When first speaking to the award winning film maker Jason Raftopoulos, there was the sound of a screaming child in the background. He was at home, presumably, not at some office studio free from the rigours of child rearing. Ironically his new short film, Father’s Day, premiering at the St Kilda Festival, is about the challenges of balancing work with bringing up a child.
Father’s Day concerns a man called Jack with a gambling addiction, who sells drugs to feed his habit. The film looks at one day in his life where he must care for his son while on one of his drug rounds. Raftopoulos has only recently become a father and for most of his adult artistic life, as he freely admitted, been only responsible for himself.
“The film is a response to fatherhood and what that meant for me,” says Raftopoulos. “It’s not a happy film; not that I wasn’t happy about having the baby, it was more about personal anxieties and fears and trying to channel them in a positive way.” The American short story writer Raymond Carver (his shorts stories Short Cuts were made into a movie, directed Robert Altman) famously admitted his own children constantly got in the way of his creative life, having to be pulled away to work at dead end jobs in order to put food on the table.
Mind you, Carver had his first child when he was 17; these days it’s not uncommon to see parents in their early forties picking up their kids from primary school. But Raftopoulos, to cope with this age-old dilemma, is philosophical about transforming his new role as a father so it’s not a nagging and irredeemable problem.
“There’s a saying that you need to out-create something, if something is brought into your world then how do you channel that to create your art. In fact, becoming a father has probably been one of the most creative things that has ever happened to me.” Last year Raftopoulos was juggling university studies, a job and making a film and had to become extremely adept at managing his time.
The film is set at the Footscray Markets, although not specifically shot there, with the main character, Jack, using a fish delivery van as cover for moving the drugs. A great deal of filming at the markets had to be done at night with many 12-hour shoots starting at 10pm and finishing at 10 in the morning. “Ninety-nine percent of the film has real people in it, that were characters in the background with only Jack being played by a professional actor and the kid and a few others,” says Raftopoulos.
“It has a documentary style to it, following real workers working on real jobs.” There was also the challenge of working a with a six year-old child, not to mention the unsociable hours. “To be perfectly honest, casting the boy was not the hard part. Casting the parents who would allow me to use the boy was the hard part. If anyone should get the real credit for the making of this film, it’s the parents of the boy,” Raftopoulos says.
The film’s subject matter had to be managed sensitively too, when it came to the involving a child actor. As Raftopoulos explained, “We kept him away from the script and I rehearsed with him for about six weeks before we started shooting. We almost developed a secondary story for him to be a part of and then wed it to the real story…in order to keep him away from the hard subject matter in the film.” But this film is not only about drugs.
It tackles the pitfalls of gambling, which over the years have become an increasing problem in this country. Raftopoulos said he has had first-hand experience of friends and members of his extended family with gambling problems, and knows how destructive it is. Although Raftopoulos himself doesn’t have an issue with gambling, he says “the real problem is that perhaps it has become far too accessible”.