Australian actor Frank Magree has been a staple on Australian television since 1992, when he first burst onto the screen with Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper. But now he’s looking to branch out, making his writer-co-director debut with his new project Sengatan, a gripping short film that tells the terrifying true story of an Australian man who’s been travelling around South-East Asia for years before getting caught up in the activities of a drug ring.
The film has been going gangbusters on the festival circuit (winning best film at the Capricorn Film Festival, the Gold Coast Film Festival, Best Foreign Film at Murtle Beach Film Festival and Best Editing at Flickerfest, among others), both in Australia and the United States, and Magree and his team have been doing even better, having just been shortlisted for Sydney Film Festival’s Lexus Fellowship.
When FilmInk spoke with Magree about the story behind Sengatan, he clued us in on the truth to the tale and his secrets to success.
What drew you to the story of the mule and how faithfully did you stick to the truth of the story?
I remember when the Bali Nine were arrested for drug smuggling, there was a photo of Scott Rush just in his undies with heroin strapped to his body. The horror of what that young man must have felt in that very moment… It just stuck with me.
During a surf trip in Indonesia we met the guy this film is based on, after following up his story and hearing him recount how harrowing his experience was. I knew this was the story I wanted to tell. This was a film I would like to see. We kept very true to the events that took place and the story he told. We felt it was not just important for him but very important for the throughline of the film.
Sengatan is doing so well on the festival circuit, and is making its rounds in some of the bigger festivals in the States. Australian audiences can identify with the story through its Australian expat main character and our Indonesian ties, but to what do you attribute its US success?
I think it’s doing well in the US because they have a fascination with Australia’s no-bullshit attitude and, in turn, our no-bullshit filmmaking. The success of Animal Kingdom is a good example, we’re seen as risk-takers and adventurers.
With Sengatan as your directorial debut, do you have plans to direct more in the future?
Absolutely, I have a little team made up of myself, James Ballard (who was my DP on Sengatan), and Paul Henri (who was my co-director on Sengatan). We are all writers, actors, directors and have formed our own production company. We’re shooting a short film in Zimbabwe in November, in which Paul Henri will be playing the lead part of a private security contractor at an oil refinery who finds himself caught up in something rather horrific.
Also with the help of Marc Gracie and David Redman we are working to develop Sengatan into an eight-part series.
Lastly, I’m very grateful to have recently been shortlisted for the Lexus Fellowship, which is an incredible opportunity. They choose 4 out of 20 shortlisted filmmakers to receive a $50K budget for their next short film. The script I submitted is about a guy who gets a phone call from himself 6 years in the future, while in prison, telling him things are not quite as they seem. Hopefully I will be one of the four selected filmmakers and you will get to see the film!
Check out the teaser: