In My Father’s Den - Folder Resource Material


1 From the title ‘In My Fathers Den’ what do you think the film is going to be about?

Background & The Director :

In My Father’s Den was originally a novel by New Zealand author Maurice Gee. It was adapted for the screen by director BRAD MCGANN. McGann made his feature film debut with In My Father’s Den. Brad has been collaborating with producer Trevor Haysom ever since 1996 when they worked together on Brad’s multi award-winning short film Possum. Brad grew up in New Zealand and studied at the University of Otago, before crossing the Tasman to attend Melbourne’s Swinburne Film & Television School where he graduated with distinction. While at Swinburne he made the short film Home Away From Here. For the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he made a documentary with Emma-Kate Croghan called Come As You Are and wrote and directed a short television drama called It Never Rains which also screened at international film festivals.

In 1996, Brad returned to New Zealand, wrote the short film Possum, and teamed up with producer Trevor Haysom to make the film. Possum was picked up by many international film festivals including Telluride, Clermont-Ferrand, Oberhausen, Hamburg, Toronto, Sao Paolo, Puchon, Athens, Mill Valley and Melbourne. Among its many awards were the Jury Prize at Augsberg, the Most Imaginative Film at Odense, Denmark and the International Jury Prize for Best Short Film at Gijon, Spain. Possum producer Trevor Haysom thought that Brad’s sensibility and filmmaking style was well suited to Maurice Gee’s writing, so he asked Brad if he would like to write a screen adaptation of In My Father’s Den. This conversation led to Haysom and McGann developing and eventually making the film.

In My Father’s Den was Maurice Gee’s third novel, published in 1972 and set in West Auckland, 1969. McGann’s adaptation takes the story to modern day Central Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand. Gee comments, “Brad has put new flesh on the bones of the story. He’s brought it to the present day which inevitably changes emphasis, but he has maintained its emotional core.”
Gee is known for tapping into family conflict and the dark underbelly of puritanism that exists in New Zealand society. Murder features in several books, as do violent deaths, and repression is always lurking.

During Viewing

2 The most exciting scenes in the film are …

3 The most disturbing scenes in the film are …

4 The most important scenes in the film are …

5 Design three character webs. One for Celia’s side of the story, one for Paul’s side of the story and one for Andrew’s side of the story. Draw lines to show the connections between characters. Note on the lines the details of the connections that exist.

6 Write down some questions that you would like to ask the director about the big ideas, characters, cinematic techniques.

7 Copy the statements which show what the film maker shows in the film. Be ready with your reasons and examples from the film.
A Secrets can cause the breakdown of relationships.
B Celia’s relationship with her mum improved over time.
C Relationships between family members are strained.
D Who you set out to be is not always who you become.

8 Write a 60 word plot summary to be read aloud at a Yr 12 assembly to promote the lunchtime viewing of this film. Try reducing your plot summary to 50 words, then 30 and finally, 15 words!

Post Viewing

9 After viewing ‘In My Fathers Den’ more than once complete a K W L chart like the one below:

What I Know …
What I still Want to know …
What I have Learnt …
  • The film is set in Rapiri Junction
  • Why did Celia…

· That some people find it hard to…..


Character ID

Ä Identify the character and explain their role in the film.







11 Paul

A The facts: Age? Occupation? Spends his spare time? Main mood? State of relationships?

B What does this quotation reveal about Paul?
“There are just parts of me you can’t have, no-one can”.

C Paul say, “Who you set out to be isn’t always who
you become” What does this quote reveal about Paul?

D What is the turning point for Paul?

E Where is Paul at the end of the film? Where will he be
in 12 months time?

F What does Paul teach viewers?

12 Celia
A Facts: Age? Occupation? Spends her spare time? Main mood? State of relationships?

B What do you think originally encouraged Celia to spend time in the ‘Den’?

C Why does Celia be-friend his Paul?

D What do Celia and Paul have in common?

E How does Celia’s relationship with Paul change?

