A Road Movie without a Road: An Interview with Michael James Rowland: Brian McFarlane: You and Helen Barnes Are Credited as 'Co-Writers'. What Was the Source of Your Story in Lucky Miles and How Did You Go about the Writing Process Together?

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MICHAEL James Rowland: Helen's a novelist and she doesn't generally write for the screen, but we'd met at an AFTRS writing course and became mates. We'd written together once before for one of SBS's DIY television projects, and we'd had a good experience with that. The genesis of Lucky Miles was in my reading of Thomas Friedman's book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree in 1998. He's the roving editor on globalization for The New York Times. His position on globalization is that the world is shrinking through global markets and telecommunications; businesses are becoming more efficient and living standards keep going up. I agreed with what he said was happening to the world, that it is shrinking, but I also felt that when cultures come in contact with each other there are losers as well as winners, and that this was going to be the situation for the foreseeable future. I wanted to make a film that explored these ideas, and I came across these true stories that reflect them. I decided to make this film about what happens when cultures meet.

In my experience, conflict precedes harmony in such a situation. So, I sent this treatment I'd written to Helen, who's one of the smartest people I know. I find it challenging to work with someone like that, and I do regard film as a collaborative medium. I don't know whether I could have done it alone, but Helen sets a very high standard and that's very bracing. I gave her what I'd done, then she spent a year working on it and threw most of it out. She then passed on what she'd done and I spent two or three months pretty much throwing out what she'd done. Then we argued the toss until it all fell into place. It was a very robust process. Some of the problems I've seen with scripts in the past have been one writer's work, and they're into a world of diminishing returns by the time they reach the fourth draft. Sometimes better results come from a more brutal process. I'm creatively ambitious, and this was the most ambitious way I could imagine producing a script.

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Do you regard the film as being essentially political?

Yes, I do, but, oddly, our harshest critics have been those who've claimed it's not saying the right political things. It's been slightly bizarre that these [criticisms] have come at the issues from a compassionate point of view. On the other hand, some of our biggest supporters, practical supporters, like Nick Greiner, the former New South Wales premier who was the first investor who came on to the project, have come from the conservative side of politics. Some people who've spent long, cold years flying the flag, have felt they're surrounded by Johnny-come-latelies who don't really care.

It's not political in the sense of pushing a line ...

I remember Kierkegaard saying something like, 'When you label me, you negate me'. And I think too of the journalist Phillip Knightley who wrote about how you can deprive people of their humanity by denying their banal characteristics, by always describing them in a heightened dramatic sense, as victims or fighters or whatever. If you deny people their everydayness, you deny them the full spectrum of their humanity. I felt that the film often worked on the banality of their existence. The other thing was the story of the good Samaritan in which someone says, 'Sure, I've got to love my neighbour, but can you define my neighbour strictly enough so that it doesn't include everyone?' The point, of course, is that everyone is his neighbour. We've resolutely stayed away from the issues of the 2001 election because they were not really relevant to the bigger questions I was trying to take on.

It's set chiefly in 1990, but would you agree that it's bound to be viewed in the light of later political events?

Yes, it's meant to be relevant, but it's not a reaction to those events. Basically, it speaks to this idea of a shrinking world and what that means. …