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Interview: My Year Without Sex director Sarah Watt

A conversation with My Year Without Sex director Sarah Watt

Sitting with a view overlooking Port Nicholson at Hippopotamus Restaurant, Museum Hotel, MELISSA McDONALD talks to SARAH WATT, director of quirky Australian comedy My Year Without Sex:

WHEN you ask Sarah Watt what her motivation was for writing the film, her answer surprises.

“My main motivation wasn’t about sex,” she says.

“Sex was a convenient handle, I guess, to hang the frames of anxiety and consumerism and just what it means to be a family in Australia, but I don’t think it’s that much different from similar countries.

“When you’re a non- ruling class I guess, when you’re not powerful. So you’re not down and out, but you’re not making a lot of the big decisions.”

MM: How do people get through their days if they have been through a crisis?

SW: Hmm, well, all I think a crisis does is kind of intensify the process that most people go through either at a stage or stages of their lives, which is just figuring out why they are here.

I don’t think anybody really ignores those questions for their entire life…and I think people get through or find meaning in their lives in hugely different ways (religion, friendships, humanism).

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SW: Not really. One of the points of the film was I don’t believe that living an unexamined life is a life not worth living. One of the ideas behind the film is that you can have a crisis and then reassess your life.

Of course, everybody starts thinking ‘I’ve only got a few years left’, which was not true of this film. Yes, you can examine it, but that does not necessarily mean that there was anything wrong with it when it was unexamined, or that you are necessarily going to change anything. I know a lot of men like Ross (played by Matt Day), who are just quiet troopers.

MM: So, do we earn our good luck? Do we attract opportunities into our lives?

SW: The film definitely poses those questions. One question is that if we expect that we earn our good luck, does that also mean that we earn our bad luck?

I guess I was exploring those ideas of a society which behaves as if we do earn our good luck and our good fortune, and we are encouraged by billboards which say ‘you deserve some luxury item or a holiday’, but you don’t get ‘you don’t deserve to have a cold the third time this winter’.

I don’t believe you have no control or power in your life. But it’s interesting to figure out how much power you think you have to control your fates, and part of that means figuring out where you draw that line.

MM: Does it depend on your race, age, and your jetstream of life experience?

SW: The film obviously explores Anglo-Australians, but they can’t quite drop their cultural heritage even though they have no actual belief in their religious heritage. But they still have all their superstitions and scratches of religion, which come from a thousand years of Celtic and Anglo beliefs.

I find that quite interesting, as even people who say they are quite secular (like white Australians) still have this heritage.

MM: How many people in Australia are religious?

SW: I don’t know. I think the only way it is judged is in the census. I know that there are a lot of people who are identified as religious, such as Muslim, but they are not practising.

Then there are a whole lot of people who are residual agnostics, I suppose. I don’t think it is easy to say how many. I think Australia is still proud of the division of church and state.

MM: What is happiness for you?

SW: It’s difficult to say. I’ve sort of grown to dislike the word happiness because of people’s expectations of it, the aim of being happy and the 10 ways to get happy.

Happy to me is those moments when you are just happy. It can be when you’re having a cup of tea or the sun comes out, or when you see a baby waving at you.

Whereas contentment and satisfaction is not feeling bad or guilty. Not feeling negatives is a good way of judging it. Is that a bit too loopy?

MM: Do you have children? How many?

SW: Two – one is sixteen and one is eleven. Boy is eldest, girl is youngest.

MM: Being a mum, are you drawn to stories about families and marriages?

SW: I guess there is a preference, but it’s not autobiographical. I’ve never had most of these things happen, but there’s always some autobiography in my writing.

I like to write about what I know. When you’ve got kids you go through stages where you start meeting other parents with kids, and you start living in that world a bit.

I don’t know what it’s like in New Zealand, but in Australia there are uncertainties in the workplace, people are on contract, you don’t have a job for life. People have traded off the excitement of not knowing what’s happening next with certainty, but now they can’t get, either.

MM: What is your philosophy on life, if you have one, and is spirituality or religion important to you?

SW: I would not call myself religious or spiritual, so no, not really, but philosophy is important. I’m very respectful of religion and I like people who think it through. We do need some sort of support system, as we are functionally alone for a lot of the time in our lives, and I suppose I have figured out my own way of doing that. The closest word I would call it is humanism.

MM: Do you think that couple and family life is valued by society?

SW: Yes. I would argue the other way and say that single life is not valued by society and people who don’t live in families are not valued enough. In Australia, the number one election card played out all the time is ‘working for families’.

A lot of very conservative people consider a family to be a man, woman and their children, instead of families which can be individuals constructing their own family and can include friends.

MM: Do you have tips for dealing with friends who may be a bit too intrusive into couple life?

SW: It’s like my character Margaret – Ross doesn’t want to have her around. I haven’t had that problem, as I’m so bad at calling and so those people just drift away.

So no, I don’t have any tips. I would suggest that it’s important not to have a Margaret around all the time.

Having being married for 20 years, it’s really important to have someone else, but not at your partner’s expense. I don’t know how people manage to be together for 50 years and just have each other.

It’s probably better to figure out how to fit them in, without alienating them, if you want them. Otherwise move state!

MM: Are you currently living your dream?

SW: I am now, because what I used to dislike about myself I am learning to cope with. And now things I used to see as dissatisfaction, like my addiction to, I realise is now my amusement.

I have no intention of moving. I used to think it would be great to live in a fantastic beach house, but now I realise I just enjoy looking at pictures of beach houses.

MM: Sarah, is it good to back in Wellington?

SW: Yes (laughing), although I’ve only been here for what, 10 minutes. No, it is. I like Wellington, I’m just annoyed I haven’t got longer here.

My Year Without Sex is now on at Penthouse Cinema in Wellington.

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