This is an amazing 11 minutes of film.
In the space within which most films are still on the titles, Australian Writer/Director Jason Kempnich gives us a “save the cat” moment, a character flaw (despair), an inciting incident, a character arc, conflict and a resolution. And the special effects are good, too.
I saw Cough at the Anthem Film Festival, a part of FreedomFest. The film, which won the Best Short Narrative Award at the festival, is an amazing tour-de-force for Kempnich, whose formal training is in Information Technology, not film. After several years in IT, he realized something was missing from his life and formed Yarnmaker Films. His first two efforts were Unfinished Business (2006) (five awards, 14 official selections), and Unrepentant (2010) (four awards, 13 official selections). Not bad for starters.
Cough , his third film, is a sci-fi tale set in Australia in the not-too-distant future. In this world, a pandemic has resulted in society sacrificing its freedoms in order to fight the disease. But, as usually happens when people make that trade, they lose more than they bargained for. Hence the film’s tagline: Civil Liberties are Yesterday.
The protagonist, recently widowed, must travel a long way to find supplies. When he does locate a store, he also finds a shopkeeper and his wife who have a secret that gets them all in trouble with the authorities.
As I watched the film, I thought that the quality was so good that the filmmaker must be using this as a teaser for a longer film. This is a technique that indie filmmakers have started to use recently.
I contacted Kempnich and asked “This looks almost like a short some filmmakers do in order to create interest in a full length version of the script. Is this what you’ve done? If not, why so short?”
Kempnich answered, “You’re basically right. Cough was deliberately written as a standalone piece with a strong path for expansion into a larger story. I needed to gauge my own interest and ability in the genre before doing something larger with it: the more I am in love with something, the better job I do. The short film’s story would sit between the 10 minute to 25 minute mark of a feature version.”
“So are you in love with it?” I asked.
“I can now safely say I am in love with this genre!”
That was something I was glad to hear. I asked whether investors were lined up for Cough.
Kempnich explained, “Commercially, Australia has little investment in film – there’s enormous competition for very scant government funds, and there isn’t a culture of private investment in film like there is in the US. So, I’m looking for other ways I can make it happen myself. A feature version of Cough may not be the path I take, but it is a strong option for me.”
Kempnich was inspired to write Cough by what’s going on in airports. He saw that that in the name of security we were putting up with invasions of privacy we would never have tolerated a decade ago. Cough is intended as a wake up call.