IN BETWEEN HIS HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL FIRST FILM, Two Hands (1999), and his latest work, Ned Kelly (2003), Australian director Gregor Jordan made his first 'American' film, Buffalo Soldiers (2001). Due to a combination of circumstances, the film's release both in the US and Australia has been delayed, although it has shown at several festivals.
Buffalo Soldiers tells the story of Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix), a soldier with too much time on his hands and not enough money in his pocket. The time is 1989, the place is West Germany, and the Cold War is still raging. But in this quiet little pocket of the US military machine, it doesn't so much rage as limp along. In this environment the entrepreneurial Elwood is running a very profitable Black Market operation under the nose of his unsuspecting CO (Ed Harris). But the arrival of a new sergeant (Scott Glenn) threatens Elwood's comfortable existence. So he fights back in the best way he knows how--by dating the sergeant's attractive daughter (Anna Paquin).
Although the film was made in 2001, as Jordan explained, it has had a tough time getting a release. 'Look, Buffalo Soldiers is a tricky film to get out there at the best of times', he said.
It was hard to write, it was hard to make; so the fact that it's hard to release is not a surprise. It's a movie that's not conventional at all. It's black comedy, it follows an anti-hero story, it's quite anti-establishment--more so now than when it was made! The film was premiered in Toronto and was actually sold to Miramax on the night of September 10 2001. I guess it [then] became clear that releasing the film had become even more precarious than before. So Miramax decided to delay the release and wait to see what happened.
Despite its focus on the American military, Jordan doesn't think of Buffalo Soldiers as an 'American' film as such.
The weird thing is, it's an American film, but it never really was American, you know. The producer of the film was German; the writer of the book is American; the production company that financed the film, Film Four, are British; it was all shot in Germany with a mostly English crew; the actors are all American ... I guess it is an American story but in a way the European-ness of the film is a big part of it as well; you know that fact that it's about Americans in a foreign land. So, yes, it's an American film, but it never really felt like it ...
It felt like an international film. I mean, the crew came from all over the place--the gaffer was Irish, the electrics crew were all Swedish, the production designer and the editor were Australian. So it felt like a big, international film; it felt like a film of the world.
In a case of Australian talent and success translating into the international arena, it was Jordan's work on Two Hands that landed him the job.
The producer, Reiner Grupe, had been given a copy of Two Hands and he said he watched it twice and got on the phone and said, 'Let's get Gregor'. He had this idea that he wanted an Australian to direct this film. The reason was, he said, that he liked the way Australians kept this kind of peculiar objectivity on the world. I guess when I think about it now, it's kind of crazy--the idea of bringing over this relatively inexperienced director from Australia to make a film about American soldiers in Germany.
Jordan says he was attracted to the project by the originality of the film's concept.
I'd never seen that world portrayed before in a film. I also liked the ideology behind the film--the idea that a lot of people like war and if you don't give them a war, they'll make one of their own. I hadn't really seen that idea before in a film. To me, war films always portrayed the opposite: that war is hell and war is a terrible thing. I'd never seen the idea that war is kind of cool, and there are a lot of people out there who really like it. So I guess I was intrigued by the material. …