Australian screen legend Steve Bisley is looking to adapt his critically acclaimed memoir Stillways into a feature-length film Pauline, told from the perspective of his mother.
Shortlisted for multiple awards including the National Biography Awards, Stillways is a powerful snapshot of Australian childhood in the 60s. The memoir is an unflinching recollection of Bisley’s own upbringing, from fighting bullies and dreaming about girls, to his father who’d take out his frustrations on his children, and his mother who’d do anything to protect them.
“Stillways is as much my mother’s story as it is my own,” said Bisley. “Here was a young woman, a trained teacher, poet and romantic, who left everything she knew to start a new life with a damaged man on a small parcel of land. They called the farm Stillways.”
“I lived the life. I wrote the book. Now, I want to direct the film,” he said. “My hope for this campaign is to secure the necessary funding to bring this incredible story to the big screen – an explosion of raw colour in the leached brevity of the digital age.”
Exploring themes of betrayal, love, ambition and belonging, Pauline is set to be a compelling coming-of-age family drama. Offering a fascinating glimpse into a simpler Australian life, the film shines a light on the incredible story of a woman learning to regain her sense of self.
Bisley is best known for his work on Mad Max, The Great Gatsby and Water Rats. Graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) alongside the likes of Mel Gibson and Judy Davis, Bisley’s hugely successful career spans over four decades in film, television, theatre, and literature.
Bisley is currently encouraging support with an Indiegogo page to fund pre-production. You can also read two scenes from the script below.
The sound of a cat meowing. It is an eerie disturbing sound.
An image grows.
A woman stands looking out through a window from inside a house. Rain falls against the glass. The dawn light is thin and grey. A cat scratches frantically at the door beside where the woman stands.
EXT: CREEK –DAWN
Lashing rain. Australian bush.
Face set, a wiry man strides along a track that runs between two fenced paddocks. We will never really know him – this is RAY DAVIS, father of 3, a damaged man. He drags a small blonde haired boy, aged 9, by the hand. The boy struggles to keep up – this is JIM. Normally full of mischief but not now — not today.
My children were born into a world of men.
Kittens cry in a small sack, swinging behind.
RAY stops – the water is deep enough. Finds a large stone.
They strode back from the war victorious, crying ‘look what we have done, we have saved you!’.
RAY opens sack, drops the stone in.
RAY holds the sack out over the water. We see the shapes of kittens’ bodies squirming through fabric.
Who would save us, from them?
Sack drops — sinks — we watch a trail of bubbles on the surface. We follow the sack down underwater to see several other decaying sacks.
HOLD ON: the boy as he watches.
The MAN lifts his head and we see what he sees. The bush beyond the creek is full of Japanese soldiers, silently watching.
EXT: STILLWAYS, GATE — MORNING
JIM swings on the front gate, munches vegemite toast.
DUNNY MAN, KEN CAMPBELL, pulls up in his truck, dunny-can over his shoulder, past JIM.
GRACE dressed for school on the front verandah, ties hair into a ponytail.
Morning Jim, Grace
Be careful, my brother’s still in there, could be bad. We call him organ arse!
Nothing I’m not used to!
DUNNY MAN disappears behind the house.
You’re not allowed to call him Ken. His name is Mr Campbell. I’m telling mum.
Sandy told me that one morning when Ken was taking their shit away, Ken got a sandwich out of his pocket and was unwrapping it and it fell into the can and Ken reached into to the shitty can and pulled the sandwich out and ate it, right in front of Sandy’s dad and Sandy’s dad puked all over Sandy’s mum who was watering the petunias in their front garden.
You’re such a liar.
It’s true, Sandy told me and he’s not allowed to lie cause he’s a Jehovah Witness. And he’s not allowed to have a blood transfusion.
You’re just too weird. No wonder you’ve got a Jehovah friend. They’re the weirdest.
Do you reckon Ken’s wife lets him kiss her with his shitty lips!
You’re just too gross to be my brother and anyway, Mum told me you were adopted from a leper colony. She said your real mother’s arms had rotted off and she couldn’t hold you anymore so she gave you away.
Mum told me that you were born a boy. You were such a fat baby that you got so hungry one day you ate your own penis right off. So they dressed you as a girl, but everybody knows your real name is Gregory not Grace.
(calls from the front door)
Come and get your things it’s time to leave for school.
I’m telling Mum everything you said! You’ll be in so much trouble.
GRACE walks into the house.
Gregory! The dobber! Gregory has no penis.