Monday , October 23 2017

Tunisia’s Ben Attia to direct new ISIS-themed drama – ‘Australia Day’ a powerful, multi-character drama

LOS ANGELES, July 4, (RTRS): Tunisian auteur Mohamed Ben Attia, whose first feature “Hedi” won best debut and best actor honors at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, is set to shoot a timely drama titled “Weldi,” about a Tunisian father coming to terms with his son joining ISIS. Paris-based Luxbox has come on board to handle world sales outside France.

Shooting is expected to start in October in Tunisia on “Weldi,” which like “Hedi” is being produced by Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha’s Nomadis Images, with Belgium’s Dardenne brothers as co-producers through their Les Films du Fleuve shingle. France’s BAC Films has boarded as the film’s French distributor.

Further financing is being provided by the Tunisian Ministry of Culture, France’s Aide aux Cinemas du Monde fund, and the Doha Film Institute. Bouchocha said she is hoping to close a TV pre-sale on the pic soon.

In his first interview about “Weldi,” Ben Attia said that the film’s main character is “an ordinary man whose whole life has been dedicated to his work and to his son.” Although he must grapple with his son’s choice to become an Islamic militant, “the film is not about ISIS, nor about the reasons that lead our youth to leave,” Ben Attia said. Rather, it’s about “the meaning of being a father.”

Ben Attia said that while he was prepping “Hedi,” which centers on a young man liberated from family and societal obligations by a free-spirited woman in post-Arab Spring Tunisia, he was struck by a radio report on “a father who had left to look for his son in Syria.”

At the time, Tunisian youths joining ISIS had started to become a common occurrence – “nearly banal,” Ben Attia said. “But what moved me in his story was the end or disappearance of his paternity.”

Casting for “Weldi” is underway. Ben Attia said that, as with “Hedi,” he would “mostly choose non-professional actors or even people who are not related to cinema.”

An ambitious and powerful, if necessarily convenient, multi-character drama in the mold of 2006 Oscar-winner “Crash,” “Australia Day” is a meditation on cultural diversity and the questioning of national identity. As such, it holds a mirror up to contemporary Australian society and offers those unfamiliar with its tensions a relatively factual dramatic experience. Festivals would do well to find a berth for the film, and distributors around the world would offer audiences the opportunity to learn about a darker facet of life in the Lucky Country.

Australia Day is the nation’s sometimes controversial national celebration. Marking the start of European settlement, it has evolved to represent everything from chest-pumping nationalism to citizenship ceremonies to a reflection of the impact that settlement has had on Australia’s indigenous population.

These facets of the day’s activities form the subtext of the busy screenplay. In a lower-working-class Brisbane suburb, three teenagers are independently running for their lives. Fourteen-year-old Aboriginal April Tucker (Miah Madden) has just crawled out of a wrecked car she and her sister Katee, who died in the crash, stole to escape their abusive father. Seventeen-year-old Persian boy Sami Ghaznavi (Elias Anton) has been mistakenly fingered for drugging and raping a white girl, Chloe (Isabelle Cornish), and has been abducted by her vengeful older brother Dean (Sean Keenan). Also fleeing is 19-year-old Chinese woman Lan (Jenny Wu), whose parents back home had enrolled her in an English course that turned out to be a sham and landed her in a brothel against her will.

Each story ducks and weaves its way to intertwining climaxes. April is being pursued by Sonya Mackenzie (Shari Sebbens), a career cop of indigenous heritage who’s familiar with her case and both frustrated and now guilty at her inability to get the girls away from their dad. Mackenzie, in turn, is being warned off the case by Det. Sgt Mitchell Collyer (Matthew le Nevez).

There’s friction between Dean and his younger brother Jason over what to do with Sami, even as Lan is scooped up off the street by beleaguered and increasingly desperate fourth-generation cattle farmer Terry Friedman (Aussie institution Bryan Brown).

 

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