Interview with Perth Filmmaker Paul Komadina
We had a tantalising chat with Western Australian-based director Paul Komadina about his latest sci-fi, social commentary short film Abduction and the state of the Australian film scene during this bizarre year.
Abduction has been making the rounds of iconic film festivals worldwide, and it’s a fascinating story of a woman being shamed for a night that she had no control over blends together haunting science-fiction elements with topical discussion points around victim blaming and gender bias. We at The Creative Issue were so fascinated by it, that we decided to dive deeper into the short film’s inspiration, narrative, and production with none than its awesome director Paul Komadina. Read on to hear all about the passion that went behind the project and his unwavering optimism for the future of the Australian film industry.
The Creative Issue: What inspired you and your team to tell a story about judgement, victim-blaming, and alien abduction?
Paul Komadina: The story was conceived by Frances Elliott, the writer. She was unfortunately drugged at a night out in a club. She had a pretty traumatic experience, but what she was more shocked by the next day was her friends not really believing her and even blaming her by saying stuff like “why didn’t you keep an eye on your drink”.
We talked a lot at the time, we were really good friends, and so after dealing with that for a few weeks, she sent me the script for Abduction one day out of the blue. She had taken that experience and made it into this alien abduction, sci-fi story. There were a lot of parallels in the story, obviously one being fictional, and one being based on real events, and I was pretty blown away by the genre style mixing with this personal experience.
So yeah, she sent me the script and asked me if I wanted to direct, and I said “absolutely!”. And we developed it from there.
TCI: So, on that, what do you think are the benefits of telling this really topical, personal story through a sci-fi lens making use of metaphor?
PK: A few things, I think. First and foremost, it’s nice to have films as entertainment or as distractions. I don’t think we always want to sit down with a film and be lectured to. Films should serve that purpose of being entertainment, and I also don’t like things that are too on the nose, or too prescriptive.
The whole idea of a story like this is to put the audience in the shoes of the protagonist, and if it’s a bit fantastical or a bit out there, I think that makes it easier for people to do. And even though this is a very specific story, I believe it opens it up to be about “what if people don’t believe what you’re telling them”. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about getting drugged or date rape, it can cover a number of similar topics. So hopefully, Abduction does that for people.
And those are also the sort of films I like. They have something to say, but they aren’t too preachy, and I like genre films. So, Abduction combines all those things together.
TCI: In Abduction, how did you go about creating the sense of unease and tension through the filmmaking process?
PK: We definitely wanted a really visceral film experience that was from the point of view of the protagonist. A lot of the filming is following her from behind, we’re seeing exactly what she’s seeing, we’re hearing what she’s hearing, and whether these things are real or not, we’re getting her experience.
So, a lot of experimental camerawork, a lot of fun sound design. There are moments where you see things and you cut back and they’re not there and it raises the question of “are they real, are they not?” or “are these ideas planted in her head”. We wanted to throw a lot up there and essentially pose two realities. And then it’s up to the audience to decide which one they go with.
TCI: One of the big things addressed in the script is how quickly technology and social media can spread a false narrative amongst communities and friendship groups. Is this a real threat that you wanted to tackle in Abduction?
PK: Definitely, and again, a lot of that came from Frances. You know, we judge women pretty harshly in this society, so after something happens to our main character, people want to accept her boyfriend rather than actually find out what happened to her, meaning they’re quick to call her a “slut”. That seems to be an aspect of things going on in social media, as people just want to jump on one narrative and blame.
From our writer’s point of view, I am not sure if she was going for a condemnation of social media, but more looking at just the natural way that kind of gossip would spread. In our case, the use of the phone to spread gossip was probably more a good narrative device. But we did want to portray a town of “friends” that turn on Mathilda very quickly and who ostracise her for something that she didn’t do.
TCI: How does it feel to have Abduction screening at the Atlanta Film Festival?
PK: Yeah, so we screened at CinefestOZ, we’re screening it at Atlanta Film Festival any day now. With COVID-19 going on, they’ve adjusted the way they do things, so there’s a lot of drive-in screenings and an online version of the festival as well. We filmed a little intro for our spot on their online program, so hopefully that goes well.
We’d obviously all like to be there – I was already booking my flights when the pandemic first happened. So, unfortunately, we can’t be there, but we’d still like to be involved as much as possible.
TCI: Just on COVID, do you see the Australian film scene bouncing back once all the restrictions are lifted?
PK: Yeah, it’s certainly been an interesting time. Here in Perth, people have been talking for decades about how we need a bigger studio and hopefully attract the kind of productions that you get in Sydney, Queensland, and even Adelaide in the last few years. And COVID has seemed to propel that idea forward. We only have a very small handful of cases at the moment in Western Australia, things are looking good, so there’s an idea that films could potentially shoot here that may have been shot overseas or in other areas of the country.
Things definitely have been quiet for a little while. I do a lot of advertising work in-between my creative projects, and while it was really quiet there for a while, things have actually become really crazy recently. I have a lot of stuff to shoot in the next few weeks. But on the creative side, it might be a bit of a silver lining that this situation will grow our industry.
TCI: What advice would you give any aspiring filmmakers or storytellers looking to blend together genre fiction and social commentary?
PK: It’s got to be about something you care about. Whether you’re making a feature or a short film, this is something you’re going to spend years on, so it needs to be something that fascinates you. And tell it your way. There’s a point in making something if anyone could’ve made it – you’ve got to make something that only you could make. Be honest and make it entertaining.
If you are making something that features social commentary, I’m a big believer in asking questions rather than making statements. I’m not arrogant enough to think I have all the answers and I like to promote discussion around the topic rather than come in and say “this is how it should be”.
To read more Abduction, check out our review of the short film here.