The film began as a response to 'The Lexus & The Olive Tree' by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times writer responsible for defining globalisation for much of the West, and took its form and inspiration from several true stories, played out on the remote coastline of Western Australia between the years 1989-1992.
According to the film's production notes, this project was motivated by the belief the future is being shaped by the forces of globalisation - undocumented immigration, refugees and the ensuing government policies are only part of this mix. Not since the 1930s has there been such a period of dynamic and encompassing change and World Trade agreements, the rise of Multinationals, Iraq oil-wars, the burgeoning of fundamentalism are all best understood through the prism of globalisation and the frictions, voids and opportunities it creates between individuals and nations.
This desert buddy movie was inspired by several stories director and co-screenwriter Michael Rowland first heard when he visited the Pilbara region of Western Australia (WA) during the late 1980s. These were true stories of 'boat people' landing on the remote WA coastline in the hope of starting a new life, quickly running into trouble as they set out into some of the harshest and least populated country of Australia.
In March 2000, director-producer-co-screenwriter Michael Rowland began researching several 'boat people' stories through news archives with the aim of developing this picture. Several of these stories involving different nationalities which had been reported during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Journalists he talked to openly lamented they hadn't happened today and back then they were only good for page nine.
Co-screenwriters Helen Barnes and Michael Rowland worked on the first two drafts together specifically focusing on the exploration of innovative and cost-effective techniques to introduce and identify the people smugglers as Indonesian fishermen, further and more sympathetic development of the characters of the fishermen and a broad reassessment of the second act. Primary research to feed into the voice and behavioural framework of the characters was also essential.
The development of the second draft of the script began with a workshop reading at Belvoir St Theatre. Actors including Don Hany and Kenneth Moraleda were employed to play all characters. Importantly and rewardingly, the reading demonstrated the characters are strong and unique and, as is critical in a successful buddy movie, are able to inspire the audience to care about them as they moved through the alien environment in which they find themselves.
Following the theatre workshop, co-screenwriters Helen Barnes and Michael Rowland embarked on a rigorous process of script development. This process was strongly collaborative and intensive. They embarked on a series of meeting with Cultural Consultants, including Fiark Hany and Thorl Chea for the 'A Storyline', Chip Morgan, Stephen Page and Mark Riffel for the 'B Storyline', and later, Sawung Jabo and Arif Hidayat for the 'C Storyline'.
Each Cultural Consultant to the production was conscripted to provide input into a particular character, their background, their likely knowledge of Australia, their capacity for interaction with other characters, and their likely responses to other individuals, nationalities and the landscape. The Cultural Consultants were critical in defining the behavioural parameters of each character and situation. Co-screenwriters Helen Barnes and/or Michael Rowland met with all Cultural Consultants at least once. Each meeting was conducted in an interview format and was recorded.
Once the second draft of the screenplay was complete, the filmmakers elected to test the script in front of an audience. In November 2003, a rehearsed public reading was held in front of a 150 invited people at the Sydney Theatre Company. This audience comprised of the Cultural Consultants, potential funding partners, broadcasters, and a circle of peers and friends. The reception was enthusiastic and the filmmakers were then confident to make the transition from script development to film financing.
The eight principal characters in this film come from a variety of backgrounds, including Cambodian, Arabic, Indonesian, Aboriginal and white Australian. This presented some unusual challenges for casting requiring the producers to research actors nationally, and across a variety of media, including theatre, television and stand-up comedy.
The film was inspired by stories of extreme survival and high farce about refugees roaming through the Pilbara region of Western Austrsalia during the late 1980s.
The filmmakers began researching the casting possibilities for the five ethnically diverse roles by contacting community theatre companies and cultural organisations across the country. Many actors begin their creative lives in community theatre companies, and companies working in the Sydney's western suburbs in particular have invested time and energy developing works telling the stories of their ethnically diverse communities.
Producer Jo Dyer spoke to a range of companies including Urban Theatre Projects, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Adelaide's Patch Theatre Company, and Sidetrack Theatre Company. From here, the filmmakers were also directed to Virus Media and Wot Cross-Cultural Synergy. Virus Media produced both theatre and television productions with young actors principally drawn from Sydney's Middle Eastern communities. Wot Cross-Cultural Synergy was an organisation created to promote cultural exchange between Indonesia and Australia. The filmmakers also spoke to individuals who had collaborated on projects involving Iraqi, Cambodian, and Indonesian stories. From there, the production was directed to the Arimba Cultural Exchange, another organisation promoting cultural exchange between Australia and Indonesia.
