A film shot in Blacktown, with eight different stories, from eight different cultural backgrounds, in nine different languages. Here Out West is far from a traditional Australian film, but its writers believe it authentically reflects modern Australia, particularly life in Western Sydney.
The film is the opener for the Sydney Film Festival, which begins tonight after being postponed twice this year due to the pandemic. Bina Bhattacharya is one of eight writers from Western Sydney who used stories from their upbringings to formulate a script for the film. “We really haven’t seen a lot of films from first- and second-generation migrant people of colour. I think this is one of the first, so … I am really quietly confident this film is going to find an audience,” she said.
The writers’ narratives were brought together, with a common theme emerging organically — the importance of family for those living in Western Sydney. “We’re the second-largest economy in the country, and we are so woefully represented. It’s always bad news stories. We’re very politically misunderstood. And I think the pandemic has really highlighted that,” Ms Bhattacharya said. “This is a film that’s deeply personal and extremely positive and hopeful about the 2.1 million Australians who live in Western Sydney. I think it’s going to be extremely ground-breaking. “I think you’re going to feel seen.”
The film was shot in the suburb of Blacktown. In what’s believed to be an Australian first, English, Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Kurdish, Tagalog, Turkish, Vietnamese and Spanish are all spoken in the film. The languages reflect the individual backgrounds of the writers. At the time of writing, Ms Bhattacharya’s father was ill after a stroke, but her experience with caregiving gave her inspiration for her part in the film. “He had referred back to his native tongue, which is Bengali, which I didn’t speak,” she said. “And we were, you know, negotiating his care and there were so many cultural barriers. And I thought we really hadn’t seen a story like this anywhere. There just happened to be a young man who was an actor who was a Bengali speaker, and that was Arka.”
Writer and actor Arka Das has featured in films like Lion and Mulan, but he says speaking Bengali while acting on camera was an “important” moment for him. “I wrote it into my chapter because (my character) just speaks to his mum on the phone … and when I speak to my mom on the phone in real life, it’s a mixture of Bengali English, as a lot of migrant kids do, they sort of mash up their languages,” he said. “So I wanted to portray that, but then it ended up being a lot more with the following chapter that Bina wrote.”
Writer Vonne Patiag described his section of the film as a “love letter” to his mother, a Filipino nurse. “For so many years, I’d see her come home and be super tired or super joyful, or she’d always have these really, really intense emotions working as a nurse,” he said. “The amount of energy you have to give to your patients and the amount of care you have to give, but then also reserving that little piece of love for yourself and for your family as well.” The emerging writer still lives with his family in Western Sydney and hopes the film will attract more investment in the industry in the region. “I’m a really big believer in building infrastructure to create sustainable film practice, so a project like Here Out West … really is laying the roots for more stories to be told from this side of Australia.”
The Sydney Film Festival runs from November 3-14, and Here Out West will open in cinemas in February.
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