Garth Davis, Iain Canning and Dev Patel on a "Serendipitous" Journey

By Mitchell, Wendy | Screen International, December 16, 2016 | Go to article overview

Garth Davis, Iain Canning and Dev Patel on a "Serendipitous" Journey


Mitchell, Wendy, Screen International


See-Saw Film co-founders Iain Canning and Emile Sherman were at Sundance with Top Of The Lake in 2013 when they heard about Saroo Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home, the incredible true story of how he was separated from his family in rural India and adopted by an Australian couple. Decades later, he found his birth mother with the help of Google Earth.

"We are interested in doing international stories coming out of the UK or Australia," explains Canning of the London and Sydney-based company he founded with Sherman in 2008. "We said, 'That's an important story to adapt'. It's about identity and who we really are, and what connects us. It's also a positive message about love."

There were already more than 20 parties bidding for the rights, but See-Saw had an advantage because Sherman is based in Australia and could meet personally with the Brierley family. Canning and Sherman mentioned the project in passing during Sundance to commercials veteran Garth Davis, who had co-directed Top Of The Lake. "He said, 'I've got to direct that'. He was lobbying to direct it even before we had the rights," Canning recalls.

"It was an incredible story," Davis says of his immediate interest in directing the film as his first feature. "It had a very refreshing quality to it, traversing two worlds, it was epic in scope but also intimate and emotional. It has all the qualities of films I love and wanted to make. I'm a spiritual person and I thought there was something going on here a lot deeper."

Davis says the timing was "quite serendipitous" because before the team started working on the script he was able to tag along with a crew from US TV show 60 Minutes as they took Saroo and adoptive mother Sue Brierley to meet Saroo's birth mother Kamla in rural India. "It was such a big moment for Saroo to have these mothers meet. I feel like I got straight inside the inner circle quite quickly," says Davis. The footage is included in the film's credits sequence.

TWO JOURNEYS

After the rights were secured, the team brought in screenwriter Luke Davies, who had written the Australian drama Candy in 2006 - which was the film that introduced the future See-Saw partners: Sherman had produced the film, sold by Canning when he worked at Renaissance Films. Davies had also written a 2015 See-Saw feature, Anton Corbijn's Life.

The story of Saroo's journey presented itself as a unique challenge to structure as a feature film. As Canning puts it, "It was an external journey in the first half and an internal journey in the second half."

Davis adds, "We spent a lot of time debating the structure. I love taking the audience on a journey and they cannot believe where we're going; he's on a train, then in an orphanage, then on an airplane. You are propelled through this remarkable journey."

Davies worked closely with the team as he wrote - and didn't have the luxury of time. He was attached in July 2013, delivered a first draftin February 2014 and a second draftin March 2014, with revisions rushed to deliver in time for financing at Cannes in May 2014, so the shoot could go ahead in India before monsoon season. "Luke was on a 24-hour cycle," Canning recalls. "He'd wake up and get notes from me from the UK, then do more writing and send to Garth and Emile in Australia, then go to bed. It was a real write-a-thon."

One challenge was making sure the true story didn't become too treacly. "I like to tell stories that are emotional but not sentimental," Davis says.

"A lot of design has gone into the emotional texture of the film," the director adds, pointing to something seemingly tiny like adult Saroo and his girlfriend Lucy skipping down the street, reflecting Saroo's childhood playing in the streets. "India comes back to him in non-narrative ways; all that is sitting under the surface. His Australian life was a reflection of his Indian life. There were a lot of elements that we could play with."

Davis embraced the fact the film would have a tonal and pacing shiftonce it moved from young Saroo in India - in his colourful, exciting and scary adventures on the streets - to older Saroo in Australia, using Google Earth to track down his birthplace. …

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