13 Andrew
A Why does Andrew not have a relationship with his brother, Paul?

B Does Andrew live in the past/present … bit of both? Explain.

C What about Andrew’s relationship with his wife is so strange?

D During the film Andrew seems to lose his sanity. What actions indicate this?

14 Penny
A What are your impressions of Penny?

B When Penny first finds the photos of Celia. What is her immediate reaction? What does this tell us about her character?

C How did the director create a sense of Penny being ‘cut off’ from her husband and from life in general?

D Why does Penny push Celia?

15 Jackie

A What is Jackie’s relationship to other characters in the film?

B Why do you think she still wears the bracelet Paul gave her even though she has been married and had two children?

16 Themes
Themes are ideas, issues and concepts that are explored in literature and film. Some themes in ‘In My Fathers Den’ are:

Ÿ 'Things that happen to you in your past really play in present day behaviour. That was something I was really interested in with this film - that we are a product of our past. The experiences that we've had from childhood do creep into the way we behave.' [Writer/Director Andrew McGann]
The time travelling, especially in the second half, works brilliantly to highlight the fact that feelings are intrinsically linked with memory, and that the past gives strength and validity to the present.
Ÿ the potentially tragic consequences of lack of communication – causes misinterpretation, misunderstandings between characters
Ÿ the innocent as victims of wars – public and private : the Muslim girl, Celia
Ÿ the confining nature of small town attitudes and ideas
Ÿ the desire - need - to leave and to come back seems to be part of NZ psyche. Is this just a NZ thing or is it universal?
In groups of three complete the following chart using one of the above ideas. You will be reporting back to the class.
incidents where it is an issue or is relevant;
characters who illustrate it; quotations etc

As an individual consider and then answer the following question. Who is responsible for Celia's death? Is it Penny? Andrew? Jackie? Jeff? Paul? or all of them? Assess the contribution each makes to the tragedy.

17 Cinematography
Consider the mise en scène, a film term meaning everything in a particular scene, and how we are shown it.
Ÿ How is the scene filmed? What kind of lens (zoom, wide angle), shots (size, angle etc), movement? What is the effect of this?
Ÿ How is it lit? Natural or artificial lighting? directional? colour filters?
Ÿ Listen for sound effects and for ambient sound. What do they contribute?
Ÿ How is the dialogue treated? Is it natural, realistic, poetic, comic? Is there voice over?
Ÿ Look for colour, use of repeated motifs, use of visual symbols.
Ÿ Look for links between scenes – outpoints and inpoints; dissolves; listen for aural bridges

There are many other questions you could ask yourself as you watch each scene. To begin with, focus on a few that you can manage; as you get better, you will be able to deal with more difficult ones.

a) Where and when is the film set? How is the setting established? What details are emphasised?
b) Which characters are identified as important? How is this done through film and sound techniques?
c) What are characters doing and/or saying the very first time we see them?
d) Does this action indicate any qualities about the person that become important later?
e) Is there any event that suggests what the film is going to be about, or the issue with which it will deal?

18 Symbols

A What is the significance of ‘cages’ in the film?
B What does the painting of ‘Hope’ in the film represent?
C What does the den represent?
D Which character is associated with candles? Why?
E What do photographs represent?
F What is the significance of reflections?
G How are the ideas of travel and escape shown in the film?
F What does the bracelet Jax wears represent?

19 Music

A The 3 main types of music used in the film are Celia’s soft mellow music, the music of Paul and Jax’s youth and opera music found in the den.

B When does the director use each type of music?

C Explain why the director chose to use each type of music. Link your answers to theme, characterisation, setting, etc.

20 Response, Reviews and Opinions

A Find two published reviews of at least 200 words in length. Preferably, one from a NZ source and one from overseas. Go through them and in one colour highlight facts, in a different colour highlight the authors’ opinions.

B Put the following elements of a film into your order of importance – explain your choices….
  • The script
  • The acting
  • The lighting
  • The settings
  • The camera
  • The sound/music
  • The symbols
Give some examples from In My Father’s Den to support your point of view.