The aftermath of the Cronulla riots is not an obvious setting choice for a comedy film, yet director Abe Forsythe decided that was the perfect subject for his second feature length film, Down Under. We had a chat to the former Tropfest winner about what inspired him to write such a film, and if using comedy as a way to make us re-examine social issues posed any special challenges.
The inspiration for Down Under was oddly personal. “It was finding out that I was to be a father, and that made me pretty concerned about the kind of world I was bringing a child into. It lead to me looking at the Cronulla riots a particular way.” Forsythe realised a number of his Tropfest comedies were already looking at issues from a different point of view. “So Down Under became the right way to expand what I had been practising into a feature.”
“If you are going to be delving into this subject mater, you can’t pussyfoot around. If you are going there you really need to go there.”
“I was very conscious early in about not pushing an agenda, of not blaming anyone in particular. This issue is bigger than that, and not as simple a fix. That lead into showing the characters at their worst and trying to understand why they are behaving as they are. Even a character that can do the most reprehensible things- can have empathy or a quiet moment where you get to see who they are behind the anger and the bluster. It’s not so black and white.”
As such Down Under is a deceptively simple film. On one level it plays out as a larrikin comedy, but scratch the surface and something else is going on “Every gag in the movie has a little back story, an excuse to explore the significance of something, not just an excuse for comedy. The audience might never know any of it, but they can tell as it is there in the actor’s performance.”
The film, about two cars from opposing sides bound for a confrontation with each other on the day after the riots, still holds political relevance almost a decade after the event. Shot near Cronulla (rather than on the exact location – due to the sensitive topic), cast members still encountered some racial abuse while filming in public. Forsythe hopes Down Under will serve as a conversation starter to address issues of racism in Australia. “It holds a mirror to what is going on. Talking is key. We just don’t seem to be listening to each other, just screaming our own agendas. The more it happens, the worse it gets.”