After spending her school years in Port Macquarie, film director and photographer, Karen Borger, has since called Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles home. These days, Karen divides her time between the USA and Australia and has lots of exciting new projects in the works …
What’s your family background?
Born and bred in Port Macquarie, some of my most fond memories of growing up on the Mid North Coast pertain to the natural environment … going to the beach, water skiing on the river, camping at Plomer, Kundabung and Pappinbarra; it was a very relaxed childhood.
I also used to love go to the Hatsatouris’ wonderful Ritz Cinema every Saturday, and this no doubt is where the seeds of my dreams of working in film were planted.
Both my parents, Basil and Elaine Borger, were teachers at Port High and others such as Bill Landy, Jim Matsinos and Alan Wiley actively encouraged students to pursue careers in the Arts, for which I am extremely grateful. After my HSC, I was accepted into the Sydney College of the Arts and moved to Sydney.
What did you study in Sydney?
I studied Visual Communication Design, gaining a solid grounding in various fields: photography, printmaking, typography, illustration, graphic design and film. Photography was my first love, so initially my focus was there. But then I discovered film, which became my preferred career option.
How did your career progress after college?
After a few years travelling, I was invited to the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) to study directing. I made short films there and enjoyed an exchange to the Munich Film School. My graduation film, Serendipity, was cast and shot in Port Macquarie – it’s a fictionalisation of my tormented Catholic childhood – a black comedy (laughs).
Following AFTRS, I found work as a Commercials Director, as well as directing music videos and documentaries (one with SBSi).
A decade on, I decided to pursue feature films and moved back to Port Macquarie, knowing I’d have the space to do the writing, completing two feature scripts during 3 years. It was then that I won the US Diversity Visa, or Green Card Lottery, granting me the opportunity to live as a permanent resident in America.
Within 6 months of relocating, I found work at the Disney Interactive Media Group. This proved to be an enlightening experience, and I learned the ‘business’ of entertainment. In subsequent years, I worked as a freelancer and also back at Disney (WDPRO) as a creative contractor.
For the past year, I’ve been developing feature film projects, and in May I’m off to Cannes.
What’s happening for you at the Cannes Film Festival?
At Cannes, new releases are screened and celebrated, plus there’s a marketplace where Producers take projects in order to garner international interest, pre-sales, funding and distribution deals.
Screen Australia, the Australian federal film finance body, is running a market induction program in collaboration with Initialize Films, an international media consultancy which provides producers with strategic advice, working alongside several film funds (Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway).
They’ve selected 20 emerging producers to attend in 2012. I’m proud to say I’m one!
Tell us more about the new feature film you’re likely to work on first …
Foreign Brother (Hermano Lejano) is an exciting and unique political thriller set in Australia and El Salvador. The original screenplay was written by Juan Carlos Bojorquez, which I’m developing. We’re currently seeking private investments in the film through my production company Bellafigura, and the film should hit the cinema screens in 2013.
We’ve already secured a wonderful cast, including Catherine Mack Hancock, seen on Home and Away, and the esteemed Mexican actor, Damián Alcázar. I call him the ‘Geoffrey Rush of Latin America’. Damián has won 8 prestigious Best Actor Ariel Awards (the Latin American Oscars), a swathe of prestigious international accolades, starred in blockbuster films such as The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian and is much-loved and lauded throughout Central and Latin America and Europe. It will be an honour to bring him to Australia for the film and exciting to also take the talented Australian cast and crew over to El Salvador.
Are you based more or less permanently in Los Angeles now?
I’ve been based in America for 5 years now, and I’m soon applying for dual citizenship. I look forward to enjoying the opportunity to reside in both countries without impingement, bridging the two countries, living and working on either side of the Pacific, which is my dream.
What do you think it takes to be a great Director?
A filmmaker needs to be a good storyteller. This is the essence of great filmmaking. It matters less how phenomenal the special effects are or the size of the budget; if there isn’t a great story with engaging characters, the audience can smell it a mile off and stay away.
People seek the experience of being effortlessly transported for 90 minutes to another world to experience an alternate reality.
What are you doing with photography these days?
I am relishing rediscovering the art of photography in the digital age; there’s greater fluidity in the shooting, processing and sharing of imagery via the web.
I’m enjoying the journey of taking photography to where the Impressionists took paintings, by putting emphasis on the depiction of light and its changing qualities. I capture common subject matter with a sense of movement and unique angles. Reworking the image digitally helps me shift away from photorealism and realise into the true ‘impression’ of what is felt and sensed in the moment.
One series, Wanderlust, featured in the Port High School 50th Anniversary exhibition at Port Macquarie’s wonderful Glasshouse Arts, Conference and Entertainment Centre.
I recently travelled round Australia and Central America capturing imagery, which I also plan to show in the near future.
Where can people contact you if they’re interested in finding out more about what you do with both film and photography?
I do direct independent film projects and am very much interested in political thrillers and comedy featuring Australian and foreign storylines. I also undertake commissions for photographic artwork.
Visit: www.bellafigura.net.au and you’ll find information on projects and my contact details there.
Final words …
I’ve also established a non-profit in America, the Share Your Voice Foundation, with colleague Jennifer Johnson-Bell. Via donations, the Foundation runs Empowerment through Performance workshops for at-risk teenagers. 2012 will be our 6th year, and we’ve had wonderful successes with this program.
Graduates have gone on to find success and happiness in the pursuance of the Arts, such as one who won a theatre scholarship to Princeton. Some young people come to us with no confidence, having suffered abuse or neglect in relationships with their families, or they live in remote communities with little access to the Arts.
Through our program they learn self-respect and regard for others, as well as how to express themselves through the Arts, enabling them to rejoin the community with dignity and pride. It’s my dream to be able to bring the Share Your Voice Foundation to Australia to help Australian teens too. The creative life is a rich and rewarding one – I’m living proof.
Interview by Jo Atkins.