West of Sunshine is a solid Australian film that deserves an audience. A suspenseful, emotionally riveting tale of addiction interspersed with tender father and son connection transcends it into an unforgettable home grown cinema experience applauded at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. In conversation with director Jason Raftopoulos, I was quick to be engulfed by his passion towards unique Australian stories and appreciation of his own film to get it on the big screen after a decade of gestation.
You’re one of 28 features eligible for the best film AACTA award. Do you believe your film is worthy to win an award?
JR – That’s a hard question to answer. Honestly, I feel like the fact we got the film made was a real victory and playing in Venice Film Festival was a miracle. Can’t ask much more other than I hope Australian audiences get a chance to see it. Gratefully blessed it got this far.
Did you come in under budget?
JR – (silence) Yes (laughs), I think we did. I’ll be more direct – yes we came under budget. Or just on budget, not over (laughs).
How did you come up with the title?
JR – It speaks to the character’s mindset. About a man who thinks everything is good, is somewhere else, basically his fantasy of where the good stuff is. Running instead of trying to be present.
Is any of the story based on fact?
JR – Tricky question. Meditations on fatherhood are all of mine with themes into the screenplay. Also there are people I know whom have suffered addiction no doubt. In a way, those people bleed into the story but it’s not about them. An amalgamation of your own personal feelings with things observed or researched.
How long has the project taken to get on screen?
JR – Since my short that this feature is based (‘Fathers Day’), where it all began. It’s been gestating almost ten years. When we decided to pull the trigger to a feature, that was a year of constant work every day, that went quick. It’s now two years later from the time we actually put the pedal to the metal for West of Sunshine. You never stop working on something until you’re out, handing it over for people to watch on a big screen.
Tell me about the reaction at Venice Film Festival.
JR – Grateful to be a part of it, welcomed to a party that I would not have expected to be invited to. Thankful, it was so kind of the people who live, breathe movies…asked us to be part of the competition. Audiences embracing the film the way they did was an unforgettable reaction…was a gift to me personally.
Setting a movie in a one-day timeframe, is that harder as a director to keep things continuous?
JR – Incredibly difficult. When you shoot or how you shoot is the key, where the light is. My cinematographer did an outstanding job, he was a superior.
I want to congratulate obvious completist production designer Anna Russell. Fantastic job as the continuity was extraordinarily well done.
JR – Thank you for mentioning Anna. You’re right, she was fantastic creating the world within. Her work is sublime, she does all that understated and in a specific way.
Are we on par in the Australian film industry to the rest of the world?
JR – Yes with the quality of work with talent we have. We should not be looking anywhere outside for answers, how we make or content of our films. We should back ourselves as Australian cinema is as good as anywhere in the world, every aspect on screen to behind the scenes.
The poster is interesting, did you design it?
JR – No, it was the wife of Damian Hill who is a graphic designer. She came up with the fragmented look in a still from the film, so striking.
I loved seeing Eliza D’Souza but did you have all the cast in mind or only decide after auditions?
JR – I did do some auditions such as with Eliza, she’s pure talent. But Kat Stewart is a great mate and just knew she would be terrific. What I loved about Damian Hill…I’ve always wanted to work with him. While developing it, I would talk to him about being in my mind for the lead role. Ty Perham came about in a discussion with Damian suggesting him, turned out perfect for father-son dynamic. They are beautiful in the roles, chemistry was kind of obvious.
Emotions run high for Damian, did you have to do anything to get him fired up in character?
JR – Damian knew his role well, we talked beforehand but prep was simple.Little rehearsal, occasionally tweaking things.
The angelic Lisa Gerrard features on the soundtrack.
JR – She is unreal, her music is really part of the idea of me making an urban film but not wanting the music to be urban. Part of that was an idea of a Greek chorus in a sense of ancient times to give the film an extra dimension, that was my intent. When Lisa saw it, she understood my vision. Working with musician James Orr, together they created addition to the narrative with their powerful score.
It is hard to get people into cinemas to see Australian films. Why should people go see your movie and support home grown movies?
JR – It is about us, if we can embrace Australian stories, it’s also in a way reflecting our society.
A ticket to West of Sunshine is reason to watch a strong story engaging in our cultural identity supporting Australian film. A way of being proud, owning it, saying we have a right to be where we are right now in the lucky country. Let’s keep growing, putting our voices out there for our country and its stories.
JR – Working on a crime story with a spiritual edge. Can’t go into too much detail at this point.
Filming in Sydney this time, or again, Melbourne based?
JR – Well, funny you ask (laughs). I actually would love to shoot in Sydney for very specific reasons, I’ll leave it at that. Great speaking with you Shane.
WEST OF SUNSHINE (Rated M – 78 min)
IN CINEMAS NOW
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.