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A Night of Oz Cinema with Quentin Tarantino

"an experience that I doubt will ever be replicated in the future"

As both a budding filmmaker and an ebullient film nerd, my appreciation of Quentin Tarantino reached almost fatal heights when I broke several speed limits trying to get to a screening of Australian cinema with the man himself. Racing like a bat out of Hades, I finally found my friend, and we shuffled through the obese queue towards the Event Centre. The amphitheatre in which we were seated for the next five or six hours was like the deep sea; vast and dark, but tinkling with colourful bioluminescent-like disco patterns, and hiding lots of denizens that were hungry and highly perceptive.

After strolling through the aisles like it was a Saturday morning at Woolies, the usher recommended us two seats that I had no idea would become the most ideal position in the whole room. After nerding out with Cosmo for 40 minutes, the enormous screen in front of us awakened like an angry leviathan rocketing up to the surface, presenting us with a Tarantino tribute that produced a reaction as big as the excitement you see at SDCC (San Diego Comic-Con). The already colossal applause erupted even further when Quentin Tarantino, my filmmaking idol since the age of 14, swaggered onto the bright crimson stage. Not a single word had been spoken, and there was already a two-minute standing ovation. After having some fun with the crowd, he announced that the first film we were about to see (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, 1978) was not only going to be screened in its original 35mm print, but that he would be seeing it, albeit hidden amongst us, for the first time in Australia in this format.

Remember how I said earlier how I nabbed the most valuable position in the entire room? About 10 minutes into Jimmie Blacksmith, where we were steadily introduced to all the central characters and their motivations, I had to wriggle around in my wooden seat to let someone leave the row. As he left, I nearly had a heart attack; sitting only three feet away from me, intently focused on the flickering screen, was Tarantino himself. Thankfully, no one else noticed this except for me, meaning that I could greedily enjoy this moment all to myself. While Jimmie Blacksmith is a great movie, and I was enjoying the hell out of it, all I could think about was the fact that I was just under a metre away from one of my biggest idols ever. After a few minutes of thought-wrestling, here’s what I eventually did - all I had in my pocket was a crumpled Force Awakens ticket from the Orpheum, and on the back of the ticket, I wrote: "You are the reason I became a filmmaker. Thank you, Naysan Baghai."

Barely managing to scribble it out in the scarcely-lit amphitheatre, I waited for eye contact the way an angler fish patiently waits for its prey to take the bait. As Tarantino made the occasional observational check (to find out what us Aussies were thinking versus the Yankees back home), I handed him my note, and he picked it up after a second of hesitation. Then, squinting through his glasses with a big grin, he gave me a big thumbs up, and I reciprocated his gesture, and then turned around without a word. The realisation that I had finally met my filmmaking idol face to face swirled around my thoughts like a bright and agile school of firefly squid. However, I didn’t have time to think about this, because the movie we were watching was not only a fiercely gripping one in terms of its narrative and themes, but also contained dozens of film techniques and elements that are commonly associated in Tarantino movies.

As the movie ended, Tarantino was shepherded back to the stage by three burly bodyguards, while Cosmo and I reflected on just how good that movie was. Once the stage lights flickered back on, Tarantino was seated next the director of the movie, Fred Schepisi, and the eponymous book’s author, Thomas Keneally. These two men exhibited personalities that were jarringly different to Tarantino’s. Schepisi, in particular, was more equanimous and benevolent, and talked about his film as if he were a grandfather telling an interesting story to his grandchildren. In a sense, he was essentially doing that, with us filmmakers and film nerds chronically eager to learn from the masters of the older generations. In blaring contrast, Tarantino, while ever appreciative towards Schepisi, was ebullient, confident and loud. However, his encyclopaedic knowledge of film and his strong interest in race as a social and thematic concern are what added another layer of interest to the Q/A. 

The conversation between these three men was detailed and eye-opening for everyone in the room, but was abruptly halted by the MC, who was desperate to complete the show on time. He revealed that the most frequently asked question directed to Tarantino for this event (we were asked to pitch a question when we bought our tickets) was - ‘Do you plan to make any films in Australia, or do anything at all related to Aussie cinema?’. His response was as good as we could have hoped for - “I have an idea that I can’t tell you too much about, but I can definitely see myself living in Australia for 8 months….” I can’t remember the rest of his sentence, but I do remember the same fever-level of excitement that flooded at the very beginning. Because the event ran until 12:30, the rest of the night remains a blurred fever dream. Although Tarantino wasn’t in the same seat during the second movie, Mad Dog Morgan, it didn’t bother me at all, because I was lucky enough to have already seized an experience that I doubt will ever be replicated in the future.

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