A couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting in the dark in the wee small hours watching a brand new action film from my home Down Under that had me riveted. Courtesy of Madman Entertainment and FanForce TV, the film, THE FLOOD, is based on past atrocities against Australia’s indigenous people, in this case during the post-WWII years when white government and “land-owners” refused equal rights to the Aboriginal communities and inflicted unimaginable cruelty and pain, especially on women and children. This online screening was one of the keystone events of this year’s NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC is the acronym for Australia’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee and the annual NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.Director (and writer/producer) Victoria Wharfe McIntyre (pictured above) brought together an amazing cast, most of whom are unknown to North American audiences but after this film, that should change completely. The film stars Alexis Lane, Shaka Cook (who will be seen next year in Australia in the hit musical Hamilton), Dean Kyrwood, Dalara Williams and Aaron Jeffery, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the 2020 AACTA Awards for his work on the film.
I was particularly struck by the intensity of lead actor Shaka Cook (pictured below) who plays Waru, an indigenous returned WWII serviceman whose courage under fire saved white Australian lives but upon his return home, finds his family had been taken away and he is not only shunned but brutalized by those who should be grateful for his heroism.His wife, Jarah, is played with such intensity and determination by Alexis Lane (pictured below), she reminded me of an Aussie “Wonder Woman”! Jarah is a full-on avenging angel as she tries to reunite her husband and daughter, and take revenge upon those who inflicted humiliation and pain on them all.In flashbacks, we see Jarah grow from a sweet child to a strong, independent woman who ferociously takes on corruption and bigotry, one bad guy at a time. With a nod to Butch & Sundance and Bonnie & Clyde, Waru and Jarah are pushed to the limit and explode in a fury of bullet-riddled retribution. There are lots of twists and turns throughout their journey to freedom, and the supporting cast is extraordinary. To me, this story is truly of outback opera dimensions. It’s big, action-packed and shot in luscious landscapes (Kangaroo Valley, NSW) and it’s been called “an explosive blend of Tarantino and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith”. Congratulations to Victoria and fellow producer Amadeo Marquez Perez with whom I recently chatted from their home base in Australia…..
Victoria, as writer as well as director, what inspired the story…was it based on historic fact or other source material? I have an affinity with the WWII period and life in Australia at that time, it still feels very under-represented in our stories for such an impactful time on our home soil. Having made a short film, MIRO, that looks at a First Nation soldier’s experience on returning home from war and seeing the response to the tone, style and content of that film I was inspired to tell a woman of colour’s story from that same era.
THE FLOOD is a fictionalized account of many truths from our history woven and funneled into one family’s experience. It is a revisionist western allowing for women of colour, First Nations and the down trodden to come out on top, to be the heroes on screen, for the story to travel through them.How important is it to tell such stories, regardless of the pain and anger they elicit from both sides of the conversation? Social justice and reconciliation through thrilling entertainment is at the heart of our story telling. Only by facing the truth as individuals and collectively can we move forward together as one. Truth is often hidden because it is painful, examining the past can bring great sorrow and anger and trigger passion of all kinds but like a festering wound it must be cleaned and telling the truth is the greatest healer – only by standing together and facing it, allowing it, can we bridge the distance between us as a community.The Flood does not shy away from the brutality and senseless killings of the Aboriginal characters just as their ancestors would have experienced – how important was it to show the entirety of each deadly scene, albeit shot in a stylized manner? Australia actively expunged records of Aboriginal people’s very existence from the time of colonization and that practice is rooted deep in our nation’s psyche. How can we expect people to understand our history and its lingering effects on our society unless we look honestly at that history? Very often we hear “they should just get over it…it’s in the past…I didn’t do it…” etc. THE FLOOD is a roller-coaster ride and when you hit a trough you find yourself deep in it with our First Nation/Woman of Colour characters – there is no escape – you’re strapped in for the ride!How has the film/tv industry helped bring to light past colonial transgressions and the indescribably cruel treatment of indigenous Australians? Has putting history on the screen opened more discussion and understanding between black and white Australians – has the cultural divide become more apparent? There has never been greater understanding and acknowledgement of First Nation’s peoples than right now in Australia. Yes, film/tv has totally led that charge. Through entertainment, we can enlighten and share experience and understanding – humans are creatures of story – it is how we learn and grow and is our greatest asset in finding ways of connection, forgiveness and peace with each other.Victoria, I understand you’ve worked with 2 of my favourite Aussie actors – Jack Thompson (pictured below) & Sigrid Thornton. Can you tell me about your short film The Telegram Man which has brought you such incredible acclaim (it’s part of Oscars’ permanent collection and even screened at Gallipoli)? THE TELEGRAM MAN is also a WWII story told on Australian soil. It’s about the man who must deliver the worst kind of news. A man who goes from being a welcome sight, delivering news about babies and weddings, to being shunned as the harbinger of death. We don’t often think of those people in our war time stories, how the tentacles of war reach into tiny communities on the other side of the world far from the fight. Jack plays the telegram man who must deliver news to parents played by Sigrid Thornton and Gary Sweet. He brings such pathos to the role and we are left with the futility of fighting and the need to evolve beyond it.The casting in THE FLOOD was superb – your leading lady, Alexis Lane, was