Director Cate Shortland
Director Cate Shortland
Cate Shortland is one of Australia's most acclaimed filmmakers. She started making films in the mid-1990s and her shorts Pentuphouse (1998) and Flowergirl (1999) won international acclaim.
Sexuality, violence and a deep humanity permeate all of her films, with characters often learning hard truths about themselves in challenging circumstances.
Cate's passion for visual art, along with her collaborations with other talented Aussie screen professionals such as production designer Melinda Doring and cinematographer Robert Humphreys, give her films a rich aesthetic.
This collection gathers together excerpts of her shorts, features and television work along with production stills and a Popcorn Taxi interview with her from 2000. Scroll down to watch clips and read more about her work.
Each of her films has its own distinct visual identity – from the trash glam of Pentuphouse to the vivid camcorder feel of Flowergirl or the light-soaked, fairytale world of Somersault (2004). Polaroids and German architecture underline the dark themes in Berlin Syndrome (2017), while Lore (2012) powerfully juxtaposes summer wildflowers and graphic war atrocities.
Cate has also worked in television as a writer and director – her credits include SMILF (2019), the TV movie The Silence (2006) and Bad Cop, Bad Cop (2002–03).
Cate is the first Australian and the first solo woman to direct a Marvel movie, with the 2021 release of her film Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson in the title role.
Cate's films also feature in the exhibition Australians & Hollywood: A Tale of Craft, Talent and Ambition at the NFSA.
Main image: Cate Shortland directing Lore (2012). NFSA title: 1063296
At the local service station, Heidi (Abbie Cornish) inquires about a job. The young woman behind the counter, Bianca (Hollie Andrew) is curt and unfriendly.
Heidi buys a pair of red gloves and goes walking by the lake. Back at the motel where she spent the night with Joe the previous evening, she rehearses calling for the job. In front of the mirror, she pretends to be Joe, telling her he loves her.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
This is a clip from the short film Joy, which portrays an evening in the life of a teenage girl (Joy Clay), set in the neon world of a late-night shopping centre in Sydney.
Director Cate Shortland defltly creates an intense and complex portrait of the title character and her world. In some ways the short feels like a study for her first feature film, Somersault (2004).
Like Somersault the film is suffused with a stunning, saturated-colour aesthetic and explores themes of family breakdown, coming-of-age, love and sexual relationships.
Cate made Joy (2000) while she was a directing student at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. The film stars Joy Clay and features Barbara Gouskos as a shop owner.
Joy won awards for best student film at Aspen Shortsfest, Melbourne International Film Festival and WOW: Women on Women Film Festival.
Cate Shortland's second feature film Lore is an historical drama set in Germany after the Second World War.
In this clip, Saskia Rosendahl as Hannelore 'Lore' Dressler confronts her Mutti (mother), played by Ursina Lardi, as she walks away from her family early one morning. Lore is left to explain the disappearance of her high-ranking Nazi parents to her younger siblings, played by Nele Trebs (Liesel), André Frid (Gunter), Mika Seidel (Jürgen) and Nick Holaschke (Baby Peter).
The scenes in this clip succinctly convey the beginning of Lore's transformation from a tearful 14-year-old girl, baffled by her mother's disappearance and believing in Nazi ideology, to becoming a young woman who is the guardian of her four young siblings and learns the truth of her parents' crimes. As with many of Cate's films, it is an examination of people under pressure learning difficult truths about themselves and those around them.
The astonishing performances of the children are made all the more impressive knowing that Cate directed a German-language film without speaking German herself.
Production and costume design are always a central storytelling device in Cate's films and in this excerpt we get clues about the privileged life the family have been living from Lore and Mutti's beautifully tailored clothes. The stunning countryside evident here is in constant contrast to the hardships faced by the children on their journey.
As in her other works Somersault (2004), Pentuphouse (1998), Joy (2000) and Berlin Syndrome (2017), Cate uses strong colour palettes to underline the emotional tone of each scene. This excerpt is a good example of Cate's and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw's decision to shoot much of the film at dusk and dawn when cool, blue hues dominate – emphasising the feeling of a country waking up to the knowledge of the murderous crimes committed by the Nazis.
The Australian, British and German co-production is based on one of the stories in Rachel Seiffert's novel The Dark Room (2001).
Lore was the Australian entry for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film in 2013 and won a host of international awards including a Bronze Award from the German Film Awards, Critics Award for Best Film at the Hamburg Film Festival, Best Film at the Stockholm Film Festival, the Feature Film Award at the Hessian Film Awards and the audience prize at the Locarno Film Festival.
In Australia the film's prizes included an AACTA Award, Best Direction in a Feature Film from the Australian Directors Guild, five awards from the Australian Film Critics' Association, two awards from the Film Critics' Circle of Australia Awards and Best Feature Film – Adaptation from the Australian Writers' Guild.
