Footage is Niki Caro's first and thus far, only, dip into documentary. "I never wanted to make one; it's not really my gig, but having said that I loved it." With short film Sure To Rise selected for competition at Cannes in 1994 she determined to be a writer/director of drama. But an opportunity to exploit a passion for shoes, and celebrate them as an art form for television series Work of Art, was compelling.
Embracing the potential of the series title Footage challenges documentary conventions. Staging the action on sets, mixing real people with actors, and stylizing the visual treatment blurs the boundaries of realism. Lighting, art direction, music and editing operate dramatically.
In the initial proposal the film's narrative is conceived outwardly as an exploration of the allure of the foot and the cult of the shoe and inwardly as a sensual, erotic and psychological odyssey. It was intended to be a drama based on real people whose experience and emotions illustrate their journey. On commissioning, Caro recorded interviews with the selected cast and wrote a script using their words to be filmed on studio sets.
Caro's interest in character recognizes the element of performance in our everyday lives. The participants, though not expected to repeat their initial interviews by rote, are encouraged to retell their stories. They're shot as if on stage, illuminated in partially propped settings by low key lighting and isolated in darkness.
Sets include a podiatrist's clinic, a ballet rehearsal room, a cat walk, and a giant high heeled shoe which functions as an interview chair. Subjects include a Chinese academic whose grandmother had bound feet, a father and son who manufacture ‘comfortable' women's shoes and New Zealand's first trans-sexual. Their external and internal worlds are illustrated by back and front projection and frames within the frame.
Shot on 16 mm film there is extensive use of black and white, with a few objects highlighted in colour. A photographer's red lips. An actress's purple nails. A mistress's pink shoes. Limiting the palette reinforces the emotional journey. As Kerry Anne Gilberd, the ballerina, confesses of her point shoes ‘[they are] pink satin torture chambers: it's when you aren't in pain that you have to worry.'
Caro's vision was confirmed when Footage was selected for the 1996 Venice Film Festival. Her subsequent four features as writer/director in the decade from 1998 endorse her drama credentials and her loss to the world of documentary.