Tin Can Man has been described as the most violent film you’ll ever see. At its premiere screening in 2007 at the Sydney Underground Film Festival, there were audience walk-outs and complaints made to the festival’s organisers. At the same festival it won the ‘Boundary-Breaking Best Feature Award’ and ‘Best Actor’ for the film’s star Patrick O’Donnell. This is clearly a film that divides its audiences. Above all, it is a film that courageously refuses to be ignored.
The film’s self-described quiet and shy writer/director/producer/editor (and sound recordist!) Ivan Kavanagh takes the walk-outs and complaints as compliments. For him, the only time to be concerned about audience reaction is if it’s indifferent. Tin Can Man is Kavanagh’s third feature – it follows Francis (2005) and The Solution (2006), which has played at over 15 festivals worldwide and has been described as ‘a gritty masterpiece’.
Unexpectedly, Kavanagh describes the process of making Tin Can Man as a ‘joy from beginning to end’ and he is already making plans for a sequel Tin Can Man: House On Fire Monster. Below, Siouxzi Mernagh quizzes him about this ‘joyous’ process, and finds that Ivan’s sensibilities are an inspiration to anyone who calls themselves an underground filmmaker.
Siouxzi Mernagh: Firstly, congratulations on your awards at the Sydney Underground Film Festival for Tin Can Man – although it seems that the audience had mixed opinions on the film. Strangely enough (for an underground film festival!), several audience members walked out during the screening, and there were around 10 complaints that the film was too violent.
Ivan Kavanagh: To hear that people walked out and complained is an indication that the film made an impression, it stirred an emotion in them. The films that influenced me most when I was growing up were the ones that divided the audience. They may hate or love the film, but cannot ignore it. These are exactly the type of films that a festival that promotes itself as ‘boundary-breaking and subversive’ should be showing. I think the only time to be worried is when the films get no reaction. Also, Tin Can Man has no actual on-screen violence. It all takes place off-screen. What affects people, I think, is the unrelenting oppressive atmosphere, which is achieved through the sound design, the lighting/camerawork and the intense performances. There is a sense of dread that I think is way too much for some people. I suppose that it can only be taken as a compliment that people believe they have seen the most violent film ever made, when they actually ‘see’ nothing.
SM: Recently in Australia there was a ridiculous amount of controversy around photographer Bill Henson: very weighty moral assumptions have been made about Henson as a person based on the subject matter of his work. Do you ever feel that assumptions are made about you based on the darkness and violence evident in your work? Perhaps people take it all a bit too seriously?
IK: People sometimes assume that if an artist’s work is dark or violent, then the artist is a dark and violent person – which of course is ridiculous. I, for example, am a shy and quiet person. In fact, I think I might be a disappointment to people who are expecting someone quite different. When Taxi Driver was originally released some people attacked the filmmakers for being racist. But, as I think Paul Schrader said, there is a big difference between making a film about a racist and making a racist film. Artists sometimes explore and analyse difficult themes and subjects, and of course they should always be free to do so.
SM: Speaking specifically about Tin Can Man, to me the film is about father/son relationships and the fear of failure in the eyes of the father…. What’s your take on this?
IK: I wouldn’t want to analyse this too much myself. But Tin Can Man is probably my most personal film. There are so many elements of myself in the character of Peter, played by Patrick O’Donnell. This personal aspect is further heightened by the fact that the father in the film is played by my own real-life father, Christopher Kavanagh.
SM: Aside from the pragmatic struggles of getting Tin Can Man made did you find the process of making the film emotionally draining, considering its material?
IK: It’s funny and it may not look like it, but making Tin Can Man was the most enjoyable filming experience I have ever had. It was a joy from beginning to end. I came off finishing a very dark and serious film, The Solution, and wanted to do something a bit lighter, a genre film. It didn’t quite work out like that, but I still find Tin Can Man very funny. The crew consisted of Colin Downey (cinematographer) and I (I also recorded the sound). That’s it, there was no one else. So it was a very intimate filming experience – which of course is great for the actors.
SM: Can you tell us anything about the process you went through with the actors, particularly Patrick O’Donnell?
IK:I had worked with Patrick O’Donnell previously and knew what he was capable of. He’s a great actor. Then, when I met Michael Parle, I knew instantly the film would work. I love working with actors and employ different methods to aid their performances. For example, in Tin Can Man, Patrick didn’t see any of the script before the filming began. He knew it was a ‘horror’ film and that’s all. I would give him the information he needed to know just before the scene. So when you see fear in his eyes it’s probably real fear. But this only works with an experienced, disciplined and talented actor like Patrick and is aided by the fact that he’s acting opposite another very talented and unique actor like Michael Parle.
SM: All the performances are extremely powerful and you’ve managed to create exceptionally unique characters. I’d be very curious to hear how you found the inspiration for the man with the bleeding ears…
IK: A couple of years ago, I lived next to a man who would play techno dance music excruciatingly loudly, all day. When I complained he moved his speakers right against the wall so that the music was even louder. In fact, it seemed as if it was coming out of my walls. So that’s where the man with bleeding ears came from.
SM: Now that it’s been a year since you made Tin Can Man, how do you feel when you watch it?
IK: I don’t usually like watching my own films, but I saw Tin Can Man again recently and I’m quite proud of it. I don’t know when I will get the chance, but am really looking forward to returning to that world.
SM: Can you tell us anything about the sequel to Tin Can Man or your other feature Our Wonderful Home?
IK: The sequel is called Tin Can Man: House on Fire Monster. I think it’s a really exciting idea and if I could start filming immediately, I would. It’s a road movie and again takes place during the course of one night. It has many of the same characters and a few new ones. But that’s all I’ll say. It will require a little bit more money this time, but not much more. But I’m hoping it shouldn’t be too difficult to raise it on the back of the original film. I am also in the final stages of post-production of my new film Our Wonderful Home and currently writing two other films to be shot in 2008-2009.
So brace yourselves for another relentless, heaving spiral into the darkness: Tin Can Man: House on Fire Monster will be coming your way soon. And never, ever, forget to thank your guests for their lovely cake.
Interview by Siouxzi Mernagh