Russell Crowe with Ryan Corr on the set of The Water Diviner. Photo: Mark Rogers
This is a not a war story, says Russell Crowe. It's a story about fathers and sons. He is on set, in the middle of shooting his directing debut, The Water Diviner, a tale of loss and discovery, of lives affected by the battle of Gallipoli.
Yet - apart from flashbacks - most of it takes place in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I. Crowe talks about Peter Weir's film Gallipoli, and how it ends with a freeze-frame of a soldier caught in the moment of death. ''This is what happens afterwards, in a funny sort of way,'' he says. ''To the people back home, the father and mother of the kid that got shot.''
Most of it, however, is set outside Australia. Crowe, who stars as well as directs, plays Connor, a man who lost three sons at Gallipoli and travels halfway across the world to reclaim their bodies. Much of the film is being shot in South Australia, including many of the Turkish scenes; the production travels to Turkey for four weeks in March. There is, Crowe is keen to point out, a strong emphasis on the Turkish perspective.
On set, Crowe looks about as busy as it's possible for a person to be. The scenes being shot today, under a blazing sun in the red dust of the Flinders Ranges, involve a train ambush. Connor is travelling in the company of Turkish fighters; the train is ambushed by Greek troops.
Crowe is checking camera set-ups, watching rehearsals, poring over details on the monitors - everything from the angle of a falling body to the rhythm of gunfire - then leaving to play his part in the scene itself. And amid all this, he finds time to reflect on his directing debut.
The Water Diviner is written by Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight, and it grew out of a letter that Anastasios found in an archive, referring to a father's visit to Turkey on just such a quest. Crowe had been looking for a script to direct, and immediately fell in love with this one.
The title of the film comes from Connor's skill - it's an intuitive job, Crowe says, but there's no attempt to mystify this. There's a line in the film, he adds wryly, in which Connor says that he's dug a lot of wells that turned out be holes.
Casting the film, Crowe says, ''I've chosen actors from a like-minded tribe''. He is quick to enthuse about the performances of actors such as Steve Bastoni and Jacqueline McKenzie - ''I watched one of her scenes, and I had goosebumps and a tear in my eyes'' - and to sing the praises of Turkish actors Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz, who have roles in the film.
He's loving directing, he says, and looking forward to editing. ''Film is in my DNA, I did my first TV show at six, I've worked in front of the camera since I was a kid, and I've had access over my career to some of the greatest minds in the business.''
Philippa Hawker travelled to South Australia as a guest of the production.