Australian writer Roderick MacKay’s feature directing debut, The Furnace, will have its world premiere at the 77th Venice Film Festival, which kicks off its ten-day run beginning September 2, 2020. The news came following this week’s prestigious Orizzionti Competition line up for the festival.
The Furnace is set during the 1890s gold rush of Western Australia, and is described as an unlikely hero’s tale that navigates greed and the search for identity in a new land. Centered on a young Afghan cameleer who partners with a mysterious bushman on the run with two 400oz Crown-marked gold bars, 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.
Starring Ahmed Malek (Clash, Ext. Night), Jay Ryan (It: Chapter 2, Top of the Lake), and David Wenham (Lion, The Lord of the Rings franchise), production was backed by Screen Australia, the Western Australian Regional Film Fund through Royalties for Regions, Screenwest and Lotterywest. Umbrella Films will distribute the film in Australia and New Zealand, with sales agent Archlight selling the film internationally.
“We are excited to partner on such a spectacular and moving film that explores this piece of Australian history that not many people are aware of.” says Archlight’s Gary Hamilton. “With such a fantastic cast and talented crew, we are keen to share Roderick’s film with audiences at Venice and around the world.”
Filmed in late 2019, The Furnace was shot on location at Yamatji Badimia country in Mount Magnet and Yamatji Nanda country in Kalbarri, in Western Australia’s Mid-West region. The filmmakers sought to include depictions of the Badimia people in the turn of the century gold rush setting, and conducted an extensive research process, consulting with the Badimia community, Sikh, and Islamic consultants, in addition to Cantonese, Pashto and Punjabi language consultants.
Central to the film’s aesthetic is the focus on 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.
“I’m thrilled at this opportunity for the film to have its world premiere at such a renowned festival.” McKay adds. “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.”
Screen Australia’s CEO Graeme Mason said, “To have the world premiere of this compelling drama at Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section is a real coup and doubly impressive for Roderick MacKay’s debut feature. We are proud to see The Furnace represent our screen industry on the world stage and showcase a fascinating part of our history alongside the natural beauty of Western Australia.”
“This is a fantastic outcome for The Furnace team.” says Screenwest CEO Willie Rowe. “It is great to see Western Australian stories and creatives being celebrated and recognised at the highest level and being shared with the world, at such a festival like Venice.”
From Southern Light Films, Meaning Maker and The Koop, 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.