one bad-ass revenge machine! Did she know what she was in for when accepting the role of Jarah? Well…we did let her read the script…lol. Alexis is phenomenal and this film will launch her career so sit up and take notice world – this woman is incredible! Alexis moves between elation and despair, pain and pleasure, revenge and redemption like a scythe through spring grass – it’s one hell of a ride.Leading man Shaka Cook was brilliant, giving such a nuanced performance with so much going on behind his eyes which was just as exciting to watch as all his shoot ‘em up action. Did you know him or did you discover him during auditions? I trawl around the internet looking at actors and came across an interview with Shaka. He was talking about the Polly Farmer Foundation [for you non-Aussies, Polly Farmer was a famous Indigenous football player from my own childhood years – Fordham PR] and how grateful he was for the support that enabled him to attend the National Institute for Dramatic Art (NIDA). He spoke so beautifully and had such humility and genuine warmth that I knew he was the right actor to play Waru. He still had to audition and that was a bit of a process but we always wanted him.You captured so many great performances from all the bad guys (and there were so many villains in this film) – any in particular stand out for you as director/producer? Well, there are three lead roles in THE FLOOD, Jarah, Waru and Shamus. Dean Kyrwood delivers an incredibly powerful performance as the brutal, vengeful Shamus (and his twin brother the cowardly Paddy Mackay.) Dean had to traverse deep darkness but also take us through to the prospect of hope, love and light. It is a lot to pack into two hours! His right-hand man, Miller, is played by Socratis Otto and if you look carefully (perhaps on a second viewing) you will see the signs of Miller’s unrequited love for Shamus that also plays into the twisted nature of their dark and dangerous characters. With such sadness and violence in THE FLOOD, how did the cast and crew seek release at the end of each shooting day? There is also a lot of fun stuff in the film – horse riding – Mad Max-style car rides – shoot outs…so it wasn’t too traumatic that often. It was the massacre and rape scenes that were the hardest days on set. Fortunately, we had our First Nation creative producers with us each day and they performed ceremony and worked with everyone so that what we played out formed part of a collective historical cleansing of country and people. We had profound experiences together that have bonded our cast and crew in a way I’ve never seen before. And The Friendly Inn (pub) was also quite popular !Amadeo, I know I’ve asked you this question at the recent post-screening Q&A panel (and it seemed to give you all a big laugh!) but how difficult was it to secure funding for your film? Is there a substantial government grant system in Australia, or do indie filmmakers rely mostly on angel backers, family or Go-Fund-Me online campaigns to get cameras rolling? THE FLOOD was financed with the generous support of investors who are passionate about great stories and the messages in the beautiful film. Not being successful with government grants/funding, except for the Producer’s Offset, we decided to moved forward and get this film made. From the very beginning, THE FLOOD had its own energy and we had to trust that things would work out and the right people will be attached. As producers, you are always trying to get financing for films but with THE FLOOD, we had a fantastic script and a unique story that people were drawn to. Victoria’s track record as a Writer/Director made pitching for support easier. Great stories almost fund themselves. Any news on when/if THE FLOOD will be released in Canada & the US? During this Covid crisis, might it go straight to a major streaming outlet such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, AcornTV or others? We are planning a 2021 release for Canada and US – every creative decision was made for the big screen, so the dream is always to have a cinema run, it is a gigantic, sweeping, epic of a film visually and aurally – see it in the cinema if you can. Streamers will undoubtably form the major part of our release with Covid being such an influence across the planet for the next couple of years. We start screening the film in cinemas across Australia starting December 9th. See the confirmed dates/cities for screenings in Australia at end of interview.And for news updates on the film, festivals and awards, Victoria & Amadeo (pictured above on a recent red carpet) and the actors as well as your production company, can you please share your social media links or website? We have 2 social media outlets – our Twitter handle is @wagtailfilms and our Facebook page is linked here: https://www.facebook.com/The-Flood-Wagtail-Films-113511496758234 The following screenings of THE FLOOD are confirmed, with others to be added in the coming days. Each screening will feature a Q&A with filmmakers and/or cast:
Wednesday 9/12 – Sydney – Palace Cinemas Central – Q&A with actors Alexis Lane and Shaka Cook, writer/director Victoria Wharfe McIntyre and producer Amadeo Marquez-Perez
Wednesday 9/12 – Perth – Palace Cinemas Raine Square – Q&A details tbc
Thursday 10/12 – Sydney– Hoyts Cinema Warringah – Q&A details tbc
Thursday 10/12 – Canberra – Dendy Canberra – Q&A details tbc
Thursday 10/12 – Newcastle – Event Cinema Kotara – Q&A with actors Shaka Cook and Dean Kyrwood and producer Amadeo Marquez-Perez
Thursday 10/12 – Bowral – Empire Cinema – Q&A with writer/director Victoria Wharfe McIntyre and Yuin Nation creative producer and cultural consultant on set Paul Mcleod
Friday 11/12 – Nowra – Roxy Cinema – Q&A with writer/director Victoria Wharfe McIntyre, producer Amadeo Marquez-Perez and Yuin Nation creative producer and cultural consultant on set Paul Mcleod
Friday 11/12 – Mildura – Wallis Mildura – Film introduced by actor Brendan Bacon
Friday 11/12 – The Entrance – Majestic Cinema – Film introduced by actor Karen Garnsey
Friday 11/12 – Karratha (WA) – Red Earth Arts – Q&A details tbc
Wednesday 17/12 – Brisbane – Palace Barracks – Q&A details tbc
The film will release on disc and digital platforms on January 6, 2021.
OF NOTE: Filmed in Victoria’s hometown of Kangaroo Valley, in what she describes as a “wonderful creative collaboration with the local Yuin Nation community, utilizing our land and that of friends and neighbours”, The Flood has poignantly become a visual archive of the Valley’s pristine subtropical rainforests and unique bushland which were destroyed by the 2020 firestorm that devastated the east coast of Australia. [quote courtesy of FilmInk.com.au]