24 Jul 2017

Noah Conopask's new film tackles domestic violence

Director talks to shots.net about his new film and the emotional challenges of mining his own past for it.

Sweetshop director Noah Conopask has just released a one-minute, hard-hitting film to help tackle the effects of domestic abuse on children.

The film, called Hero, features a young boy who is traumatised by his parents' continued arguments and his father's violence towards his mother. His way of dealing with the abuse is to imagine himself as an astronaut, heading into space.

In the US alone, one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90 per cent of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. The powerful film also sees Conopask mine his own past for the story and, below, he talks to shots.net about the challenges of making the spot and the feelings it unearthed.

Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of this project and how you became involved in it? I’d been wanting to do something like this for some time. Something that was more about giving back to the community than just advertising. I’d been racking my brain and when I wasn’t paying attention, it hit me fast and hard in a flash.

You made it before approaching the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; was the plan always to approach this charity with the finished film?

Yes. I wanted it to have an entity and vehicle through which it could be seen. I wanted to make something for people who wouldn’t necessarily have the resources to execute a film like this.

This is an autobiographical spot; was it hard to make something so personal to you?

I really don’t want this to be about me. In a way, it was easy because it’s so familiar. The writing just flowed through me. The childhood desire of a boy to be a spaceman is something I know well [as is] the violent, drunken fights between parents.

It’s maybe a bit awkward to be talking about it here… it was hard in the way that I had to look at such painful memories and analyse them. Dig into them. Confront them. It was therapeutic in ways. I’d like to make more work like this. Raw, real, grown up and personal.

The campaign is highlighting the mental effects on children who witness domestic abuse rather than those who suffer physical harm; is not enough thought given to the mental scars of abuse?

I have a lot of feelings on this. I certainly think those visions linger. Children’s minds are sponges. Violence in the home can have major effects on children. It’s unfortunate that an abusive home takes away the child’s right to be a child. It’s layers of neglect. It’s a cruel selfishness and immaturity on the parents’ part. Your parents should be your heroes.

Do you think your imagination and your creative instincts were bolstered by the fact you needed to distance yourself from what was happening around you as a child?

Ha! Yes. I had to. I think I needed an amplified form of escape, so I looked inwards out of necessity. I created my own worlds to escape to. I’m not sure if everyone can do that, but that’s how I coped, and, well, I guess that turned into drawing and photography which led me to filmmaking.

From a film making perspective, what was the most challenging thing about making Hero?

Pulling it all together on a shoe-string budget. Building a custom-made rocket costs money, takes time and, needs to be built off-site. Finding a location that would let us break bottles against the wall. Getting two actors to writhe and violently push and shove each other around the home. We went for it. Shit got broken. Walls got stained and busted.

I wanted to shoot anamorphic lenses which aren’t cheap. I wanted to shoot on Alexa for the image quality and frame rates. Once we were there though, the day just flowed. In working with actors, I find that you are often working in external ways and making it personal. For this it was all very personal and internal and I had to communicate complex emotions and memories, to transpose myself into each character. It was a bit of an outer body experience. Quite abstract but very rewarding.

And the most rewarding?

Using my filmmaking expertise to make something that will hopefully do some good in this world. I’m so happy with how everyone came together and I’m so grateful to my cast and crew.

What do you hope the campaign achieves?

When people watch it, I hope it’s upsetting - in a positive way. My goal was to create a film that was a gut punch. I want to stir peoples’ empathy and I want to contribute. And just maybe, someone who is struggling, will identify with the story and know that there are people out there to help them. Or maybe someone who is caught up in the violence will see it and want to change themselves for the better and their children.

This article was first published in shots.net on 24 July, 2017.