Mark La Rosa on
Regolith (2016, 11 mins)

by Jake Wilson

Jake Wilson interviewed film director Mark La Rosa in 2017 about his film Regolith (2016, 11 mins).
This interview was first published in Artist Film Workshop's hard-copy magazine Film Is in 2018.
It is re-published here with permission.

Jake Wilson: The use of black-and-white 16mm film is central to Regolith's impact. Did you shoot with an actual Bolex—and aside from the association with a past era, what do you see as the advantages and challenges of this format?


Mark La Rosa: I used a spring wound Bolex camera manufactured in the 1960s – a design that stretches back to the dawn of 16mm, I am told.


Film, particularly the small gauges, and especially black and white, does more than simply record – it transforms. Possibly it is the chemistry behind it, or the swirling grain, or the fact that light passes through it. I can’t say. There is something about old footage too, a mystique, an aura, that I wanted to exploit. I felt this strongly as I was sorting through the reels of super 8 home movie footage that was subsequently used in the film.


The only challenge with shooting on film is that it is expensive and you therefore need to be disciplined with regard to your shooting ratio. For me that restriction helped convey the sense that we were filming mere fragments of something larger and more complex.



What led to the choice to shoot in the Kyneton area, and how far was this linked to a desire to document a real place?


Regolith begins as a travelogue of sorts, so I think filming in real places, and naming those places, and mapping out a route that the characters might take, helps make the story seem authentic. The aim was not to document real places for their own sake, but to make them serve the narrative, or to create mood. I couldn’t film Elsa’s thoughts, but I could film moody landscapes, like West Gate Bridge at night, to express something analogous to her state of mind. 


The town of Kyneton was only chosen because of the nature reserve nearby, Black Hill, which I’ve often visited recreationally. The fact that the granite boulders there are relatively unstable provided an apt metaphor. 



Petra Glieson as Elsa creates the illusion of being an “ordinary” person exposed before the camera. What was your collaboration like?


I’ve known Petra for some years now and I wrote the story with her in mind. I described Elsa to her as a woman who has withdrawn from the world, someone who would rather not be on this trip with her brother and who finds his filming of her excruciating. With this in mind, we improvised quite a bit, especially in the motel room where Elsa suffers a migraine. It was important for Petra not to overdo it, not to “perform”, to just be, and I would film her in short grabs, a shot here and a shot there. I think the fact that we were on a road trip just like the characters helped us with the make-believe aspect of it. 



The narrator seemingly tells us much more about his sister than about himself, yet everything we see and hear is filtered through his perspective. How far should we trust him?


I always imagined that the narrator was sincere. However he implies that inviting his sister along on the trip was an afterthought, and I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s a yearning to reconnect with his sister. You can see this in the way Elsa moves from the periphery to the central focus of the film. 


Also, he doesn’t mention any childhood trauma, something that would explain Elsa’s self abuse. Perhaps he simply doesn’t know of any. Has Elsa confided in him? If Elsa were to open up, her account of herself and her past might contrast starkly with what we are told in the movie.



While most narrative filmmakers start out making “shorts” there are relatively few masters of the form. Who are some of the short story creators—in cinema, literature, or other media—who have inspired or impressed you most?


I have a collection of early 20th century Japanese short stories that I often read. I like their open endings, and their close observation of the natural world. They also express that pathos, the famous mono no aware, that I respond to. 


Gerald Murnane is a writer who resonates with me – and who just happens to be a fellow Victorian! I re-read some of his short stories before making Regolith. Through minimal means he manages to evoke deep feeling, sometimes withheld until the very last line. He is an example to us all to pay attention to our craft.



You have described 
Regolith as your final short film. Why this announcement, and is there any chance you'll reconsider?


I feel it’s time to move on. I started making films over 30 years ago. Over that time I’ve gained some awareness of where I fit, or don’t fit, regarding the film culture in this country. Although I admire concise short films – the industry model here and elsewhere – my own work doesn’t conform to that. My films are made up of small strokes that build over time, and they need an audience that is attuned to that. Probably the long short form, or the short long form – there really is no label (or place!) for it – suits me best. 


There’s also the aging factor. Earlier this year I shot my first feature. We filmed in a fairly remote area in the outback. For several days we had to hike to and from the various locations carrying film gear. Will I be able to manage that in ten years time? Maybe not. I really do need to get moving with some feature projects while I feel up to it. I’m too old to still be in shorts! 



screened on Sunday, November 10, in Melbourne, at Long Play, as part of the Unknown Pleasures series. Check the Facebook Event Page.

Jake Wilson is a film reviewer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and the author of Mad Dog Morgan (Currency Press, 2015).

Published November 1, 2019. © Jake Wilson and Mark La Rosa, 2017