A man visits his mother. After attempting to secure an unstable bough on a tree in her front garden, he helps her pick lemons from the tree’s high branches. He has a beer with his sister, and chats to his nephews.
This is Under the Cover of Cloud, the debut film by Tasmanian director Ted Wilson. It’s a gentle, semi-fictional portrait of family life as he sees it; slow, largely uneventful, but warm and familiar.
Wilson produced it with no money and a skeleton crew, casting his own family and scripting nothing. It doesn’t neatly fit into any genre. But it’s paid off: it’s been selected to screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) alongside Cannes award winners and major Hollywood productions.
Melbourne-based Wilson is a 38-year-old Tasmanian expat. He’s come up through Melbourne’s comedy and improv scene, and has had several acclaimed, offbeat short comedies screen at MIFF in recent years, including the hilariously aimless Family Holiday.
Making a feature film was the logical next step. But it’s not so easy a step to make.
Dozens of cogs have to work in symmetry to produce a feature film. Usually, hundreds of people are involved. And they often cost millions of dollars, which means a certain level of commercial appeal is a necessity. In Australia, those challenges are exacerbated by a film industry geared towards bringing in big Hollywood dollars at the expense of local stories. A quiet, almost plotless and unscripted film about Wilson’s family does not fit that description.
“Filmmakers have to beg for funding, and have to compromise to make it work,” Wilson says. “I knew I wasn’t going to get funding for what I wanted to do, so I wanted to make something I could do myself.”
So he went home to Hobart to visit his family, and filmed them.
Returning to one’s regional hometown is a familiar trope of Australian fiction. But there’s no simmering intergenerational trauma here, no small-town intrigue, no murder. Wilson’s family is a nice one, and everyone gets along. We just observe.
“I don’t believe you have to do much to make a family engaging on screen,” says Wilson. “Families are inherently dramatic because there’s history and different power relationships. I just wanted to capture that.”
The result is a miracle of a film, both strangely familiar and quite unlike any Australian movie I’ve seen. For 90 minutes, Wilson and his mother and siblings chat. They muck around in the garden. They have a nice lunch, and go to the pub. Wilson cites influences as broad as the realist drama of John Cassavettes and the guerrilla comedy of Borat. It definitely sits neatly alongside some of the more experimental European cinema shown at Melbourne’s biggest film jamboree.
“I don’t think I would ever have made films without MIFF,” says Wilson. “They are the only film or TV institution in Australia that has liked my work and backed me.
"Without MIFF I would just be working a government job and reading books.”
Under the Cover of Cloud is screening at MIFF on August 4 and 8.
Watch the trailer:.