Cinema Australia Original Content:
Luke Sullivan isn’t afraid to tell it how it is.
The 23 year old filmmaker refuses to hold back when it comes to expressing his personal feelings about the Australian film industry and the vexing politics that have a stranglehold around creative filmmaking freedoms in this country.
Out of these frustrations, Sullivan has put together one of the year’s most courageous films, Reflections in the Dust – a bold and controversial new film which holds a mirror up to our society and the sickening state of toxic masculinity around the world.
Beyond the bravado though is an incredibly talented filmmaker which we’ve been keeping a close eye on since he burst onto the scene with his shocking feature film debut, You’re Not Thinking Straight.
If you’re about to discover Sullivan for the first time via an upcoming screening of Reflections in the Dust, we think you should get to know the filmmaker a little first. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Luke Sullivan…
“They truly couldn’t care less about diversity, progressing the artform or discovering new talent. This results in wasting taxpayer money on painfully safe and familiar films that generate little to no interest and profit.”
Interview by Matthew Eeles
Reflections in the Dust is one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen come out of Australia. Take us back to the very beginning of the project and how it all came about.
Reflections in the Dust was born out of frustration; frustration at how damn boring and one-dimensional the Australian film industry is becoming. From the very beginning, I wanted to use every shred of my creativity to make a bold film that would push the boundaries and challenge people.
Reflections in the Dust explores some very strong themes. Tell us a bit about those themes and why you wanted to delve into them on screen.
At its core Reflections in the Dust is a timely exploration of toxic masculinity. It examines the oppressive relationship between a woman and an abusive male who, out of crippling insecurity, traps her in his tyrannical world with tragic consequences. Why did I want to delve into this? In the past week alone six women in Australia have been killed at the hands of a man. Since January 1, 62 women have been lost to an act of violence, with 18 children also lost in that period. Men have been charged in 71 of these killings and authorities allege domestic violence is responsible for 70 percent of the deaths. These deaths are linked to an epidemic of gendered violence that is honestly becoming a national emergency. Australia needs to become a safer place for women. Or else we will continue mourning grandmothers, mothers, sisters and friends. Hopefully my film can start a conversation.
Sarah Houbolt is an inspiring human being. When did you first hear of Sarah and when did you decide you wanted to cast her in Reflection in the Dust?
I first became aware of Sarah Houbolt watching her incredible interview on SBS’s The Feed. Her charisma and presence on screen struck me straight away; I was in awe. When it came to casting this film, I wanted the character of Freckles to be authentic and not just another plastic and “beautiful” movie star. I wanted someone who was unique, idiosyncratic and reflected the vulnerabilities we all have. Someone real. Sarah was a no-brainer for the role. We met in late 2016 to discuss the project. We talked for hours not only about the character and the story, but also just life and what we both wanted to achieve in our respective careers and what we wanted to be remembered for. A few days later she gave me a call and said she wanted to work together. The rest was history.
Robin Royce Queree is a veteran of the industry. What was his response after he read your script for the first time?
He literally said, ‘I think you’re fucking crazy and I love it’.
Can you share one of your favourite stories with us about working with Sarah and Robin on Reflections in the Dust?
So the majority of the film was shot at a dam. I remember there was this insane storm, like I’m talking a borderline typhoon, and I was literally up all night listening to the rain and just dreading coming to set the next day. When I arrived, sure enough the whole set was flooded. Like I literally had to swim out and recover the entire fucking set and all our props. Even the unit tent was floating out there. It looked like the film was over and I would never be able to walk the red carpet with Robert Pattinson at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. I honestly nearly cried. But what did we do? After a quick rewrite of the script to include an apocalyptic storm, we got down to business and shot the rest of the film in hip-deep water. Sarah and Rob, two of the most courageous and incredible performers I have honestly ever worked with, did not hesitate in the slightest to spend the rest of the shoot with me in that freezing water and I am eternally grateful for it.
You recently said that you’ve, “had enough of an Australian film industry that is all politics.” And that Reflections in the Dust, “will change everything.” Can you elaborate on that for us?
The nature of the Australian film industry is no secret. The government funding bodies are run by a small group who care only about themselves and supporting those who they have a relationship with. They truly couldn’t care less about diversity, progressing the artform or discovering new talent. This results in wasting taxpayer money on painfully safe and familiar films that generate little to no interest and profit. There are exceptions, but for every brilliant ‘Ladies in Black’ they sweep many duds under the rug. The Australian film industry will not survive if it remains this way; we need people at the top who encourage new directions. How will Reflections in the Dust change everything? Because it is becoming one of the boldest films to ever come out of Australia and a landmark for diversity on screen without their help and with a 23-year-old at the helm.
If you could change one thing about the local industry what would it be?
Make me Head of Production at Screen Australia.
Obviously Reflection in the Dust isn’t going to be for everyone. What are you hoping audiences take away from the film following its premiere.
You’re absolutely right. It’s truly a film that some people will love and that some people will despise. I doubt there will be much of a middle ground. At the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, some hailed it as the best film they had seen at the festival in over a decade, whereas others literally walked out in shock and disgust. Regardless, all I hope is that it strikes an emotional chord and is an experience people remember for a very long time; an experience that makes people realise the importance of pushing the boundaries and standing up for what you believe in.
Reflections in the Dust will screen at the SciFi Film Festival on October 20. Tickets and details here.