Jonathan Teplitzky: man on fire

Photo: Chris Peken

Photo: Chris Peken

Jonathan Teplitzky is about to become an international household name. The Australian director, a Bondi local, is on the cusp of releasing his next cinematic project titled The Railway Man.

The film is generating Oscar talk and stars Hollywood heavyweights Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård. However, Teplitzky humbly says that the filmmaking process is very similar despite the size of the production.

“In a funny sort of way it is exactly the same even though it is a bigger production with prominent stars,” he says.

“Even actors like Nicole and Colin, they are incredible actors of course, but they just want to do really good work.”

The fruit of this dream-team’s efforts can be seen just after Christmas, when The Railway Man is released on Boxing Day.

Jonathan Teplitzky directs Nicole Kidman on the set of 'The Railway Man'

Jonathan Teplitzky directs Nicole Kidman on the set of ‘The Railway Man’

Teplitzky wasn’t always on the path to cinematic gold; originally he had a keen interest in photography. After a few relatively small-scale exhibitions in London and New York, Teplitzky made the switch to directing. He says it happened because he loves telling stories and enjoys the engagement with various people involved in creating a film.

“The way it is all put together, you are solving problems all the time. It is substantial. As soon as I started doing it, I just knew that I loved it.”

Although directing was a better fit, Teplitzky still has a soft spot for photography and finds parallels.

“I love it [photography] as an art form, the framing of images is really important to me and I really enjoy that part of it,” he says.

“We can’t replicate someone else’s formula for successful movie-making. What we have to do is create and define our own cinema.”

Already known in Australian circles for modest successes like Better Than Sex and Getting’ Square, the buzz has been steadily growing around this Australian director since his last project, Burning Man. Fiery themes of love and grief fuelled a story both written and directed by Teplitzky.

What it means to be human and deal with difficult circumstances are what great films are made of says Teplitzky and The Railway Man is no different.

“I thought it [The Railway Man] was an incredibly story about humanity. It’s really about the very worst and the very best of human nature,” he says.

“I just thought they were really big dramatic ideas to make a film about, which I really like.”

The Railway Man is adapted from Eric Lomax’s autobiography of the same name. Lomax was a British officer captured and tortured by the Japanese in Singapore during World War 2. While in the POW camp, Lomax was forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway, a horrific irony considering his keen interest in all things locomotive.

Colin Firth as Eric Lomax in 'The Railway Man'

Colin Firth as Eric Lomax in ‘The Railway Man’

The Thai-Burma Railway is also notoriously known as the ‘Death Railway’ because of the more than one hundred thousand Allied prisoners of war and Asian labourers that fell to disease and unimaginable suffering there.

Although the ‘Death Railway’ has been the subject of previous films (most notably 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai), The Railway Man aims to accurately portray the atrocities that faced these forced labourers using Lomax’s first-hand accounts.

As well as openly involving the real Eric Lomax in the production, Teplitzky filmed The Railway Man mostly in actual locations portrayed in the book. These included Scotland and parts of the real railway, like Hellfire Pass. The recreated POW camp and studio sets were brought to life in Queensland, ensuring the production does its part for the Australian industry.

Teplitzky says that the best thing the Australian industry can do for itself is to “make as good as possible, distinctive, bold cinema and let the audience engage with that.

“We can’t replicate someone else’s formula for successful movie-making. What we have to do is create and define our own cinema.”

As 2013 draws to a close and Teplitzky poises himself on the catapult that will send him into the stratosphere of international commercial success, he has some thoughts about the challenges facing the Australian industry. It’s up to the individual.

“What we have in Australia, we have a lot of support from Government agencies that other countries don’t have, so we have a leg up there, but other countries have other things that we don’t have. It’s always going to come down to the individual’s ability to stick at what they are doing,” he says.

“It’s no harder, it’s no easier than anywhere in the world. It is so much easier to make a film now; you don’t even need film anymore. What is important is having something to say and the creative desire to do it through filmmaking,” he says.

Teplitzky has plenty to say about the human condition and the Bondi director is ready to set the world on fire.

The Railway Man is in cinemas now.

This feature first appeared in City Hub, City News and The Inner-West Independent on December 19, 2013:

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