Sydney Film Festival Interview: Dissecting Embedded with Stephen Sewell

Stephen Sewell‘s erotic political thriller Embedded sees a former-war correspondent meet an alluring, enigmatic woman at a party, before a dangerous power play engulfs them both.

Fergus Halliday caught up with Stephen in the lead-up to the film’s screening at the Sydney Film Festival and talked it’s origins and the ideas the film dissects.

Where did the concept for Embedded originate?

Like many people I’ve been concerned about the Middle East and the Middle East politics for many, many years. I suppose it’s a confluence of concern for what’s turning into this total catastrophe of international politics and humanitarian politics and [also] an interest and a fascination I had with films like Last Tango in Paris which kind of provided the sort of the filmic and formal elements of the thing.

Did the concept of the film. Did that initial concept evolve much overtime?

Well, practically, what it was I wrote it in a fit of passion and then set about the problem of how to realise it. It’s a very political film, very controversial film [and] I’m pitching it as an erotic thriller so in all sorts of ways it’s a very unusual Australian film and unusual especially in the context of the politics of Australian film. I have a pretty kind of prominent position within the frame of theatre as confirmed and engaged writer but that kind of position isn’t so common in film.

I actually wanted to ask you about your theater background and what it was like making that jump to directing on film

The directing stuff is really excited but what I realised in the course of directing the feature film was how much easier film directing is than theatre directing. The only hard thing about film is the amount of money that’s involved but in theatre, you know, you’ve got to make every single moment alive and real on a stage in a performance every night over three weeks, four weeks. You have to kind of ensure that in film, you know, you can change the performance after the actor’s already gone.

It amazed me how really how easy it was compared to what I think is a much more demanding craft of stage directing, so that was a big surprise for me.

Just looking at the film as a describing an erotic thriller. Obviously the chemistry between the two leads, how did you approach casting?

They kind of presented themselves almost. Nick and Laura were interested in doing the stage play because there was a stage play of the show as well. I’ve been involved with them for about a year talking to them and trying to help the stage production to get going and then the opportunity came up.

I’ve been involved with Steve Jaggi for a number of years, Steve has [worked with me on] another film of mine called Babylon and he had some interest from North America. [So] I wanted to direct that as well [but they us to get] a director who [had already] worked on a low budget film. So he came back and asked me ‘Did I have a low-budget film that we could do?’

So that’s how it happened.

With Nick’s character, he’s a war correspondent. Was that a particular interest of yours?

Sure. They’re intrinsically dramatic characters, you know. Australian war correspondents are famed  internationally for the commitment and their bravery it was a natural choice for an international film of this sort.

The film describes itself as politically charged. What political message do you hope people take away with when they leave the cinema?

I think part of the what we do as artists whether it’s in stage or film, or any really medium is to get express the secrets and secret fears and regrets that people have. So what the film does do is give a really a really strong popular expression of how much people think about the Middle East and think about the disaster that the Middle East has been, you know really for 40 years.

I think when people kind of arrive at that feeling I think there’s some opportunity at that point for some kind of positive change to take place.

Embedded is screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival You can find out more information about the film HERE.