Lay Of The Land
After garnering awards and acclaim for her debut documentary My Mother India, Australian filmmaker SAFINA UBEROI tackles a truly sensitive subject with the sure-to-polarise A GOOD MAN.
"I really wanted to make a small but meaningful story," says Safina Uberoi. "I couldn't believe that I found this one, because it's just a beautiful, beautiful, and very inspiring story." That inspiring story also happens to be a very strange and surprising one.
Chris Rohrlach, the titular chap of the title, is a straight-up Aussie bloke. He's a grazier from the northern NSW town of Inverell, and runs his life by simple rules and philosophies. That life, however, is more than a little complicated. Fourteen years ago, Chris' pregnant girlfriend, Rachel, suffered a massive stroke, which left her a quadriplegic with extreme neurological impairment. Not only did she and Chris marry and have their child, but they now have another baby. Despite a strong support network and a town that is willing to help out wherever they can, life is tough on the land, and the Rohrlach family find themselves struggling. Their solution? The Rohrlach clan collectively decides to diversify into small business...by opening Inverell's first legal brothel. This is an extraordinary story of love, commitment, the uniquely Australian culture of country people, and a resilience that seems to know no bounds.
"My brother actually knew these people," Uberoi says of how she came to find this extraordinary subject matter. "He'd been telling me about them for years, but I paid no attention to him. You know, he's my brother! Finally, he said, ‘Look, come down and meet them.' I met them and I just thought that they were so extraordinary. You think you're going to meet a desert farmer with a crippled wife, and that it's going to be miserable. But it's not; they're full of light and life and joy. Chris has done so much, and he just does it so lightly. Everybody joins in: his parents, her parents, carers, local people, and their own son. This was a terrific story."
Setting up a brothel in Inverell is not easy: the community protested loudly and vociferously, and Rohrlach and his principal financial partner (a Danish dairy farmer) set about actually building the brothel themselves, from the ground up, using rough hewn timber from the local area. "It was filmed for a year," Uberoi says of the process. "We didn't film every day for a year, but we went down there six or seven times. Chris and Rachel actually had a second child during that time. So Chris was juggling a baby, a crippled wife, and he was building a brothel. We'd go there, and we'd just pitch in. You're not just a filmmaker, because you can't be. It's such a deeply, profoundly moving and disturbing human situation. We just became part of it, and every now and then we'd go, ‘Oh God, we've got to film something'."
“We’d go there, and we’d just pitch in. You’re not just a filmmaker, because you can’t be. It’s such a deeply, profoundly moving and disturbing human situation.”
Though some may see the film's title - A Good Man - as an ironic label because of the fact that Rohrlach is involved in a socially frowned upon activity (namely, sex for profit), Uberoi describes this complicated individual with nothing but warmth and positivity. "There's a kind of moral and biblical reference because, you know, he's made the ultimate sacrifice, for love," she says of the title. "He's looked after a woman for fourteen years who's like a six-month-old baby who can never grow up. That's what it's like. She can't move her arms and legs; she can't move her bowels. She can't speak. So he does everything for her."
Uberoi chose to tell this story not on the good graces of the traditional Australian film funding system...though that had nothing to do with them blocking her potentially divisive material. "We couldn't be bothered waiting around for the funding bodies," she says. "There's a baby being born, there's a brothel being built. You have to wait six months here; they're saying yes, but for six months, there's no money." In response, Uberoi looked a little closer to home for financial backing. The major investor was Uberoi's husband, Himman Dhamija, a highly successful cinematographer in India who has worked on some of that country's biggest Bollywood films (Chandni Chowk To China, Heyy Baby). "He's really big now," Uberoi smiles of her Australian based husband who shot her first documentary My Mother India. "He's up to his seventh mega-feature."
Though dealing with all manner of issues - the sex industry; love and relationships for the physically and mentally handicapped; the difficulties of living on the land in Australia; conservatism in this country's heartland - Safina Uberoi ultimately sees A Good Man as a film that hopefully mixes the very simple with the incredibly complex. "It's about family," she says. "It's a film about love. It's a film about the meaning of life...not that I didn't want to take on too much or anything!"
A Good Man premieres at the 2009 Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival, which is on between February 19 and March 1, 2009. For more information, head to www.adelaidefilmfestival.org. A Good Man will screen on ABC-TV later this year.