Home Uncategorized ‘Will it translate?’: how a risk-taking Australian film hopes to change the industry – The Guardian

‘Will it translate?’: how a risk-taking Australian film hopes to change the industry – The Guardian

‘Will it translate?’: how a risk-taking Australian film hopes to change the industry – The Guardian

Western Sydney anthology Here Out West was an unlikely Sydney film festival opener. Now hitting cinemas, its creators hope it will find an audience amid Covid
Last modified on Fri 28 Jan 2022 20.50 EST
On the night of 3 November last year, under the elaborate, cavernous ceiling of the State theatre in the centre of Sydney’s CBD, applause broke out for an unlikely opening night film at the Sydney film festival.
The film the festival audience was applauding was Here Out West, an anthology film set in western Sydney, with each of the eight chapters penned by a young, emerging writer. The structure itself, however, was not the most unusual thing about it. More glaring was that the film – featuring nine different languages, a diverse cast, and written by people who live or grew up west of the city centre – refused to see itself as small: a glossy tale of drama, not disadvantage, in Australia’s multicultural suburbs.

It was also a substantial change of tone from the 2019 Sydney film festival, which opened with Palm Beach: a film set in the affluent Sydney beach suburb featuring ocean views, poolside yoga scenes and an all-white cast.
The opening scenes of Here Out West feature not a scrap of blue ocean, no hint of red dust but motorways and fibro homes alongside new two-storey brick ones. One in 11 Australians live in the wide expanse considered western Sydney; on Twitter after the premiere, some of them praised the film for finally seeing their world.
“If ever there was an example of manifesting something and it happening, that was it. It was just such an amazing moment for us,” says producer Sheila Jayadev. “It was a huge declaration to the Australian film industry that a story like ours is worthy of an opening night slot.
“That was the film festival experience, but now, of course, we’re competing at the cinemas with big blockbusters, with overseas titles, and we’re all just holding our breath to see: will this translate?”
Jayadev is speaking to Guardian Australia just before Here Out West’s theatrical release on 3 February. Since the festival opening night, Covid cases have skyrocketed nationally and cinemas – like restaurants and other indoor venues – have suffered. It is, says Jayadev, a challenging environment to be launching any film into the world, let alone one that is trying something different.
“One of our writers, Arka Das, mentioned this: that there’s always so much pressure on films that are diverse to get it right, or to succeed, because the next one that comes along is sort of appraised in light of that. If the previous one failed, then it’s like, ‘Oh, it won’t work’. Not realising that we need volume to really make our mark, and to see that proper change, with audiences going to watch content that reflects their daily lives,” she says.
“We still have a long way to go. There should be 20, 30 films like ours out there, and then let’s start figuring out whether or not audiences want to see [them].”
Nearly a year before the premiere, Das and fellow writer Nisrine Amine sit under a portable gazebo on a sunny and blustery afternoon at Greenacre in Sydney’s west. It is the second last day of filming for Here Out West, and the nearby nature strips are wide and half-bleached by the sun. Both writers (Das also acts in the film) grew up in and around western Sydney.
When they responded to the call-out from production company Co-Curious for young writers in the area to be part of a screen storytelling project, the intention was not to make a feature film. “I thought it was going to be a web series,” says Das. But after the three-day development workshop where the eight writers drafted their scripts, Jayadev and Co-Curious’s Annabel Davis and script producer Blake Ayshford realised it needed to be something more.
“I’m really glad they decided to push it that way,” says Das.
Amine, who is also an actor and runs a drama school in Parramatta, hopes the film will give her young students the sense that they, too, belong on screen. “I think that’s me trying to heal a really old hurt,” she says.
But she and Das say there is a change in tide. “Going back 10 years ago … if you were from western Sydney, or not from the inner-city areas, it felt like you were really climbing a big mountain you would never get to the top of,” says Das. “Suddenly I feel like in the last five years the culture has shifted, especially in the music scene, and I hope that is going to happen in film and television.”
Producer Davis says decades of advocacy have led to a point where there is “momentum, goodwill and money, importantly” for producing stories about, and by, traditionally underrepresented groups in Australia. “It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the commercially sensible thing to do, because there’s an audience out there for stories like this … What we are seeing on screen does not match what our community in Australia looks like.”
Das sees the equivalents of western Sydney in other metropolises around the world – including London, Paris and Toronto. “I don’t see why this film isn’t commercially accessible to people around the world,” says Das.
Coordinating five directors, dealing with nine languages and stitching together a cohesive feature film “was all one great learning and process of discovery”, Jayadev says. “I think we underestimated just how complex it could be.”
She is not rushing again into an anthology, but working closely and collaboratively with writers throughout the entire production process is a model she would employ again “in a heartbeat”, she says. “It’s a critical way of working if you’re going to be telling a story that is specific and culturally nuanced.”
Each of the eight writers have producer credits too, having worked with the production team throughout to ensure all the small details – down to the kinds of family photographs that are on the wall – reflect the reality that they have drawn from.
“We’ve seen the superficial ‘outside in’ story, and now we need to start seeing from the inside, telling the outside world,” Jayadev says.
Australian stories are moving on from beach, and from patronising parodies of the working class, says Das. “That’s been the Australian identity in film and television, and that’s fine for its time. But now is the time to tell more nuanced stories.”
Here Out West opens in Australian cinemas on 3 February



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