In a moment that captures Cate Shortland's humility, she takes time in her Best Director award acceptance speech at the IF (Inside Film) Awards in 2004 to thank and pay tribute to Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career (Australia, 1979) for inspiring her to make films of her own.
Somersault cleaned up at the IF Awards in 2004, also winning the awards for Best Feature Film, Actress (Abbie Cornish), Script (Shortland), Cinematography (Robert Humphreys) and Music (Decoder Ring). The film also won a whopping 13 awards at the AFI (later AACTA) Awards.
Margaret Pomeranz introduces the Australian psychological thriller Berlin Syndrome (2017) – Cate Shortland's third feature film.
In this clip from Margaret Pomeranz Presents, Pomeranz refers to Cate as 'one of our most talented filmmakers today'.
The introduction includes clips from the film starring Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt. Pomeranz also mentions the important role that the architecture of the former East Berlin plays in the film, and the clips chosen echo this.
Overall, the excerpts from Berlin Syndrome succeed in hinting at the dramatic tension present in the film – Pomeranz calls it 'tantilising in its intensity' – while not spoiling the film for viewers.
The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema – Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival as well as 8 AACTA Awards.
An Australian psychological thriller set in Germany, Berlin Syndrome is Cate Shortland's third feature film. In this clip Clare Havel (Teresa Palmer), an Australian backpacker and photographer travelling in Germany, has met Berlin local Andi (Max Riemelt).
The pair's chemistry is central to the film and is palpable in this scene. Teresa and Max's nuanced performances are compelling – drawing us into the action – particularly in the moment where Andi grabs Clare's throat and we see a flash of desire and a flicker of fear in her. The title's reference to Stockholm Syndrome makes sense when Andi goes on to imprison Clare in his flat after a one-night stand.
Under Shortland's direction Max's performance alternates between boyish charm, as we see here, and controlling sociopath, making it impossible to look away.
Shortland skilfully builds tension in this scene by giving us clues that something isn't right – from the claustrophobic soundscape (of creaking doors, animal cries and tunnel noises) to Bryony Marks' subtle, eerie musical score.
As with all of Shortland's films, every department works together beautifully to build a visual and sonic mood. Melinda Doring's production design deliberately situates us in a haunted and dark representation of the former East Germany.
The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema – Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as 8 AACTA Awards. Marks' score won the Film Critics' Circle of Australia award for Best Original Music.
This is the final trailer for Marvel's Black Widow (US, 2021) movie, directed by Cate Shortland and starring Scarlett Johansson.
Cate is the first Australian and the first solo woman to direct a Marvel movie.
Without a history of films in the action genre, Cate might have felt like an odd fit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in this trailer and its themes there is evidence of her striking visual attention to detail in the set design and focus on interpersonal and family relationships with the framing around Black Widow's pre-Avengers family.
Cate's interest in flawed heroines aligns perfectly with Black Widow's confession, 'Before I was an Avenger I made mistakes ... and a lot of enemies'.
Like her other films, especially Lore (2012) and Berlin Syndrome (2017), the Black Widow trailer alludes to dramatic life-and-death situations, with Black Widow finding herself in grave danger. However it's great to see a light touch in the humour used in the sequences with Johansson's Natasha and her found family played by Florence Pugh as Yelena, Rachel Weisz as Melina and David Harbour as Alexei/Red Guardian.
This is a fine example of a final feature film trailer. It does more than tease the film – it summarises the storyline without giving all the secrets away. It presents the main characters, their motivations and the relationships between them. The action sequences and fast-paced editing pull you in and make you want to see more.
Black Widow was finally released on 8 July 2021 after the original release date in May 2020 was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This interview with Cate Shortland from 2000 gets to the heart of what makes her films so visceral, unsettling and refreshing all at once – she is prepared to go into terrain that others aren't.
Cate has never shied away from using violence and sex in her films and says here she isn't interested in making films about 'nice' people: 'Nice people are usually really boring. I never have a problem with people being bad.'
She was still four years from finishing her first feature here, but she has indeed made complex, compassionate portraits of flawed humans: Heidi and Joe in Somersault (2004), Thomas and Lore in Lore (2012), Andi and Clare in Berlin Syndrome (2017) and Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow (2020).
Earlier in this interview Cate says she has been influenced by European, Asian and African cinema and melodrama, loving how emotional and political those cinemas were.
Cate is interviewed by Deb Verhoeven in front of an audience at a Popcorn Taxi event in Melbourne on 12 December 2000 entitled 'Shorts by Jo Kennedy and Cate Shortland'.
This is an excerpt from Inside the Snowdome: Making Somersault (Cate Shortland, Australia, 2004).
