WA-based filmmaker Roderick MacKay’s directorial debut The Furnace will have its world premiere at the 77th Venice Film Festival. The film has been selected to screen in the prestigious Orizzionti Competition.
The Furnace, set in the 1890s gold rush of Western Australia, is an unlikely hero’s tale, navigating greed and the search for identity in a new land. This feature film illuminates the forgotten history of Australia’s ‘Ghan’ cameleers, who were predominantly Muslim and Sikh men from India, Afghanistan and Persia, who traversed the nation’s vast desert interior, forming unique bonds with local Aboriginal people.
To escape a harsh existence and return home, a young Afghan cameleer partners with a mysterious bushman on the run with two 400oz Crown-marked gold bars. Together the unlikely pair must outwit a zealous police sergeant and his troopers in a race to reach a secret furnace – the one place where they can safely reset the bars to remove the mark of the Crown.
The Furnace stars Ahmed Malek (Clash), Jay Ryan (Top of the Lake), and David Wenham (Lion).
“I’m thrilled at this opportunity for the film to have its world premiere at such a renowned festival,” said MacKay “We set out to shine a light on a crucial yet little known chapter of Australia’s history, celebrating the cultural diversity of our early pioneers. It was so rewarding to work with our talented and diverse cast, in particular our rising Egyptian star, Ahmed Malek, whose heartfelt performance so strongly anchors the story.”
The film was shot late last year on Yamatji Badimia country in Mount Magnet and Yamatji Nanda country in Kalbarri, in Western Australia’s spectacular Mid West region and includes depictions of the Badimia people in the turn of the century gold rush setting. The filmmakers conducted an extensive research process, which included consultation with the Badimia community, Sikh and Islamic consultants, in addition to Cantonese, Pashto and Punjabi language consultants.
The Furnace also stars Erik Thomson (The Luminaries), Baykali Ganambarr (The Nightingale), Trevor Jamieson (Storm Boy), Mahesh Jadu (The Witcher) and Samson Coulter (Breath). It is produced by Timothy White (I Am Mother) and Tenille Kennedy (H Is For Happiness), with Georgia White as co-producer and Gary Bonney as Associate Producer. It is a Southern Light Films, Meaning Maker and The Koop production. Major production investment is from Screen Australia, in association with Screenwest and Lotterywest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund.
Arclight Films is handling worldwide sales and Umbrella Films will distribute the film in Australia and New Zealand.