After talent scouting, the production soon had a strong list of mostly unknown actors who might be appropriate for the key roles which was supplemented by contacting a range of national agents. The lists included the names of two actors the key creatives had previously worked with on their two public readings and who had been found to be consistently impressive: Kenneth Moraleda as Arun and Srisacd Sacdpraseuth as Ramelan.
Sawung Jabo and Arif Hidayat were both experienced Indonesian performers, actors and musicians. Based in Sydney, they both spent part of each year in Indonesia to sustain themselves professionally. The filmmakers soon became convinced that the pair would be cast as Muluk and Abdu.
First role in an Australian theatrical feature film of Indonesian actor Sawung Jabo since Peter Weir's 'The Year of Living Dangerously' (1982) - an interval of about twenty-five years.
Producer Jo Dyer had previously worked with actor Rodney Afif on a national theatre tour. A fine stage actor, Rodney had also previously appeared on film in major roles in 'Azadi' (2005) and 'Serenades' (2001). He was soon cast in the film as Youssif Al-Samer.
Actor Don Hany, who portrayed Private Greg Plank, is half Iraqi on his father's side, and his contacts led the movie's producers to the individuals who provided significant input to the development of the Iraqis' stories in this picture, some of whom even went on to appear in the film in minor roles.
For the sake of authenticity, the decision was made early that the filmmakers would only cast the refugee characters from within Australia's Iraqi and Cambodian communities. This required the filmmakers to go out and find our Iraqi and Cambodian refugees - character by character.
The filmmakers were able to attract a number of people who had themselves been refugees to Australia and in some cases had even contributed to the movie's early script development.
Thorl Chea and his family survived for five years of the Khmer Rouge rampage through Cambodia before living in a UN (United Nations) refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border for ten years. The family eventually came to live in Australia during the 1980s. Much of Thorl's story and spirit is in the film. He helped screenwriters Helen Barnes and Michael James Rowland with the first and second drafts of the script, worked on the Khmer translation with his father, taught Kenneth Moraleda (Arun) Khmer, before ultimately taking on the role of Nol.
When director and co-screenwriter Michael James Rowland began researching the Iraqi story-line for this film in 1999, he visited an overcrowded apartment in Fairfield, home of Fiark Hany, cousin of actor Don Hany ( who played Private Greg Plank), and five other Iraqi refugees all just released from detention centres. Fiark was an important contributor to the Iraqi narrative and one of his flatmates present on that first night, Assad Abdulrazak, went on to take on the role of Abbas in the film. His friend and fellow refugee Toma Isho also joined the cast as Firas.
Thorl Chea, Assad Abdulrazak, and Toma Isho were not actors but all brought their own life experiences to the making of this movie. They were joined on the production by professional actors such as Majid Shokor who played Saleh.
Majid Shokor, who portrayed Saleh, had been one of Iraq's leading stage actors during the 1980s but fled Iraq shortly before the first Gulf War after objecting to performing in the Iraqi National Theatre company's endless productions of Saddam Hussein's own scripts. His journey to Australia took him through Syria, Jordan and Lebanon before settling in Melbourne during the mid 1990s. Majid was also an important resource both during pre-production and on location during production, translating all of the Arabic sections, and acting as a language and cultural consultant for Rodney Afif (Youssif Al-Samer).
Lesley Dyer joined the team on 'Lucky Miles' as producer, with fellow producer Jo Dyer and director Michael James Rowland, in 2006.
Debut theatrical feature film of Michael James Rowland as a director, producer, and screenwriter.
The movie's story is woven together from three intersecting plots. The film is set in the same remote area of desert flanked by sea but the emotional landscape of each of these three stories is quite different. The main ("A") story plays out in the hyper-real world of men on the edge of survival. The secondary ("B") story is about an army reserve unit tasking in their own backyard. The tertiary ("C) story tells of two fishermen walking home along the edge of a godforsaken place they want only to leave.
The movie was the winner of the Audience Award for Best Film at the Sydney Film Festival in 2007.
The picture was nominated for 2 AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards in 2007, for Best Film and Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted), but the film failed to take home a gong in either category.
The film and Michael James Rowland were awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2007 where it had also been nominated for the fest's Crystal Globe award.
The film's closing credits declare that this picture was: "Filmed entirely on location in South Australia and Cambodia".
The film's opening title cards read: "Phnom Penh 1972", "Australia 1990", and "Inspired by True Stories".