Vision of the cast and crew walking up the steps for the Un Certain Regard screening at the 57th Festival De Cannes (Cannes International Film Festival) pairs powerfully with behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew in Jindabyne, Australia nine months earlier. The juxtaposition gives a sense that the hard work and years of planning have been worth it.
The clip features illuminating interviews with writer-director Cate Shortland about the origin of the script, producer Anthony Anderson, executive producer Jan Chapman and actor Abbie Cornish. Decoder Ring's music from the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack evokes the mood of the film.
Un Certain Regard translates as 'a certain glance'. The section of the festival presents 20 films from around the world with unusual styles and non-traditional stories.
Other Australian films featured in Un Certain Regard over the years include Charlie's Country (Rolf de Heer, 2014), Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer, 2006), Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thorton, 2009), Japanese Story (Sue Brooks, 2003) and BeDevil (Tracey Moffatt, 1993).
This excerpt from Inside the Snowdome: Making Somersault focuses on director Cate Shortland's strong visual sensibility, the film's influences and her ongoing collaboration with production designer Melinda Doring and cinematographer Robert (Bob) Humphreys.
This making-of documentary is a fine example of the genre which is often included in DVD releases. The clip succeeds in giving a sense of how much work and thought goes into the look and feel of a film and is enhanced by using examples from the film and the art that has inspired it.
Producer Anthony Anderson says that photographers such as Nan Goldin and Bill Henson have influenced Somersault's visual style. Robert Humphreys talks about referencing photographer Todd Hido's use of available light long exposures.
Shortland mentions that German folk stories and romantic poetry partly inspired the look of the characters. The choice to restrict the colour palette to browns, greys and blacks is illustrated through clips which also showcase the striking and deliberate use of red at key moments in the film.
This short clip from a behind-the-scenes documentary about Berlin Syndrome (2017) focuses on how different departments worked with director Cate Shortland.
The clip begins with voice-over from producer Polly Staniford talking about working with Cate, followed by actor Teresa Palmer discussing Cate's attention to detail. It's obvious from what Teresa and fellow actor Max Riemelt say that she develops mutual respect with actors she works with.
The clip also features cinematographer Germain McMicking and production designer Melinda Doring, who also worked on Cate's short films Flowergirl (1999) and Pentuphouse (1998) and her first feature Somersault (2004).
This short documentary was produced as part of the marketing collateral for the film. As with many of these types of documentaries the budget would have been small and it would have been shot in brief time windows during the shoot. We have evidence of this in the poor audio quality of Teresa's interview for example.
The documentary benefits greatly from the use of excerpts from the finished film and its soundtrack is inter-cut with footage of Cate directing actors and working with crew. The footage of Cate on set and in rehearsal nicely complements the comments from key cast and crew about their work in bringing her vision to the screen.
Director Cate Shortland speaks with actor Max Riemelt (who plays Andi) on the set of Berlin Syndrome (2016).
Australian funding for the claustrophobic thriller set in Germany meant that many interior scenes – including those in Andi's Berlin apartment where he holds Clare (Teresa Palmer) captive – were filmed on sets built in Melbourne's Docklands Studios, rather than Germany.
In contrast to all the interiors in the film, this production still is all the more striking for being shot outdoors, in a forest in Germany. The lighting is warm, unlike the chilling feel of the scene in the movie.
Although shot from far away, it captures the rapport between director and actor, echoing Max's comments in a behind-the-scenes, making-of documentary about Cate's trust in her actors.
The shot feels candid without being intrusive and is beautifully framed and lit, a great example of the work of a skilled on-set stills photographer.
Abbie Cornish wins Best Actress for Somersault at the IF (Inside Film) Awards, 2004.
Cate Shortland's first feature helped to launch the film career of Abbie Cornish – here, she refers to the film as a 'fork in the road' for her. As well as her fellow cast, Cornish thanks Shortland, producer Anthony Anderson and Executive Producer Jan Chapman in her acceptance speech.
Somersault won the 2004 IF Awards for Best Feature Film, Director and Script (both Shortland), Cinematography (Robert Humphreys) and Music (Decoder Ring). The film also won an impressive haul of 13 awards at the AFI (later AACTA) Awards.
Cate Shortland brings her distinctive visual sensibility and mood-oriented storytelling to a tale of cross-cultural experience, departure and unrequited love.
Surfer Daisuke (Toshiyuki Chiba) is about to return to Japan to work for his father, a butcher.
He captures the people and places around him on camcorder, including his housemates Hana (Mikiko Ooka) and Tetsu (Jun Iwasaki).
Summary by Kate Matthews
Cate Shortland speaks with Deb Verhoeven in front of an audience at a Popcorn Taxi event in Melbourne on 12 December 2000 entitled 'Shorts by Jo Kennedy and Cate Shortland'.
