When did you first hear the story of Schapelle Corby being imprisoned for smuggling marijuana into Bali?
I heard about Schapelle's story in the newspaper. She hadn't received that much press at that time, but there was some suggestion that there was a problem with airport security and perhaps marijuana had been placed in her bag and she'd been framed. I made contact with her Indonesian legal team and said that I would be interested in making a behind the scenes documentary. And they said to come over to Bali. I think everyone, including the family and Schapelle herself, wanted a record of what had occurred.
What was your first meeting with her like, when you visited her in jail?
The first meeting was fairly tense, but I think she's a very likeable person. She was very welcoming when we turned up. But really she wasn't at all focused on whether we were filming or not. She was actually talking to some of her advisors about the next day that she had coming up and the testimony that she would give. But I think I was tense because of the prison atmosphere itself. It's fairly confronting when you go in there. You are in a Third World prison. You immediately are drawn to many of the foreign faces that are in there, and you learn that many of them are on drug charges from around the world. But I think the first thing is you go, "Oh my goodness. There's no freedom here."
Did the government or prison attempt to block your access?
No, but certainly most or all of the filming in the jail was undercover, so I guess if I'd asked for permission I probably wouldn't have got it. Basically we had a very small camera. Naively I actually went in with a normal size PD170 the first day with a boom. I just put it in my handbag, and the security at that time didn't have any screening process. You come into the jail and they might just take your name down, but they didn't actually look in my bag, and that's where I had the camera. But we had to be very careful when we were actually putting the camera up to film. We didn't want any repercussions for Schapelle if we were discovered, so there were many days that I would go into the jail and we just wouldn't bring the camera out at all. But I believe now it would be absolutely impossible to do any filming because the security at the prison has increased markedly since we were going in.
Most or all of the filming in the jail was undercover. But we had to be very careful. We didn't want any repercussions for Schapelle if we were discovered.
How difficult was it to tell the stories unfolding in both Australia and Bali simultaneously?
We filmed off and on for nearly two years. Sometimes we would stay for a couple of months in Bali and really concentrate on trying to get as much material with Schapelle as possible. Particularly when the trial was unfolding, I didn't come back to Australia at all for nearly three months. It's a long drawn out period but you're only getting one court day per week.
With so many agendas at work in this story, was there anything throughout the filming that threatened to derail it?
Actually when I look at it, it was a fairly smooth process, but when you're looking at the case you can't just blindly go, "Okay, I'm going to take everything that everyone tells me on face value." There's a scene in the film where we go and interview Schapelle's father's neighbor, and I think the family may have been uncomfortable about that because the neighbor at that time was growing marijuana. But there had been rumors circulating everywhere about that, and I felt compelled as a filmmaker to at least go and talk to that neighbor and then allow people that are watching the documentary to make up their own minds about that sort of circumstantial evidence.
I was intrigued by this horrible, sort of your worst nightmare, situation of an innocent person trapped.
Why do you think people, particularly Australians, were so interested in Schapelle?
Look, she's young, she's attractive, she doesn't fit the profile of what people think a drug courier looks like and sounds like. She could be anyone's sister or the girl next door. And I think she was portrayed like that in the media. In court she showed a lot of dignity. And I think she's telegenic. You know, the cameras love Schapelle. And it's such an awful dramatic story that it just captured everyone's imagination. So as her trial continued, every day people would be discussing, "Did she do it?" And that huge amount of marijuana, most people could not conceive that anyone would even think of taking it over to a death penalty country.
You show a lot of the media circus surrounding the trial. How did it feel to be there amidst all of that when you're holding a camera yourself?
Yeah I know. It's difficult because we were definitely filming ourselves. A lot of the time we've tried to shoot in a wider sense, so that you can see the media as opposed to us being in the middle of the actual scrum. Some of the Indonesian camera crews were really very tenacious and did not allow any breathing room for Schapelle when she would come into the court. So you are a part of it and yet you're also sitting in judgment of the media. So it's a difficult situation. You obviously want to get the best coverage you can possible, but you try and think of it in a different way than the news teams. And because I was regularly talking to Schapelle, I found it sort of difficult that she was just this sort of normal girl that we would talk to in the jail and then suddenly you're seeing her on the TV and it's almost like she's this media star. So to equate the two people, this very ordinary girl in a jail to this sort of semi-celebrity was unusual and strange.
Did your personal feelings of whether she was innocent of guilty shift throughout the process?
I get asked that a lot, and I like to leave it up to people to make their own decisions about it after watching the film. I don't want to cloud people's view. I will say that I was compelled to make the film in the beginning because I was intrigued by this horrible, sort of your worst nightmare, situation of an innocent person trapped. However I've always kept a very open mind about it because I think if you cross over that line, going into crusader mode, you can lose a sense of the truth. I know what I want to believe, and you want to believe when you're sitting down that everyone's telling you the truth because it should be a two-way street. I think not only should the filmmaker be as ethical as possible but also the people you're interviewing, I think, should do their utmost to tell you the truth. But I guess in Schapelle's case there's a lot at stake. So in my own mind, I'd prefer perhaps not to go down the path of her innocence or guilt, but to say, "Look, we've filmed her journey, her experience, during this quite horrific time for her."
2008 Documentary Films Series