HotDocs 2018 Interview: GURRUMUL director Paul Damian Williams

“GURRUMUL is a film about the wonderful things that can happen when people from two very different worlds struggle to truly understand one another.” Director Paul Damian Williams on GURRUMUL which screens at #HotDocs25.

Great to have you here at HotDocs! Are you going to be attending your screenings?

Yes, the Saturday and Sunday screenings. This is my first time anywhere in Canada.  It’s lovely here.

Tell me more about your process of getting this project together!

Too complex to put in a sentence!  Suffice to say that no one who worked on this film remained unchanged by the experience.

How long was your process from beginning to end and did you have any challenges during the filming process?

Four years. Too many challenges to mention!  I’m sure I’ll go into some of these at the Q and A sessions.

How long did post-production take and editing the final product together?

I think the edit took 26 weeks.  Sound post was about 10 weeks or so.  After finishing a project like this, these details are a bit of a blur.  We were a long time in post production.

Throughout the whole process, what kept you going while making this feature? What drove you? How much coffee are we talking about here?

I always felt, and still feel, that we were making a very important film that would be watched far into the future in Australia at least, so I felt a strong sense of responsibility to keep going and make the film the best it could possibly be.  Golden rule. No coffee after 2:00 in the afternoon, ever! Why? You need your subconscious working for you. (Editor’s note: This is impossible.) Many of the breakthroughs I made in the film were written just after waking up!

A very technical question, but what kind of cameras and editing equipment did you use to capture this documentary?

Filmed on Arri Alexas and minis, plus some 35mm film. Edited using Adobe Premiere.

What excites you the most about presenting this to HotDocs audiences?

I love the documentary form, always have.  To be surrounded by my peers and likeminded fans, well that’s a form of heaven!

After the movie shows at HotDocs, where is the movie going next? Are there any other festivals coming up?

The film is in its cinematic run in Australia.  We’ve secured cinema distribution in Canada. It’s going to AFI DOC in the U.S. I think.  There’s a few up and coming festivals besides this.

How do you feel with the theatrical experience versus streaming debate for documentaries? Are you okay with the movie going to streaming/digital only, or do you strive for the theatrical experience?

It’s great for the film to be played in cinemas, and GURRUMUL is definitely a cinema film.  But ultimately it’s a story. I just want people to connect with the story, and if that’s on an iPhone or streaming, that’s fine by me.

What is the one piece of advice you would say to anyone looking into making a documentary short or feature for the first time?

Compensate for your lack of experience by surrounding yourself with more experienced people.  Listen to them. When you’re editing be sure to cut out all the boring bits. Show don’t tell.  If anything isn’t advancing the story, cut it out.

And finally, what is your all time favorite documentary feature film?

It’s a close finish between Molly Dineen’s HOME FROM THE HILL and Ross McElwee’s SHERMAN’S MARCH.   Both masterpieces pure and simple. There are so many brilliant films but these two had a major impact on me and I think about them often.


For more information on GURRUMUL visit!

More on screening times and HotDocs can be found at!

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