'Food I could live without. But film ... never'

Kate-Emma Croghan first fell in love at the age of five after her introduction to Truffaut. But her debut film is more a frantic episode of 'Friends' than French New Wave. Still, Cannes was impressed. By Ryan Gilbey
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The Independent Culture
Emma-Kate Croghan looks more like the lead singer in an indie band than a film director. But then her first feature, an effervescent comedy entitled Love and Other Catastrophes, often feels more like a pop album than a movie. It is bright and breezy and rough around the edges; it seems to have been made by a bunch of your mates one Sunday afternoon after a mammoth drinking session. Naturally, this is part of the appeal. It's set in and around an Australian university campus, drawing together the lives of a group of students, including flatmates Mia and Alice, jittery medic Michael and ice-cool gigolo Ari until, by the final reel, they have all put aside their differences and joined together (in a "let's pretend we're in an episode of Friends" rather than in a group sex sense).

The film was shot nearly two years ago with $30,000 and a truckload of optimism and enthusiasm by Croghan, a film-school graduate with only a few shorts (including Sexy Girls, Sexy Appliances, a spoof on the role of women in advertising) to her name. When I tell her that Love and Other Catastrophes is unmistakably the work of a film student, the brave laugh and "what can you do?" shrug of resignation with which she responds lets me know that this has been levelled at her on more than one occasion. But then the script does engineer a romantic climax in which two characters fall in love after finding that they share the same favourite films of all time.

Perhaps this is only to be expected from a woman who claims to have been introduced to cinema at the age of five, with Truffaut's The 400 Blows, her mother helpfully reading the subtitles aloud in the cinema. "Since that point, it's been useless to ask me anything objective about film," she enthuses. "I'm in love. I'm obsessed with films. Food I could live without. But film ... never."

Croghan co-wrote the screenplay for Love and Other Catastrophes with three friends, their inspiration born out of desperation. "We were unemployed and bored but we really wanted to work," Croghan tells me over her umpteenth coffee of the morning. "We made the film because we wanted to make a film. It's that simple. We realised that the only way to do it would be to use a very low budget, which doesn't happen very often in Australia. We tried to finance it using credit cards - Clerks, which had been funded that way, had just opened in Australia - but no one would give us credit cards because we were unemployed." She flashes a quick, gleaming smile, takes a swig of coffee and continues.

"Then we started thinking: what's stopping us just doing it? And, apart from the obvious answers like 'We've got no money', we realised there was nothing in our way." Croghan persuaded her cast and crew to work for deferred fees, raised money from friends and family, and then took a cut of the film to the Australian Film Commission, who coughed up completion funds. By the time the picture was screened at last year's Cannes Film Festival, it had already recouped its costs twice over in sales.

It's the archetypal film-making fairy-story that has been doing the rounds ever since Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch kick-started American independent cinema back into life in the mid-Eighties. And while Love and Other Catastrophes fulfils most of the criteria for that all-important first-feature credibility factor - young director (23 at the age of filming), zero budget, an abundance of movie references, and a shoot that was over before it had even begun - it has a lot of genuine charm and energy that Croghan attributes to the swiftness of the production.

"We wrote the script in two weeks," she says. "From saying 'Let's make a film!' to us standing at Cannes last year was 12 months. It wasn't a long, torturous process by any means. In terms of genre, I've always been obsessed with the screwball comedies of the Thirties and Forties, and very interested in their structure. And they were made in a studio system that had a very fast turnover, which undoubtedly contributed to their sense of vigour.

"Most Australian films involve an arduous process - Shine took something like 10 years from start to finish. And while those 10 years probably worked to the advantage of that particular film, LoveCats [as she rather endearingly abbreviates her debut] needed to be fast and frantic. We were thinking: does the way you make a film inform the energy of it? There are obviously things we could have done better given more time, but when I look at the movie it's easy for me to see the energy of the people who worked on it."

Could that energy survive the pressures of a bigger budget?

"I hope so. If I had to work on movies that felt like student films for the rest of my life - well, that wouldn't be so awful. I think it would be quite sad to walk on a set and not know the name of every person there. People are now saying to me, 'Oh, you're going to want to go off and do a big budget film.' And I do. I'm not ashamed. I want to do a big budget film because I'd like to have really good catering"

'Love and Other Catastrophes' opens tomorrow. See Ryan Gilbey's review, page 7