We are St. Bernard's

06 September 2012

A documentary about the Senior Coach and the players of the St. Bernard's Old Collegians Football Club.

Despite a bleak start to the 2011 season, Coach Chris Tankard tells the story of the team's endeavour to turn their season around and return the Club to the pinnacle of the VAFA. A-Grade.

Interrotron: The interview technique behind We Are St. Bernard's

Being an avid fan of America's Game – a NFL documentary series that tells the stories of each Super bowl winning team through the eyes of its players and coach – and heavily influenced by the films of documentary icon Errol Morris (The Fog Of War, Standard Operating Procedure), I saw an opportunity to tell the story in a unique way behind the Club's return to A-Grade, as seen through the eyes of Senior Coach Chris Tankard.

Football is a passionate game and I wanted to capture this impassioned and intimate retelling of Chris' perspective through a unique interview technique called the interrotron method (the apt fusing of the words “interview” and “terror”).

Instead of having the camera film the exchange between interviewer and subject, much like a traditional 60 Minutes segment, DOP Brett Dwyer placed a piece of glass in front of the camera's lens to create a reflection of my face that Chris could talk to when responding to my questions. Hence, Chris' responses were directed towards me at the time of filming but when the audience watches it on their television or computer, Chris speaks directly to them about his experiences. Pioneered by Morris, this method allows the audience member to be part of the story rather than just witnessing it. Thanks to Chris' unflappable dedication to this project (he sat in the chair for over three hours), the viewer is treated to a unique and honest view of a coach's experience at one of the biggest suburban football clubs around the country.

Piecing together the film

While the interview formed the foundation for the film, photos played an important role in assembling the story being conveyed by Chris. I was very fortunate to have access to Luke Baird's stills from the 2011 season, which offered great insight into the action on and off the field. More research and asking around uncovered gems in John Raffle's trophy room, Paul Garth's digital camera archives and the Tankard family photo album. All these led to great texture being added into the film.

And let's not forget the game day footage. As Chris would detail the most important plays from round to round, the viewer was treated to some great vision filmed by Paul Dalmau. His skills and experience looking through the lens translated into some great highlights being captured, whether it be a freak goal by Tate Pearson, a bear-hug tackle by Jacob Bevanda or the exploits of marking and goal-kicking machine Andrew Merrington.

While the 2011 season unfortunately ended in a loss in the Grand Final, I saw a more compelling story emerge: the rebirth of a Club's identity. This is the driving theme behind the film. Since the end of the 2007 season, the Club has had to endure some hardships – demotion to B-Grade, the stinging loss in the '08 Prelim, changes in Senior coaches, and recent season fade-outs.

As Chris explains in the film, for results to change on the scoreboard, behaviour and Club culture had to change first. With a new game plan and coach in charge, and sitting at 0-3 with a percentage in the 30s after Round three, the team could have easily folded. To some supporters, C-Grade was on the cards! But leaders, new and old, came to the fore. A newfound respect for the trainers, support staff, facilities and towards each other was instituted throughout the Club, and the ripple effect was a stronger bond within the Bernard's brotherhood and a dramatic turn around in the second half of the season that led to the first Senior Grand Final appearance since 2004.

I hope everyone enjoys the film and I thank all involved in making it possible.

Watch We Are St. Bernard's Documentary

John Hellard