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by MATTHEW EELES
The last few months of 2019 were a whirlwind for Jennifer Van Gessel.
The Australian filmmaker finally got to premiere her horror thriller Beast No More, which she wrote and produced, at MonsterFest in Sydney following a few minor delays during post production.
“Beast No More was a massive challenge, but I learned a lot,” Van Gessel tells Cinema Australia. “Having the premiere at Monster Fest and being able to show the cast and crew the film was a very rewarding experience.”
Despite the challenges, Beast No More was a hit with Monster Fest punters taking out the festival’s Audience Award. It also won best Australian film at the Sanctuary Cove International Film Festival in the same week.
“Winning some awards was a shock, but everyone involved is very grateful. They were the only Aussie festivals we entered so the success has been a surprise.”
With no desire to rest on her laurels, Van Gessel has jumped straight into her next project, a horror mystery called Water Horse which she first started developing in 2017.
Water Horse follows a paranormal investigator who links a bizarre string of seemingly unrelated events to the disappearance of her mother. It’s also the first feature film Van Gessel has directed.
“First and foremost, I’m a writer. But it’s really hard to get your writing made if you haven’t got any credits, so learning to be a producer seemed like the best step for my writing career.”
Now that she’s had some success with her writing, including both film and comic books, Van Gessel has had a lot of encouragement from her peers who also encouraged her to direct Water Horse.
“I wanted someone else to direct Water Horse, but the timing wasn’t working out. I have directed feature length documentaries before so I figured I’d give it a go. So far it’s been great and I’m learning a lot. DOP Goldie Soetianto and the actors are so supportive and we’ve all been bouncing off each other in a creative sense. It’s a real collaborative environment.”
True crime and horror is a consistent theme in Van Gessel’s films and it’s no surprise given her filmmaking influences are David Lynch, Lars von Trier, John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick and… Kevin Smith?
“I think watching Clerks is what made me want to make a film for the first time. In Australia, I’d say my influences are people like Jennifer Kent, Vicki Madden, James Wan, Greg McLean and Kiah Roache-Turner.”
The Osiris Child and The Legend of Ben Hall actor Lauren Grimson stars in Water Horse as paranormal investigator Dianne Wilson alongside Book Week’s Dean Kyrwood who plays Osmond Shaw.
Kyrwood had a small role in Beast No More and, like Van Gessel, hails from Newcastle where the two played in bands at the same gigs together during their music days.
“I wrote this with Dean in mind for the male lead,” says Van Gessel.
“Dean and Lauren have a great chemistry as they’re friends who have worked together before. Lauren has really embodied the character; sometimes it’s a bit scary because Dianne is nothing like her. I think together we’ve created a very memorable character. I’ve hired two very talented actors who certainly won’t make me look bad,” Van Gessel laughs.
Jessica Tovey, also from Beast No More, has a minor role as Detective Suzanne Lee.
“The times Jess is on screen are memorable, she makes an impact without being in every scene because that’s the type of actress she is,” says Van Gessel. “Jess is just ridiculously talented, one of Australia’s best in my opinion.”
Currently, Water Horse is half way through filming with production set to recommence in February after the cast and crew have had time to enjoy the festive season. Unfortunately, an important and very unique location in Mogo, New South Wales was lost to the bushfires and another location is now under threat.
“It’s heartbreaking,” says Van Gessel.
“The location we lost was very unique and important to the film, but also a place I’ve visited with my young nephews and made lots of amazing memories. I’m devastated for the owners and people who worked there. I hope it won’t delay production but that’s the least of my concerns at this point.”
Either way, Water Horse will wrap early this year as Van Gessel has other projects finding traction which is testament to her hard work as a filmmaker in Australia.
With offers for distribution already coming through, Water Horse is expected to be released late 2020 or early 2021.
Keep an eye on http://www.cinemaaustralia.com.au for Water Horse updates.