b. October 31, 1942, Wangaratta,
Tom Cowan has a distinguished film
career as a director and as a cinematographer. While
a trainee at ABC-TV, he directed The Dancing Class. It
won the AFI's Best Film of the Year. It also won a First Prize
at the Commonwealth Awards in Edinburgh.
Tom was part
of the 'Larrikins in London' in the '70s. With Germaine Greer,
Robert Stigwood, Martin Sharp, Arthur Boyd, John Weiley, Richard
Neville and many others, he worked on Philippe Mora's wacky musical
feature film Trouble In Molopolis. Tom was Director of
Photography. Tom included Germaine in his own London documentary
Australia Felix about ex-patriots' rosy view from afar
of their homeland.
wrote, co-produced and directed four feature films at this time.
His Journey Among Women won the AFI's Most Creative Feature
Film Award in 1977. It was commercially highly successful as well
as being a personal statement - running for 16 weeks in Sydney's
George Street and selling in 17 countries. The other feature films
as director are The Office Picnic, Promised Woman
and Sweet Dreamers. Tom was also the support system to
other directors in the '80s. For John Duigan he photographed four
features including the seminal Mouth To Mouth and Winter
of our Dreams with Judy Davis and Bryan Brown.
Tom met the
Indian director Pattabhi Rama Reddy and was Director of Photography
on his Samskara which won India's Best Feature (President's
Award) and many international prizes including the Silver Lion
at Locarno. In India, Tom later co-wrote and directed the feature,
Wild Wind (Chanda Maruta).
IMAX film as Director of Photography was Antarctica. It
won the Prix du Jury at the Festival de la Geode - the major award
for giant screen films. It is the most successful investment yet
made by the Australian Film Finance Corporation and has taken
over US$100 million at the box office.
He also shot
Africa's Elephant Kingdom for Michael Caulfield in Imax.
It stayed in Variety's Top 50 grossing list for over two years.
It won Tom the Australian Cinematographer Society's Gold Award.
script On Fire was a screenplay award winner at the Telluride
Festival in 1999.
Tom directed the Yukatan section of Journey into Amazing Caves
and sequences for China - The Panda Adventure.
assignments extend the long, long way from Survivor 2 - Down
Under to Taj - The Magic of India in Imax. He gained
an Emmy nomination in 2001 for his work on Survivor.
Tom shot Disney Corporation's The Young Black Stallion -
their Christmas release.
Local Emotion Picture feature film entitled Orange
Love Storywas a hit at the Melbourne International
Film Festival in August 2004.
feature film project was Life Class (2016).
LIFE CLASS - SYNOPSIS:
In 1920, Sadie, an adventurous farmer’s daughter dreamed of escaping her tight-knit country town.
Trouble came when a handsome war-shattered French artist arrived.
It outraged the small-town citizens when she dared to pose naked for Georges’ drawing class.
Despite being from such different worlds, the attraction between Sadie and the artist was intoxicating.
Her ‘reputation’ shattered, Sadie was confronted by her violent fiancée and had to decide between the security of marriage and an uncertain future.
I love the impressionist painters
- how they went out to places and tried to catch light and life
in the open air and real places. Orange
Love Story is also 'drawn from life'.
It's my impression of the place called Orange, composed
of the real stories of the people in the movie. I love the
people in the film and I hope the audience does too.
I look for
actions of spontaneous courage and humour. My main quest
is recording people; what is inimitable about that person at the
moment of filming. In reality the actor cannot be divorced
from their background. And in the most basic terms, the tension
between the actor and their background is the story. We
see this story in every picture we view. The tension between
the foreground person and their background can be caught in the
framing, montage, sound and juxtapositions of the film and that's
how I try to explore that story. This naturally results in revealing
the social conditions of the place where we are filming.
The best movies tell that story.
setting up the production in just such a way as to be able to
capture the real. I use stories that come from the people (actors)
and film in locations they belong to. It results in a feeling
of connectedness in the movie and a quality of the real.
to artfully capture reality is imaginable through photography.
My search for the 'real' reaches a crisis at the moment of capturing
the image. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the great still photographer,
refers to this moment as 'the moment of truth'. His quest to capture
that moment and his description of that quest inspires me.
We need to
be in tune with the ebb and flow of energy and power from one
person to another with the camera and I trained myself to read
people's reactions, impulses and body language and could improvise
the framing in tune with them. The more unguarded the protagonists,
the easier it is to read and follow. But, as a camera operator,
I found it frustrating not to be able to get in tune with the
actions of actors who are blocking their impulses (trying to get
it right). 'To act impulsively while pursuing your real desire',
requires courage and gracefulness. These are qualities worth filming.
But actors often block their impulses when there is not enough
time for them to analyze the scene or discover their true desires,
or to get into a groove with the other actors.
actors through scene analysis and practice, as proposed by Nico
Lathouris, is, in my experience, the best way to achieve those
moments of truth with actors. When I am also technically
well-prepared and committed enough, I will be filming at that
I worked on Survivor as a camera operator and re-visited
that sort of filming. It was drama to the extent that Americans
are always starring in their own movie and the Survivor
format is dramatically structured for television. While it was
interesting, Survivor manufactures a facile story.
to capture something deeper about our lives - to depict a story
of people's true desires in relation to the people and conditions
of where they live.
this approach over thirty years. But because it grows the movie
directly as a movie, it does not fit into any of the funding categories
of the AFC or the NSWFTO. This is one of the faults in their development
process. Film culture and commerce needs these real developmental
efforts, especially since our current development processes have
reduced our films' audience share down to 1.3% currently from
the total of around 18% twenty years ago. While the NSWFTO could
not support Orange Love Story, they gave me a directing
fellowship which was very helpful.