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Making tracks

One of Australia’s most iconic stories will be brought to life on cinema screens this month. We sat down with John Curran, the director of the film adaptation, Tracks, to find out more.

Making tracks

Based on the seminal, epic Australian story by Robyn Davidson, the film Tracks depicts the author’s real-life adventure – a nine-month solo trek across Australia’s remote desert to the Pacific Ocean.

Set in the 1970s, the film explores Davidson’s 2700km journey aided only by a loyal companion, her dog Diggity, four unpredictable camels and, at times, National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, who chronicled this modern-day adventure.

While many attempts were made over the years to secure the film rights to the 1980s bestseller, it wasn’t until the Oscar-winning producers of The King’s Speech, Emile Sherman and Iain Canning, approached the author and assured her it would remain an Australian film that she felt confident to hand over the creative reins.

For US-born director John Curran (The Painted Veil, We Don’t Live Here Anymore) the story was not new; in fact, he fondly recalls its popularity among female travellers when he first arrived in Australia as a 24-year-old backpacker.

“I didn’t read it then but I knew what it was about. Then years later Emile approached me and I read the book and it struck me that the story, her journey, really captured a time, a place and an experience that I had a lot of affinity for. The idea of doing something dramatic in your life when you’re feeling a bit stuck resonated with me, because at the same age I’d kind of done the same thing,” Curran explains of his own life-changing journey to the other side of the world, which led to a career in cinema.

This fondness for Australia meant the physical demands of filming in the harsh desert region were something that excited Curran most about making the film.

“It’s an exterior story and the landscape is a big character in it, so the elements are what you’re going after. I was shooting it in a way where I was prepared to go with whatever it threw at us, whether it was rain or dust storms or clouds, I was just going to go out there and do it,” he says.

But, even before the script had been finalised and the locations scouted, it was instrumental to the film’s success to find the right leading lady. According to Curran, Australian-born and internationally renowned 24-year-old Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland) emerged as the clear choice – Robyn Davidson, too, had suggested the actor herself.

“She’s the right age, the right look, the right person for the role. There was a reason to do the film because we had the right person,” Curran says, adding, “I never really looked beyond Australian actresses.”

On reading the script, Wasikowska was instantly attracted to the story – her love for animals coupled with the unknown of the desert setting appealed to the young actor. To her credit, Curran says, Wasikowska took the daunting task of acting with four animals – at times some distance from the cameras and crew – in her stride.

Curran is renowned for working on films with strong female protagonists:

“Men are not really a mystery to me, I love women as they are eternally confounding and mysterious. In terms of films, for some reason, I do find myself drawn to them more. I’m always learning and engaged and surprising myself because I’m sort of stepping outside my own species. I am more in awe of women.”

The film, which took more than 30 years to come to fruition, will now be introducing Davidson’s inspiring journey to a whole new generation of young women.

“For a younger audience it’s about a woman who is at that age before you decide what you really want to do with the rest of your life, and those are the years where you feel a little bit lost, or unsure of yourself or determined to do something adventurous while you can and that is what I think is timeless,” he says.

In fact, he argues, with technology, such as satellite phones, there’s no way you could do this trip today – hence its appeal. The lesson for all of us, the filmmaker says, is that sometimes we must detach ourselves from the rest of the world in order to feel more connected to it. In witnessing this extraordinary journey we can realise the impossible is within reach of us all.

Tracks will open at cinemas nationwide on March 6, 2014.

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