Behind the scenes

Niki Caro and husband Andrew Lister do whatever it takes to keep their family together wherever they are in the world.

Words Kate Coughlan  Photos Mark Smith and Andrew Lister  Related topics , ,

If ever that clever Niki Caro were to direct her cameras on herself and husband Andrew, the resulting film would be a love story. “He is magnificent,” she says about him as an architect, a father and a husband. “Niki is everything to me,” he says, “so whatever she’s doing I want to be there for her.”

Niki’s latest work, The Vintner’s Luck, which opens nationwide this month following an invitation to screen the première at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, took the family to Beaune in the heart of the Burgundy wine district of France. There Andrew set up home for the four months that it took Niki, working six days and all hours weekly, to translate the magic of the novel by Elizabeth Knox into film.

Andrew’s home-establishment regime is an impressive production from a man who only ever wanted to be an architect and who hates the upheaval of having to up-stakes with his two small daughters (Tui, six, and Pearl, two) and move to another country in the wake of Niki’s international movie-directing career. “I don’t relish the idea of moving as it is coming, so I make lists,” says Andrew, a lister by nature as well as name. “Andrew worries for us all,” says Niki. “That’s my job,” says Andrew, “to take care of them, to take care of anything that arises and anticipate anything that might arise.”

So he researches everything he needs or might need for the girls before deciding where they will live. “A child’s world is quite small and it doesn’t matter where in the world they are; as long as we are together then that is home. But before I commit to where we will live while Niki is on location, I need to know where is the nearest swimming pool, the closest playground and a good supermarket and how can I access public transport with a stroller. Then I choose the house that is most suitable for kids and sometimes that means living in places that are not very swanky if they are good for kids.”

He is, according to Niki, something of a genius at getting the lie of the land wherever they are in the world – whether it’s Tokyo, rural France or North America. His research is intensive but he likes figuring out how cities work. It is that architect’s brain of his. “My goal is to move the family seamlessly round the world – and we have lived in many different places. Home today, there tomorrow.”

The world of big studio movies is not an easy one for female directors, let alone one with young children. Of the 100 Hollywood studio movies produced in the year Niki made North Country (a studio film), only four were made by women. However, Niki and Andrew are determined neither to leave their children behind, nor to employ full-time nannies.
“I always want to bring my family in so I try to make my work environment one where the values of family and humanity can be applied. Film sets can be very stressful places; being short of time and often of money brings huge pressure. Children help to relieve that pressure. Having my children with me is like being given oxygen.

“When we decided to have children, the plan was to act as a tag team. When I am filming, Andrew is with the family. Parenting is a shared mission for us and the journey of our children is the most important thing in the world. I only direct a film every five years on average so when I’m not working I’m the full-time parent and Andrew goes back to being the brilliant architect that he is (see www.andrewlisterarchitect.com). In the meantime, I love him having a strong relationship with the girls. If you have a strong relationship with your father, I think you’ll choose a good partner for yourself.” Andrew says the decision not to have a full-time nanny is critical to their philosophy of parenting. “People have difficulty believing that we don’t want a nanny but we enjoy our children and we want to bring them up ourselves.”

When one of the couple’s two very helpful grannies arrived from New Zealand during the making of the film, Niki and Andrew ran away to Paris for a one-night tryst. They wandered around the city hand-in-hand talking about the girls.“We love being together and there’s a certain effortlessness about our relationship. But basically we are pretty much stay-at-home people who love being with our children.”

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