Mel Poole was quite a discovery at the Cannes Film Festival last week. The West End-based filmmaker had been hoping that her short film Charlie, about a homeless man (played by Bryan Probets) with a tragic past, would be selected for Cannes.

But when it wasn’t, she decided to come away from the festival. When we meet in a Cannes café, Poole, who has received Australian accolades for her previous films Sock Buskin and Dry, explains that she is now submitting Charlie to the Venice and Toronto film festivals. She is also trying to set up her first feature-length film, Skating By, written by the American Dan Van Bebber. She even has a second feature in the works.

Poole who has a production company, 18 Degrees Films, with her husband, director-cinematographer Dan Macarthur, is a patient woman. She had written the Charlie screenplay seven years ago with actor David Wenham, a patron of the homeless, who was originally to play Charlie.

“David was always busy, then Covid happened so I wanted to get it done,” Poole explains, adding that she is disappointed that Charlie was not accepted into Cannes.

“I would have loved for it to play here,” she says. “It’s the biggest festival in the world and I know that it’s extremely hard to get into. We’ve only just started entering the film and clearly it would be wonderful to get it into a couple of notable film festivals, just so it gives me some credence for my feature that I’m trying to get up.”

Skating By is a coming-of-age story set in the 1980s around roller-skating.

“It’s about a small-town girl who dreams big and enters a regional skating competition,” she says. “I grew up on the Sunshine Coast, in the hinterland at North Arm. I went to a school with 70 children from year one to year seven. And, you know, one of the only things we could do on the weekends was go to Nambour and go skating. So, this story really resonated with me.

“When I optioned the script I asked the writer if he was averse to me making this an Australian story, because the story would work in Australia. But I have decided to keep it as a Californian story. Strategically, I want to have my first venture go to the widest possible audience and then I’ll have the luxury of being able to tell more Australian stories after that. So that’s the aim at the moment.”

The second feature Poole is proposing requires a bigger budget.

“It’s based on the Cherry Sisters who were from Iowa. In the early 1900s they were touted as the worst act on vaudeville,” she says. “They won a competition by default and got a manager and ended up playing the biggest theatre in New York at the time.

“Their show sold out for two weeks and saved the theatre from bankruptcy. They were so bad, or good. There were many articles written about these girls in America, but their story has never been made into a film. We’ve got a really good script co-written by Woodstock-based writer Steve Gottlieb and there’s a lot of comedy in it.”

Poole believes Cannes is a good place to sell her projects.

“If I can, I would come every year, whether I have projects ready or not,” she says. “In Australia, in Queensland, we’re so disconnected from the rest of the English-speaking market. We need to understand how those markets work, not just our own little part of the world. Any film that I make, I want it to have an international audience.”

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