Sarah Houbolt’s casting in Reflections in the Dust is “a major win for inclusiveness in our industry”

Sarah Houbolt in Reflections in the Dust. Image courtesy of Sonder Pictures.

by Matthew Eeles

Luke Sullivan’s Reflections in the Dust will be the first Australian feature film to star a disabled lead actress according to the director.

Former swimming Paralympian, circus performer and internationally renowned icon for artistic diversity and inclusion, Sarah Houbolt stars in Sullivan’s fantasy drama as Freckles alongside Robin Royce Queree (Australia) who plays The Clown. This is Houbolt’s first on-screen acting role.

The synopsis for the film reads: An ageing clown and a blind girl reflect on their lives in a vacant studio. Unearthing trauma and heartbreak, they imagine themselves as a father and daughter struggling to live in a broken world, their bond tested by paranoia, fear and the unknown.

Treading the line between documentary and fiction, Reflections in the Dust is said to be an unforgettable experience anchored by a revolutionary, courageous and groundbreaking lead performance from Sarah Houbolt, who is blind and suffers from the incredibly rare Hallermann Streiff Syndrome, a condition which affects around 200 people worldwide.

As well as being an accomplished swimmer and international circus star, Houbolt has experience in theatre having performed a one-woman show KooKoo to both Australian and New Zealand audiences. Houbolt is also an Equity and Diversity Officer (Disability) at the University of Technology Sydney.

“I think it’s really counter-intuitive in the arts to think you need eyesight to do physical performance,” Houbolt recently told SBS’s The Feed. “That’s not right, that’s wrong.”

“Having Sarah onboard is a major win for inclusiveness in our industry,” Sullivan told Cinema Australia. “It was an honour to work with her.”

Sullivan is an exciting independent filmmaker who previously directed You’re Not Thinking Straight (2016), an eerie, atmospheric and often unsettling drama. You’re Not Thinking Straight gave us a glimpse at a bold and daring director, and we’ve been anticipating his next film ever since.

The Backlot Films recently acquired Reflections in the Dust for national release following a festival run. An offical release date is yet to be confirmed.

*UPDATE*: It has since been brought to our attention that Rolf de Heer’s Dance Me to My Song (2019) featured lead actress Heather Rose. Heather suffered severe cerebral palsy. If you know of any more Australian feature films to feature a disabled lead actress, get in contact. We’d love to know.

*UPDATE*: Stacey Copas is a wheelchair user and a motivational speaker who stars in Pearl Tan’s The Casting Game (2017).

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