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James Vaughan’s Friends and Strangers will screen at a handful of cinemas across Australia from this week, with the first-time feature filmmaker taking part in audiences Q&As to discuss the film.
Written and directed by Vaughan, Friends and Strangers stars Fergus Wilson, Emma Diaz, Steve Maxwell and Malcolm Kennard and is produced by Lucy Rennick and Rebecca Lamond.
Here’s what you need to know about the new Australian film.
What is Friends and Strangers about?
Friends and Strangers is a surreal comedy-drama that explores displacement, disconnection and ennui in contemporary Australia through the eyes of two upper-middle class millennials.
Boldly framed and delicately layered, the film presents several sketches from life as experienced by Alice and Ray, two nearly-thirty drifters born into privilege but seemingly incapable of navigating the featureless ocean of casual employment, limp romances and half-assed entrepreneurial schemes.
Gingerly abandoning teenage daydreams of careers in the arts, both are grasping for a way to channel their advantages into something meaningful. But in a society built on simulated images, words, ideologies, choices… Where can authenticity be found?
This meandering, pensive search for the unfindable, and the misadventures that follow, cuts to the heart of Friends and Strangers.
Who is James Vaughan?
James wrote and directed the short film, You Like It, You Love It (2013) which screened in competition at the Berlinale, Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival, where he received the Swinburne Award for Emerging Australian Filmmaker and ATOM award for Best Experimental Film.
In 2015 he was recipient of Screen Australia’s Talent Escalator: Director’s Acclaim fund. James was involved in establishing the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia’s Contemporary Film Program in 2016, which brought together a range of critics, curators and practitioners to exhibit a free weekly program of bold, new cinematic voices.
James founded Leitourgia Films in 2018.
Friends and Strangers in James Vaughan’s words…
A comedic, non-linear, cultural exploration with an oblique take on realism—in Friends and Strangers I wanted to probe the intellectual ennui in Australia’s upper middle-class and draw a line from there to Australian society at large.
There’s both an inherent comedy and quiet horror to the petty, pestering tasks and tepid struggles for social validation that seem to dominate life in Sydney’s comfortable inner suburbs.
Shrivelled by a narcissistic, homogenous corporate culture, eroded civic connectivity and the endless, enervating pursuit of short-term, insecure work, so many individuals are lost in a desert of meaningless choices while the important questions about our genocidal origins and the future we imagine for our society and our world is always work for another day.
Though rooted in this Australian context, much has been taken from Kafka’s winding tales of bewildered individuals searching within and against haunted and centreless social systems.
There is a lot of myself in this film and I have great affection for the main character.
Facing a fraught choice between a comfortable submission to hollow materialism and a lonely, precarious investigation into (possibly doomed) alternatives, I feel a natural response is a kind of paralysis—to delay making any choice at all.
Ray means well, but he always seems to think too much or not enough, and though he exists in the present his mind always seems to be somewhere else, in memory and speculation but never anywhere in particular.
I don’t think this is so unusual, we are all haunted by our pasts, just as we in the present are the ghosts haunting our future selves. Working with a largely non-professional cast was a means to access these drifting mental states in a direct and unembellished manner.
I wanted the film to turn slowly through its duration, as if on a wheel, from whimsy to dread, subjective to objective, past to present.
Steady locked-off compositions frame characters as solipsistic voyagers in a complex and confusing world; strange encounters spiral outward with an undulating rhythm—situations rise uncannily from banal misunderstandings to absurdist farce, only to be contrasted with sparse zones that elasticise and disturb a sense of reliable perspective.
Friends and Strangers is a kind of jaunt, delighting in the topographies of our cultural surfaces just as it attempts to peel the layers back.
Here’s where you can see Friends and Strangers
ACMI: 10 – 20 March (Q&A screening Thursday 10th 7PM)
Golden Age: 11 – 22 March (Q&A screening Friday 11th 6:15PM)
Dendy Newtown: Saturday 12 March 4PM (Q&A screening)
The Ritz: Monday 14 March 6:30PM (Q&A screening)
Wallis Mitcham: Thursday 17 March 7PM (Q&A screening)