It’s been almost a decade since Serhat Caradee has called the shots on a feature film set. Back in 2008 he was directing his feature debut, Cedar Boys, which had also taken almost 10 years to get up even though his dynamic short film, Bound, made as part of his AFTRS degree, was one of the best that this country had produced in ages.
Sick of waiting for another chance to direct a feature, Caradee and Cedar Boys lead actor Les Chantery took an idea that they had for a one act play, expanded it to feature length and decided to go the indie route to get it done.
“90 pages in 10 days. 90 pages in 10 days,” Serhat Caradee repeats, impressing but also incredulous, on one of the final days of the shoot of A Lion Returns.
According to A Lion Returns’ successful Pozible campaign, which raised almost $50,000 of the film’s budget, “The story begins with the return of Jamal, who has arrived back in Australia after spending 18 months in the Middle East… Is he a militant with a cause or an easily led pawn in a bigger global picture? A story about redemption, forgiveness and the consequences of your actions on the people you leave behind.”
The cast is led by exciting newcomer Tyler De Nawi (The Principal, Here Come the Habibs), with Danny Elacci, Jacqui Purvis, Maha Wilson, Buddy Dannoun, Helen Chebatte, Taffy Hany and Les Chantery in support.
On the day that we visit the film’s inner west Sydney set, a freestanding house in a quiet leafy street, you wouldn’t know that a film production has taken over the residence until you walk down the driveway and note the food truck, and the dozens of mostly young multicultural cast and crew parked in the backyard. It’s lunchtime, which gives Serhat a rare moment to tell us about the film.
“You’re always waiting for someone to get back to you on a big production, but on this, you just go and do it,” he says, comparing his previous experience with today’s challenge of A Lion Returns. “[On Cedar Boys] the days were so spread out, I had more money, more people involved, I had less worry. But that worry also allowed me to focus on just directing and nothing else. This, because it was a short time span, low budget, short shooting days, it allowed me to have more control. And I like that actually.”
Pre-production on A Lion Returns took three weeks, and production commenced with a 3-day shoot of a car scene that makes up the first 30 minutes of the film.
“We’re using hardly any lights,” Serhat tells us. “We want to shoot fast. We only have two lights with us; sometimes we use it for ‘outside in’, but nothing really inside locations. Everything is coming from outside sources, whether it’s artificial or the sun. It helped a lot with shooting, and the look, which is really naturalistic.
“I was really influenced by the Dardenne Brothers for this,” he adds. “There’s so much dialogue. The first 30 minutes is two guys talking in the back of the car. 28-29 pages. The coverage for that is going to be interesting. The characters are arguing in their heads, we hear it, but they’re just looking out windows thinking like that’s what they wanted to say; and then we go back into the script.
“We had planes going over our heads,” Serhat continues, reflecting the location of the shoot. “So, it’s that hold, and they just stay in the moment and we don’t cut and keep rolling. And then I thought, ‘you know what, I will do some improvs with the actors to build them up; and then we will insert some of that stillness from the impro’. So, they’ll be arguing in their heads, we’ll hear the argument, and sometimes we may even see the argument because we shot the impro, and then it’ll be back in the dialogue. Steven Soderbergh did it in a film called The Limey. I did a bit in Cedar Boys.”
Of Turkish background, Serhat Caredee moonlights as an actor and teacher, but as his film references attest, his main passion is making films, especially ones that reflect the world that he lives in rather than some idealised version of Australia. To that end, A Lion Returns is as topical as it gets.
“Given what’s going on at the moment, these guys are all coming back, whether it’s Germany, France, England, Denmark, Australia,” he says. “A lot of them went over there for a reason, and there are two reasons that they’re coming back; they’re getting their arse kicked by the Russians and the Syrians, so they’re losing ground and going back to their own country. And also, some of them come back because they realise that what they went over there for is not what they expected. Some of them are traumatised, some of them have PTSD.
“Of course, people are going to say, ‘why did you humanise a militant?’ Well, it’s easy to label him as that because that’s what everyone sees him as,” Serhat says defending his protagonist. “But if you actually look at it, he went over for reasons he did not expect, he’s come back worse emotionally and psychologically. What happens to them now? Do they just mingle back in with society, do they continue the cause, do they hand themselves in? There was an interesting doco called Hug a Jihadi, and it was a program about how do you deal with these kids? What do you do with them? A lot of them say ‘lock them up, who cares?’ But some of them were misled, they were going over for a noble cause – be it joining a gang, going to become a man, fight for Kalifat, create their own world – but it didn’t work out that way.”
With a number of other films in advanced stages of development, if there was any justice, the talented and passionate Serhat Caradee will be able to create his own cinematic world and won’t have to wait another 10 years to yell action on his next project.
Stay up to date with A Lion Returns here.