For the makers of the Indigenous film We Are Still Here, James Cook’s arrival at Sydney’s Botany Bay 252 years ago isn’t the whole story.
- The Sydney Film Festival opens tonight and runs for 12 days
- We Are Still Here will open the festival in front of 2,000 people at the State Theater
- The film brings together a range of different genres
The film, an anthology of stories woven 1,000 years ago in pre-colonial Australia to a dystopian future, teamed up 10 directors and 11 screenwriters in six languages, a first for Australian cinema.
The film will premiere tonight, as the opening feature of the Sydney Film Festival gala, at the State Theater to a crowd of 2,000.
Producer Mitchell Stanley, a Wiradjuri from Sydney, said the film was unlike anything he had worked on.
“There was nothing in our cinematic knowledge from an Indigenous perspective to respond to this arrival,” Stanley said.
“We have all these perspectives and heroes that are more than just colonization,” he said.
“There were times when we thought, ‘Woah are you going to do this? Are you going to write this? That’s crazy, it’s never been done in Australia’, and the movie went 10x taking those risks.”
Those risks include an animated storyline in the film and what Stanley calls a mix of hilarious comedy and heartbreaking drama.
The film brings together a range of genres – animation, science fiction, romantic comedy and period drama.
The Australian-New Zealand co-production includes the work of directors Beck Cole and Danielle MacLean from Australia and Mario Gaoa from New Zealand filmed during Australia’s COVID border closure.
During filming, actor Clarence Ryan was temporarily denied access to the Northern Territory as he traveled from Perth to Alice Springs.
“We are on set and the announcement has just come out that the NT government is closing the borders with WA,” Stanley said.
“While we had a shoot going on, we just thought our next shoot was about to drop because we’re about to lose our talent.”
The drama of the border closures has given the producer, who has been in the industry for 14 years, added stress as well as the “weight” of responsibility to the culture.
“You were always reminded throughout production and editing of the importance and seriousness of what we were doing and the weight we were carrying to make sure it didn’t have to be good, but great,” Stanley said. .
“The chapters, they’re all like my kids. It’s the only movie and it’s the only baby that’s growing to be this old now.”
Opening night will be the first time Stanley gets to see the entire team that worked on the film and will share the experience with a crowd at the Sydney Film Festival.
“The movie is for the crowd, it’s for me and those people like me who see themselves in the stories,” he said.
“It’s the first time we see each other and say, ‘Let’s all sit down and watch this with 2,000 other people.'”