentaries include Destination Arnold, Ella, Monsieur Mayonnaise, On Richard’s Side, The Baulkham Hills Ladies Troupes, The Family, Winter at Westbeth and Zach’s Ceremony.

And Screen Australia-supported shorts such as A Terrible Beauty, Black Chook, Dream Baby, Problem Play, Servant or Slave, The Crossing, Trespass and Welcome Home Allen are also screening.

Samuel says he’s looking forward to watching a retrospective screening of Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof at MIFF along with Abe Forsythe’s black comedy Down Under (MIFF’s Centerpiece Gala), set in the aftermath of the Cronulla Riots.

Abe Forsythe's Down Under/Dave Dare Parker

On that point “It’s a really interesting, pertinent time and sometimes the best way to start those conversations intelligently is to make a great film,” he says.

“And dealing with it with comedy too is an interesting way to break the ice.”

Samuel says having original, interesting voices like Forsythe and Jones in the mix is exciting.

It’s one of the reasons he wanted to work with Jones on Otto Bloom, because he had never read anything quite like it before.

Otto Bloom marks the feature film directorial debut from writer/director Cris Jones, who was supported by an all-female producing team made up of Melanie Coombs, Alicia Brown and Mish Armstrong.

Samuel was actually originally attached to what would have been Jones’ first feature film – Midnight in Byzantium – except it fell through.

Unbeknownst to Samuel at the time, Jones then began writing a screenplay for another feature film (“I think in his mum’s garage”), which would become The Death and Life of Otto Bloom.

Australian filmmakers have intelligently played with time before – in the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination and in Hugh Sullivan’s The Infinite Man, which both screened at MIFF in 2014 – but with Otto Bloom, it’s not about jumping through time and more about the direction you’re travelling in.

As the title character, Samuel plays a man who experiences time in reverse, travelling from the future into the past. It means he can say what happens 10 minutes from now, five years from now, and yet he could not tell you what happened yesterday. Because for him, the past hasn’t happened yet.

Trying to wrap your head around playing a character like this was one of the big challenges..

“It was just mind-bending trying to get to the bottom of the logic… so there were weird moments where you feel like your brain’s going to explode,” he says.

“(But) once you wrap your head around the logic, there’s something kind of beautiful about the idea of the past being unknown and moving into your past…

“It’s a pretty challenging and unusual place to be working from.”

The Death and Life of Otto Bloom makes its world premiere at MIFF on July 28, before another screening on August 13. It is set for a theatrical release later this year.