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Faces of the Festival: <br>Eric Bana

We talk with actor Eric Bana about his directorial debut, the passionate documentary Love the Beast, and the best places on earth to take a car out for a cruise.

Love the Beast

Actor Eric Bana's directorial debut, the documentary Love the Beast, is one of the pleasant surprises of the Festival. Ignore the preview's slightly bombastic tone (scored to Band of Horses for extra epic flavor); Love the Beast is more than a simple story about a man and his long-standing relationship with his 1974 Ford XB Falcon Couple, aka The Beast.

Using his relationship with his car as a jumping off point, the affable, likable, and funny (although his American film career is one of great, Munich-sized intensity, in Australia he was initially known as a comedian) Bana talks to his friends, parents, the likes of Dr. Phil McGraw, and a host of other gearheads (both famous and not) about what drives us—our mad passions, from speeding cars to the Targa Tasmania Rally to life-long friendships. After all, if you've ever had a long standing relationship with something like a car, your life and memories are wholly entwined with that hunk of steel. We got Bana on the phone to tell us a little bit more about his documentary.

So you're going around the world doing Star Trek press, huh? You must be zonked.

We’re at the end of our London press day and going to the premiere in a hour and a half. It’s going to be crazy, but fun.

What's your best memory of The Beast?

I remember as a kid, not even having a license to drive and spending the evenings out in the car sitting in it. Because it was there, and because I could, and me and my mates would come over and we’d put on rock music. It was freezing, the middle of winter, but the ability to go and sit in your car was a stronger pull than a warm house.

And then there was just driving it everywhere, it was my daily car for many years. Every ride was an adventure.

What inspired you to make this movie?

It was a combination of two factors. First of all, it was borne out of general frustration. My producing partner [Brett Hardy] comes out of the world of surfing and skating and he also races cars. We were talking one day about how a really good surfing documentary makes you feel like youre missing out on something; we were talking about how car films never do the same thing. The more I looked at that and thought of my favorite car movies, I realized that they were all crap and more legendary because of the stars that were in them. Our quest was to try and think of something we can do together.

One morning, I thought to myself that this was so weird that I still have my first car. It played a role in my life and my friends' lives. As a story teller I was interested in the ability of these objects to sort of transcend themselves, there was something interesting in that. A bad version of this would be to write a narrative about that, but a documentary could say something.

It was incredibly satisfying. It was a very hard film to put all of the elements together and a particularly hard film to edit. What was difficult about it was that the impetus for it was a very emotional idea, and how can we tell the story and edit it in such a way that it has this relevance and it holds together as interesting cinema. I felt that it could be done, my first port of call was to get the best editor I could and I loved Conor O'Neill’s work in Murderball. At that stage we had 160 hours of footage—I had structurally a fairly good idea of what I wanted to do but it was open. It was a matter of protecing yourself with a long post-production period.

That was a real challenge but it was really thrilling to find it with Conor. We'd shut production down and I'd go off a do a film, and then we’d shut down and do it again. I'd be doing paper edits in my trailer, it all kind of organically came together.

And funny enough, the Tribeca Film Festival does make a cameo in your film (Bana shot during the '07 Festival Lucky You premiere). Was it odd to balance your acting life with your car life in the film?

I guess those things are not things that I ever really consider. To me it was just a part of my life, a lot of those elements kind of crisscross, a lot of the elements you come in contact with kind of cross pollinate and become a bit of a soup. I felt like it would be a lie to ignore some of the larger elements of my life in the story. You can't pretend that the main character wasn’t an actor.

What were your mates' reaction to the film?

They’ve been overwhelmingly positive. It wasn’t really what they were expecting. I was successfully convinced them I was shooting a home video that they didn’t have to worry about too much. The finished product surprised them in its ambition. It wasn’t at all what they were expecting. I couldn’t have told the story without their complete trust and wouldn’t subject them to anybody else. They were unbelievably trusting and unbelievably generous.

Can you talk a little bit about Dr. Phil? He seems pretty intense in person.

Unbeknownst to me, he was a mad car guy. I sent him a letter with what I was making and with what role I wanted him to have in this film. I sort of edited this film prior to sitting down with Dr. Phil [and Jeremy Clarkson and Jay Leno] and needed their points of view for similar reasons. He was very succinct to the point that it was kind of scary. He was so on point.

So why aren't car movies very good?

It's not that they’re not good. They’re kind of good in that if you’re a car person you like them, but if you look at them as a fan of cinema, they don’t hold up. If you go back and watch Le Mans, if you’re a car person it's porn. But as cinema, it doesn’t hold up. A lot of those films have become iconic because of how cool they are and not how good they are. I don’t think you need to be a car person to make a car film, but I do think you need to be a car person to make my film.

Mad Max is probably the only one that really holds up on all levels, which is why I reference it [in the film]. It's iconic for me.

Where are some of your favorite places to drive?

The Great Ocean Road in Victoria. It's about an hour from Melbourne and it's one of the most spectacular coastal lines in the world. It's still undeveloped, that’s where the Twelve Apostles are, they're a kind of famous [rock formation].

Another great road is in North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Pike's Peak in Colorado.

Are there any tunes you go to while driving or are you a silent driver?

Silent driver. I love having the radio off and the phone off and just soaking it up.

Meet Eric Bana at the Love the Beast premiere on Wednesday, April 29 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are still available.

Bana will also appear at The Apple Store Soho to talk about the film on Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30 pm.

Read more Faces of the Festival.



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