Israeli filmmaker Ami Drozd speaks to FilmInk about the tender and funny ‘My Australia’, drawn partly from his own experiences, and reveals his home country to be a rich storytelling nation.
For any film making its international debut at a foreign film festival, it often helps to have some tangible aspect of the project that is easily recognisable to viewers – something to help it stand out from its fellow unknown competitors. This could manifest itself in the form of an acclaimed actor-director combination, a unique story or a familiar setting.
For director Ami Drozd’s My Australia, the initial connection with the intended audience comes from the title, despite the fact that the land down under never once appears on screen. But delve a little deeper than a headline, and one will find a film with a truly universal message.
My Australia follows two brothers, Tadek (Jakub Wroblewski) and Andrzej (Lukasz Sikora), as they migrate from Poland to Israel, and the physical, as well as emotional journey that comes with starting a new life. “Somebody who went through immigration can identify with the story of the brothers very much,” says Drozd. “Because, at some point, they reach the stage that each one has to fight for his own survival. In the beginning, they stick with each other because that’s the easiest solution. But it can’t hold for long.”
So, how exactly does Australia fit in? Well, younger brother Tadek has grown up harbouring much hatred towards Jews, so his mother lies to him, telling him that his presents and care packages from his aunt in Israel are actually coming from Australia. “That’s why the boy develops a passion for Australia,” says Drozd thoughtfully. “He dreams of a great country…with great packages,” he adds with a chuckle.
Of course, Tadek never gets that far as he learns of the lie and is instead forced to adjust to a hostile, new world. Crucial to the development of the character is that Tadek himself is based on Drozd’s experience as a child.
In shooting a film he called “semi-autobiographical” and “about eighty per cent real”, Drozd was conscious of what life episodes he would and wouldn’t expose young Jakub to. “I asked [the cast] that he not know the whole story – only the sequences he has to play,” he says sombrely, but not before reverting to gentle humour. “It wasn’t until the middle [of shooting] that he realised it was my story. Then he would always come up to me and say, ‘Really, that’s what you did? That's what happened?!’”
Indeed, the young lead’s performance is charming, sincere and funny; the film’s undeniable highlight for which the actor and his director deserve praise. When asked whether he placed more significance on pure acting talent or someone who reminded him of himself during casting, Drozd put it bluntly. “It’s both, definitely. Early on, I thought he wouldn’t reflect the deeper, inner conflict going on because he was so small. But then, I started to realise age was not so important.”
An innate need to belong is the blood that runs through the film’s body, as the theme of societal acceptance hangs above the construction of almost every scene. “Israel is not like America, where you can be Catholic, Buddhist, whatever. In that way we are very racist,” Drozd says with a wry smile that draws a polite laugh, but also one that reflects the outward truth of his statement. “We accept Jews only, so if you have something different, you’d better hide it.”
Drozd also took time to address the direction he thinks the Israeli film industry is heading. “I think there is a lot of talent in Israel,” he assures. “This is a country that has endless stories because, in every family, you have a couple of feature films. And that’s the way I treat filmmaking: as the family album of a nation. You enter, you watch the film, and you understand what this society is all about.”
My Australia is screening as part of the AICE Israeli Film Festival, which is currently running in Sydney (until August 26), and will then roll out in Melbourne (August 28-September 9), Brisbane (August 29-September 5), Adelaide (September 5-9) and Perth (September 4-12). Find out venue and event information here.