With more and more news popping up about terrorism, racially motivated violence and other politics, life seems to have become a lot grimmer in Australia. One of the earliest events along these lines of the Cronulla Beach riot back in 2005 that shocked the nation.
Australian filmmaker Abe Forsythe is currently touring the country to promote his latest film Down Under, a dark comedy that takes place in the aftermath of the riot. Milk Bar Magazine asked Abe what he hopes the film will achieve, his love of comedy, and his earlier comedy films Ned (a comedic retelling of the Ned Kelly story) and Computer Boy (a parody of the Sydney shot Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix).
How has it been promoting this film so far?
I flew in from Brisbane this morning. We did a Q&A screening up there last night, which went really well. I’ve been going around to Canberra, Brisbane, there’s been some Q&As in Sydney, there’s more coming up as well. That’s the only way I can promote this movie by getting out there and showing it to people. It just really helps talking about it and giving it context, which is why we made it in the first place. We don’t have the promotional budget to compete with Suicide Squad. The bigger the audience is, the easier it is to watch, because people laugh at different things and sometimes things that aren’t meant to be funny as. The more laughter there is, it becomes more of a safe space to have a bit of catharsis in watching this movie.
What was your reaction to the Cronulla Beach riot when it happened?
I would like to think my reaction was probably the same as the vast majority of this population as I was really horrified. I was also looking it at overseas, as I was living in London at the time. It was very strange to be homesick, but then looking at what was happening. I was so shocked and confused that it had reached that point, and deeply ashamed. That’s what this movie attempts to do. I wrote it six years ago, because I felt like we weren’t dealing with the issue post the Cronulla riot, we weren’t talking about it. Obviously with everything that’s been happening lately, I’ve pushed it back onto the agenda. But at the same time by showing this kind of behaviour, it asks “Do we need to have this behaviour again? What can we do to stop it from happening again?”
What inspired you to make this film?
It was a combination of a number of things, probably the biggest one was finding out I was going to be a father, and I knew I’d only have nine months to write a script before a lot of my time was going to be taken up. Then finding out I was going to have a son, that kind of lead me to think about the kind of world he was being brought into, particularly as an Australian male. What kind of behaviour would he commit without the proper guidance? Those things lead me to the Cornulla riot. I was sickened by seeing it all when it happened, but because it’s such a male dominated kind of thing on both sides, I was looking at it going thinking that if you got a text message on the day of the riot, if you had a strong moral compass set by how you were raised, would you get a text message like that and think it was a good idea to go down there, or would you think that sounds bad?
What’s some of the feedback you’ve been getting for Down Under?
Mostly positive, but there’s this group that’s attacking me on social media, the Stand Up For Australia group. They have 30,000 members and it’s like “wow”. Like it or not, this is a section of the population that feels marginalised. They have a lot of anger and emotions that spill out in hate. That’s because they don’t have anywhere to put these feelings and emotions. Someone like Pauline Hanson coming back into power makes them feel safe in numbers. We have to learn to listen to those people, and they have to listen to the other side as well. It’s a very complicated situation. But at least one good thing you can say about someone like Pauline coming back into power is that we’re all talking about it again, which is what we weren’t doing post the riots. If we talk about it, maybe there is some way to find common ground.
You’ve filmed mostly comedy movies, but Down Under is your first one with a particularly bleak undertone and political commentary. Did you find it difficult to write the screenplay in terms of writing a comedy that’s more on the serious side?
I felt like I’ve been progressing in terms of the Tropfest films I’ve made, they have a darker side to them. Nowhere near as dark as this movie is, but I was kind of just naturally heading in that direction. I love working in comedy, but I felt in order to keep comedy interesting, I’m more interested in finding different ways of doing it. I’m 35 now, I was 19-20 when I made Ned, I’m just much more troubled by the world than I was when I grew up. I had a great upbringing with very supportive parents, so I had nothing to worry about in my teenage years. I feel like I’ve got a bit of a responsibility to try and make it more meaningful. I’ll never be able to change the world or any ingrown behaviour, but at least I’d like an audience to know what they’re in for and reflect on a deeper, more profound way.
Do you feel, a decade after the Cronulla riot happened, that race relations has gotten any better since, or is it just as bad?
It hasn’t gotten better. All we can do is hope it doesn’t get worse than now. The only positive thing I can say is that it’s in the open now and we can talk about it and stop it from boiling over again.
You made Ned, a parody of the Ned Kelly story. Like with Down Under, do you feel yourself drawn to the dark side of Australian history? Is that a conscious decision or coincidence?
I think the Ned thing was a bit of a coincidence, but I will say when I was 18 years old, when I first wrote Ned, I was angry about a lot of stuff. I was angry about people and filmmakers taking themselves very seriously, so I kind of as a reaction to make to make the most offensive thing imaginable. Also, that fed into the Ned Kelly legend that we hold him as an icon. My way of dealing with that anger was to be offensive, but nothing really backing up the offensive parts of it. I still get angry about the Cronulla riot, but the difference is now I think, “How do I deal with that anger that’s constructive rather than destructive?” So I guess it’s now finding ways of using comedy to make people laugh at something that will make them uncomfortable as well, and ultimately making a much more powerful statement, as opposed to being confronting for confronting’s sake.
What inspired you to make Computer Boy?
To make something come true and our solution was to make it at the locations where they filmed The Matrix at, that was the selling point. There’s so many locations in The Matrix that we actually went to, and it was fun being there and making something so puerile. The Matrix is still one of the most interesting contemporary films, it’s amazing how well it’s held up, especially against films released after it.
The guy who plays Neo has a cameo in Down Under as a star of the gay porno playing in the Thai house. Computer Boy was me kind of making stuff and failing, but some of that stuff has picked up a following, including Ned. Ned was a difficult experience for a lot of reasons, but I’m happy with it now. But it’s very much represents a time and place for me in my life, I wouldn’t know how to make a film like that again.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Wednesday 10 August 2016