KITTY GREEN on THE ROYAL HOTEL (TIFF 2023) – Liz Braun interviews

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Australian filmmaker Kitty Green delves into the war between men and women in The Royal Hotel, a film about two young backpackers who take barmaid jobs in a mining area in Australia’s isolated outback.

How they fare in an environment drenched in testosterone and alcohol is an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller about gender dynamics.

Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick star in The Royal Hotel as the tourists who take pub jobs to top up their holiday fund.

The movie was inspired by Hotel Coolgardie (2016), a harrowing Australian documentary from Pete Gleeson. It concerns two Finnish women who take work at a bar in a remote mining town and are stunned by the levels of sexism, racism and general bad male behaviour they encounter.

Green, 39, who is a director, writer, editor and producer, said at a recent TIFF interview that Hotel Coolgardie, “Involved images that were something I hadn’t seen before. I thought, ‘That’s really interesting, and I can take that and play with it a bit.’”

And play she does.

There’s nothing really over-the-top about the men’s behaviour in her film — it’s just garden variety toxic male material ranging from annoying to menacing. And Green is careful to make each of the male characters three-dimensional, too. There’s just something about the desolate locale that makes everything so much worse.

The Royal Hotel is about systemic issues, said Green, “about drinking culture and women feeling threatened in certain spaces.

“In Australia, we have this thing where we go, ‘He’s all right. That guy? He’s all right mate,’ and I think in America they say, ‘Oh, he’s harmless.’

“But is he, though? Women are always asking, ‘Is he though? — he makes me uncomfortable.’ When can you stand up for yourself and say, ‘No, that needs to stop!’ and when do you just go with it and think, ‘Maybe he is okay, maybe he’s harmless.’

“It’s about the complexity of being female in that position, where you’re trying to assess: is it a joke? Is it a threat? What is it?”

Green examined the power dynamic between men and women in such earlier films as The Assistant (2019, also with Julia Garner) and the documentaries Casting JonBenet (2017) and Ukraine is Not A Brothel (2013).

The award-winning filmmaker was born in Melbourne and went to the Victorian College of the Arts to study film and television; her student short, Split, won her her first accolades.

But Green has been a filmmaker since adolescence.

An only child raised by two artists, Green said her mother is a photographer, “with very good taste, and she knew what was going on, in terms of cinema.”

Her mother would often rent movies for Green. “She’d just leave the movies for me, often in their Blockbuster case. So I never really knew what the title was, I’d just put it in, and it would be like, Haneke’s The Piano Teacher or something.” She laughs.

“So I watched all those things, probably a little too young I guess, on her recommendation.”

Her father was finishing a PhD when he taught Green how to use a camera. With money from her grandmother, she bought her first video camera and editing software at age 11, and started making movies.

“So there’s a library of films I made as an 11 year old, starring dolls, and things like that. I was able to make movies because they encouraged it.”

Green added that she grew up being told she could do whatever she wanted to do in life.

“I never felt I was at a disadvantage being a woman. Then you enter the world and it’s like, ‘Oh! So it doesn’t work the way I thought it did.’ I think it’s kind of that observation that led to everything I’ve made, which is — this is a mess and it shouldn’t be.

“Why is it a mess?”

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.