Spillane’s powerful feature film, which she conceived many years back while living and working in Redfern, was recently released with way too little fanfare. In an increasing trend for Australian films, its time in cinemas was extremely short. Fortunately this important piece is now available via DVD and other online methods.
Spillane had a long fascination for the story of Hamlet and had been waiting for the opportunity to use it in a modern setting. “It taps into the themes of duty and responsibility versus personal freedom. Hamlet came before Redfern in this story. I was looking for the right setting and the right characters to explore those themes in a contemporary setting,” she says.
The film uses the angst of two Indigenous brothers as they deal with the betrayal and subsequent imprisonment of their father. “Hamlet is such a complex character that I decided to use the two brothers to represent both sides of him.” Liam, played by Hunter Page-Lochard, depicts the thoughtful, sensitive side of the Hamlet personality as he contemplates avenging the betrayal of his imprisoned father. The other side, represented by his brother Steve, played by Mark Coles-Smith, represents the much more impulsive side of Hamlet.
Son of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Stephen Page, Page-Lochard is compelling on screen, often using his body to convey his brooding internal turmoil and torment. Page-Lochard’s star is definitely on the rise, with a recent standout performance in the Belvoir’s Brothers Wreck. Spillane has had him in mind for some time. “I met him when he was 11 or 12 and I kept an eye on him. As soon as Christina Ricci was on board he was top of my list.”
Christina Ricci, who is best known for her role as Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family film, plays the role of idealistic drama teacher Dino Chalmers. Spillane had been impressed with Ricci for her roles in less mainstream films such as The Ice Storm, Monster and Black Snake Moan. The casting of a non-Australian in the key role might raise some eyebrows. Spillane explains: “It was important that the teacher character was from overseas and could come into the role without baggage or the sensitivities of a white Australian character. It was really important that this character could approach this with blind optimism if the film was going to work. If that character was an Australian and was played by an Australian it would then become a little bit patronising, but as an American she can roll in with her American idealism and the journey begins.”
Ricci herself was excited to be involved in the film after spending time in Australia in previous years. “She’d been to Australia before and she noticed that there was a big divide between white and Indigenous,” says Spillane. “She felt when she asked the questions she never got an answer and she was keen to be involved with a story that addressed these issues.”
Spillane has put together a strong supporting cast. Long-time Spillane collaborator, Jack Thompson, is the easy-going and believable high school principal and Damien Walshe-Howling injects tension as Ricci’s protagonist in the teaching ranks. Matt Nable as the hardened father puts in yet another strong performance and Chrissie Wood as the boys’ embattled mother is an important character as she takes control of her life and moves towards independence.
Redfern itself is a central character in the film. Spillane lived in Redfern for nine years and taught drama at the Eora College. “Redfern is such a unique community and I was lucky enough to be invited into it after teaching at Eora. It changed my life in an eye-opening way. There is so much hope and cultural pride. So many young artists, hip-hop performers, so much talent and beauty in the community. Sadly, when I was living here the Redfern riots happened and because it’s such a transient community it sometimes brings negativity that the media would always jump on. Very rarely do they celebrate the positive aspects. For me this film was an opportunity for a truthful telling of Redfern.”