Two bananas “run” desperately through the shrubbery in a park in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
An intense drumbeat accompanies them, as Japanese subtitles translate their panicked cries and pants. Their unknown enemy approaches.
For Melbourne-based independent filmmaker Alex Ibarra, this is how he’s compromised with the limits imposed by the COVID pandemic’s lockdown restrictions – he’s created a YouTube series about talking bananas.
“You can’t really leave home because of COVID, so it’s just something fun to do. I met the voice actors on Reddit[.com], and they’ve been fantastic,” he says.
Half-parody, half-tribute to his love of Japanese animation, BananaRama still manages come across as completely genuine, in a strange way.
The story is similar for many other artists and creatives in Victoria and across the world, who’ve been forced to put major projects on hold because of various lockdown measures.
Ibarra’s feature film and passion project, Daniel, The Goodboy, has been in production since early 2019 and was due to finish filming in April.
“Right now we can’t shoot at all because of Stage 4 restrictions, so that’s tough.”
The Australian Government has provided some support for the arts during the lockdown period, with grants (outlined on the ArtsHub website) of up to $30,000 for artists, organisations and communities.
As independent artists, however, Ibarra and his cast and crew of volunteers aren’t eligible.
“So far [the film’s production] has been basically paycheck to paycheck.”
Ibarra is incredibly optimistic despite these tough circumstances.
This is the best time to prep for something. If you had an idea and always wanted to do it, if you have the time, do it,” he says.
“Even if I wasn’t doing Daniel, I have comic ideas. Try and find a different medium to make it work. [You have to] find a way to use it to your advantage.
“One of my favourite directors is Darren Aronofsky, and any time he does a big movie … it doesn’t go well. It’s not his best work.
“His best work is when he has a low budget, and he makes something of it. Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, they’re all brilliant. I’m always thinking about them a week later.”
Limitation is often heralded as one of the driving forces behind some of the best the arts have to offer, and Ibarra tends to agree.
“I think limitation is fantastic. One of my favourites is Neon Genesis Evangelion. [Director Hideaki Anno] originally pitched it as this aliens versus robots mecha kids show, but halfway through production he got really depressed.
“It became this really existential, sad boy show. So they cut the budget for it. It became this surreal nightmare. They didn’t have much to work with and it became better for it.”
But when it comes to dream projects, Ibarra has his own big-budget dreams.
“The biggest goal of [my] filmmaking is to make a World of Warcraft movie one day. That’s the ultimate dream. Making a film in Azeroth.”