“How do I tell someone who’s won two Miles Franklin awards that we want to change what he had written?”
Kelrick Martin (Director):
When I was presented with Kim Scott’s original script for Karroyul, I was instantly taken with his wonderful visual style. The film about a young girl and her connection to her past through an old massacre site was intriguing. But darker, gothic elements were very much present in the story, and I wanted to expand on these as we worked together to re-draft a shooting script.
Originally set in sparser, scrub-bush locations, DOP Torstein Dyrting suggested investigating the spectacular WA southwest forests as a potential setting. On seeing the tall, ancient trees and researching more about the veiled presence of Noongar culture in this area, I agreed with him whole heartedly. Taking this back to Kim however was very intimidating for me – how do I tell someone who’s won two Miles Franklin awards that we want to change what he had written?
Thankfully Kim was very flexible, and enjoyed the challenges we presented with our suggestions. Working together with local Noongar elder Wayne Webb from the Pemberton region, we spent a lot of time ensuring that the language and cultural references were as accurate as possible. In the end, most audiences will most likely barely notice these finer details as they watch the film. But as an Indigenous filmmaker working with the local community, these details matter a great deal to me and the people who entrust me with representing them on the screen.
Finding our cast was another challenge, as so much of the film’s drama rested on the shoulders of the teenage character of Kelly. We auditioned many young Indigenous girls around Australia, and discovered wonderful rising talent Chanelle Hawkins – a student at the highly regarded Aboriginal Theatre course at WAAPA here in Perth. Chanelle stepped up to every task presented to her, was thoughtful with her dialogue and performance, and delivered everything she had take after take on set. In my imagination reading the script, I always pictured seasoned actor Bruce R. Carter in the role of the character of Geoff. When he agreed to play the role, I was overjoyed. Needless to say, Bruce brought so much to every scene while also supporting his younger co-actor.
As I approached the direction of Karroyul, I was strongly influenced by Australian classic “lost in the bush” style stories such as Picnic at Hanging Rock – to present a story that was more aligned to the gothic horror genre than a standard “Indigenous” story. I wanted to show audiences something that felt familiar to them on screen, while at the same time introduce them to issues of Indigenous cultural identity and dispossession. Ultimately I am hoping Karroyul subverts the perceived role of an Indigenous screen character with something that has never been seen before, and is a memorable, eye-opening experience for all audiences.
Jaclyn Hewer (Producer):
Working with Kelrick on Kim Scott’s adaption of his short story A Refreshing Sleep was a delight from day one. As soon as we read Kim’s highly visceral and mediative script we knew it was something very special. When talking with Kelrick about the direction he wanted to take with the film he clearly identified why this story was so important in today’s context.
For a young person trying to identify who you are in today’s world is hard enough, particularly more so when you are all alone. Kelly’s journey aims to heal not only the recent loss of her mother but also the wounds of her ancestral past whilst discovering lost culture and tradition. Ultimately the story aims to effect positive change through healing and it is true that not everyone has the answers as reflected through the character Uncle Geoff.
Cinematically Pemberton and Northcliffe with ancient trees butted up against farmland and the unique sand dunes on the edge of forest provided the perfect location to explore these themes of disconnection, loss, isolation and healing. This striking location is also deeply connected and affected by the tragic massacres throughout the south west during settlement which is part of Kim Scott’s personal story which is threaded into the narrative.
The most wonderful memory of the experience was working closely with cultural advisor and traditional custodian to the Noongar land, Wayne Webb. Wayne invited all cast & crew before the shoot began for a welcome to country to bless our project and ensure the cultural significance of the land to the story was understood and respected.
Karroyul will screen at this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival as part of its Get Your Shorts On! program.