Goldfield (2013) – By Cary Conley

It’s 1853 in southeastern Australia and two men have worked hard in the gold fields struggling to strike it rich. They assume that once they hit that magnificent vein of gold their struggles will be over. However, what they learn is that once they strike it rich the struggles between the partners is just beginning.

Goldfield is a compelling 15-minute film short written and directed by Alan King, who is primarily a television actor in Australia. This is his directing debut, and it’s an interesting concept. The film opens as a man sits by a campfire in the woods. He hears something in the brush and after challenging the unseen spy with a pocketknife, a nude man with his hands tied together steps into the firelight. The camper puts his knife away and assures the scared intruder that he will be safe by the fire. It’s only once the camper puts a blanket across the intruder’s shoulders to keep the chill of the night air away and offers him a drink of water does he offer the intruder a bit of advice: "You shouldn’t have come back here." It is only then the viewer realizes that these two know each other. And while we don’t know what happened to the nude man, the assumption is that the camper is the cause of his misery. It’s at this point the camper allows the nude intruder to hold something precious once more–a fist-sized chunk of gold. It becomes clear that these two not only know each other but were once partners. It’s equally clear that they have had a falling out over the discovery of the gold. But once the nude man has the gold he doesn’t want to give it back. The camper goes for his axe in order to solve this problem once and for all. Will the intruder give the gold back in order to save his life, or will the camper kill for the chance to become rich?

King is clearly a knowledgeable filmmaker. He has crafted a very nice-looking film. The entire set piece occurs at night and by firelight, so lighting can sometimes be problematic, especially with low-budget shorts. But the film is very well-lit and it’s easy to see the action that occurs. King also uses some terrific camera angles and techniques. For instance, during the opening sequence, the camera prowls through the bushes at the very edge of the light, as if a hungry wolf is eyeing potential prey. It’s voyeuristic and the viewer clearly understands that something is in the bushes, and it’s quite possibly very dangerous. This sets the tension in the film as we don’t know what to expect next. Will a wild animal jump out from the bushes, or is it a human threat? Is the watcher truly dangerous or merely curious? Even after the reveal, the tension remains between the two. The camper clearly has the upper hand because the intruder is nude and his hands are tied. The intruder seems desperate, with cuts and scrapes and dried blood on his body and face, but the intruder has proven to be wily and observant, and we know he is armed, so who is truly in danger here? The beginning of the film plays similar to a horror film in this respect, before it transitions to a dramatic piece.

King also makes a starring turn here as the nude intruder and exhibits a fantastic array of emotions even without speaking during the first few minutes of the film. His face portrays fear and uncertainty as he is discovered lurking in the underbrush, but this later turns to cockiness as he challenges his ex-partner, daring him to kill him with the axe. In between we get to see laughter as well as crying from King, who is excellent as our mysterious marauder.

Overall the short plays much like an extended scene in a full-length feature and is interesting and compelling enough that it left me wondering about the full extent of the history between these two erstwhile companions as well as what happens once the sun rises and a new day begins. I cared enough about the characters and drama to wonder how these two met and how they both fared after this meeting in the woods.

Goldfield is filmed in French with English subtitles and is making its way across the festival circuit, including an invitation to this year’s Cannes Film Festival. For more information about the film, see its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/goldfieldthemovie.  You can also check out the film’s trailer at https://vimeo.com/72261569.