Here Cate talks about the process of working with non-actors and writing her 1999 short Flowergirl with Jun Tagami.
Cate Shortland directed 10 episodes of the Australian drama series The Secret Life of Us from 2001 to 2003.
This excerpt from Series 1 Episode 19, A Friend Indeed, features actors Claudia Karvan (as Dr Alex Christensen), Sibylla Budd (Gabrielle Kovich), Deborah Mailman (Kelly Lewis) and Samuel Johnson (Evan Wylde).
Alex and Gabrielle discuss relationships in this warm and intimate scene.
Prior to Secret Life, Cate had worked with a lot of non-actors on her short films (for example, Flowergirl, 1999) and she credits her collaborative experience on the TV series with making her more comfortable directing actors.
Cate's other television directing credits include four episodes of the comedy series SMILF (US, 2019), the TV movie The Silence (Australia, 2006) and four episodes of Bad Cop, Bad Cop (Australia, 2002–03).
Her television writing credits in Australia include The Kettering Incident (2016), Deadline Gallipoli (2014), Devil's Playground (2014) and The Slap (2011).
This episode was first broadcast on Network Ten on 5 November 2001.
Abbie Cornish was 21 years old when this film was made and the integrity and vulnerability of her performance is astonishing.
After an unhappy first night in Jindabyne, Heidi (Abbie Cornish) returns to the pub during the day. Joe (Sam Worthington), who has seen her the night before, buys her a drink. That night, they begin to confide in each other.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
Della (Gillian Jones) definitively ends her relationship with Dale (Aaron Blabey) then performs at a casino.
Gillian Jones, one of the original inspirations for Pentuphouse, dazzles as she wraps up the film with a closing number, 'At Last’ (written by M Gordon and H Warren). She is also framed in a dazzling environment with such an overload of on-screen detail that it looks almost 3D.
The effect of framing, combined with the camera’s zoom out and away from Della, is in part to make her story recede: she becomes part of the background to the gamblers, all that the audience has just seen unknown to them. Given what Della has just done, there is an irony to the song lyrics. It’s a bittersweet ending, with the emphasis on bitter, which focuses on a power shift in the relationship. Although alone, she is back in charge – or was she in charge all along?
Shortland’s next short film, Flowergirl (1999), plays with a similar shift in power and perception in a relationship.
Summary by Kate Matthews
Joe (Sam Worthington) and Heidi (Abbie Cornish) order dinner at a Chinese restaurant, after Joe’s mates have humiliated Heidi in the street outside.
Heidi asks him if he loves her. He evades the question and refuses to say if she is his girlfriend. Heidi gulps down a bowl of fresh chillies when he reacts badly to her ‘interrogation’.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
This short film by Cate Shortland is a snapshot of a relationship in its last days.
Della (Gillian Jones) exercises to music in her living room while her boyfriend Dale (Aaron Blabey) discusses a robbery with his friend Nigel (Stephen Curry) in her kitchen. When Dale and Nigel establish that they need money upfront for the truck, Dale solves the problem by selling Della’s TV.
Summary by Kate Matthews
Tensions emerge between housemates Daisuke (Toshiyuki Chiba) and Hana (Mikiko Ooka) as he prepares to leave Australia.
Shortland and her production team bathe the screen with washes of colour that express the emotions for which the characters do not use words. These scenes are permeated with alienation, melancholy and desire.
Shortland uses similar cool tones and red accents in Somersault (2004). The moment where Hana takes the camera signals a shift in our perception of their relationship, which is fully revealed when Daisuke returns to Japan and finally watches what she recorded.
Summary by Kate Matthews
This short excerpt from a behind-the-scenes documentary about Berlin Syndrome (2017) features an interview with production designer Melinda Doring about working with director Cate Shortland.
Melinda also worked on Cate's short films Flowergirl (1999) and Pentuphouse (1998) and her first feature Somersault (2004). She talks about their mutual love of visual art – including painting and photography.
This clip is a good example of the type of material contained in an EPK (electronic press kit) produced to market a film. The documentary benefits from the use of excerpts from the finished film and its soundtrack is inter-cut with footage of the crew working together – in this case shots of Melinda on set.
It's a shame we don't see any footage of Cate and Melinda working together but it's interesting to hear from a head of department like Melinda about what it takes to bring Cate's vision to the screen.
Cate Shortland directs actors in a behind-the-scenes still from her second feature, Lore (2012).
It can be a challenge to capture meaningful images of directors at work, but this image conveys the sense that all eyes are on the director for her guidance during the shoot.
Having everyone except Cate out of focus in this photo creates a striking composition. Shot from behind, it also cleverly places the viewer in the frame, as if we are one of the cast, giving it an effective immediacy and focusing our attention on Cate.
The photographer has also overcome the challenge of shooting on a film set in low light, which is a good demonstration of their skill.