The Nightingale and the Rose, the classic 19th-century short story by Oscar Wilde, has been made in to a 14-minute animation made by filmmaker Brendan Fletcher (Mad Bastards, 2011) and Archibald Prize-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton.

The film, which recently had its world premiere at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival, marks career firsts for the pair. Although something of a cinephile, Barton had never before worked on a film, while Fletcher had never done an entirely animated project.

“We certainly took a lot of wrong turns, went down a lot of dead ends before we found the right way,” the filmmaker says frankly.

Fletcher first thought of working with Barton when she featured in his ABC TV series Art Life in 2007. When the artist and the filmmaker sat down to brainstorm ideas for a collaboration, an illustrated version of the Nightingale and the Rose (Dott Books) published by Barton in 2012 was the obvious place to start.

“I was so inspired by Del’s original paintings that the idea of bringing them to life in an animation seemed liked a great way to kick off our working relationship,” says Fletcher, who saw Barton’s inexperience with film as a creative advantage.

Singer Sarah Blasko, who worked with Fletcher on a number of her music videos, soon signed on to compose the score.

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“Del’s images are striking, and her visual instinct is almost beyond compare, but I really feel like Sarah Blasko’s music takes the film to the next level,” says Fletcher.

The co-directors sent Blasko an early cut of the film with some suggestions of music they liked. “We didn’t hear from Sarah for months,” says Fletcher. When the singer did send through her score, it was with the warning that she’d followed her instincts and swapped their musical references for her own. They included the work of singer PJ Harvey and the dystopian 1980s classic Blade Runner.

“The music she sent through was amazing,” says Fletcher of Blasko’s “haunting” score. “Sarah is a very serious artist, and had a very serious commitment to this work, and she wasn’t going to do anything that didn’t come from a very deep place.”

Fletcher and Barton worked with Method Studios to bring the artist’s illustrations to life, using a mix of digital and handmade practical animation. “In some images you’ll see both styles of animation in the one shot,” says Fletcher. “When the nightingale is flying, her wings are actually handmade wings. I cut out paper and we used fishing line, and shot them on the green screen, but her body is a digital model.

“It took us most of the 18-month period to actually develop the work so that those two techniques melded together believably.”

With such formidable creative team driving the project, a stellar cast including Mia Wasikowska, David Wenham and Geoffrey Rush needed little convincing to add their names to the credits.

It’s no wonder the film’s Sydney screenings continue to sell out. Those lucky enough to have purchased tickets can see the film at Golden Age Cinema in Surry Hills on Wednesday, April 23.

The Nightingale and the Rose (Aquarius Films, 2015) presented by Brendan Fletcher at Golden Age Cinema Paramount House, 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
9211 1556