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DUNCAN, PETER – UNFINISHED SKY

WORTH TELLING
After a nine year hiatus, Peter Duncan returns to feature directing with Unfinished Sky, a dramatic love story with universal themes and global relevance; the trick was to make the film worth re-telling in Australia, he tells Andrew L. Urban.


Peter Duncan’s intelligent transportation of a critically acclaimed Dutch film, The Polish Bride, from Holland to the Australian outback depended for its success – in his eyes, at last – on finding “a way to make it worth telling in Australia, and worth telling it again, after it had been made into a pretty good film to start with,” he says after the film opened the 2008 Dungog Film Festival (May 29). Standing outside the oldest cinema in Australia, the James Picture Theatre (opened in 1914), Peter talks about Unfinished Sky with quiet confidence and satisfaction.

“The conceit that attracted me is the post 9/11 world – the consequences of that day include a West that has become less trusting, more isolated.” This is what drove Peter to transplant the story of a Polish woman who fled to Holland, was raped and forced into prostitution. In Unfinished Sky, the woman is an illegal migrant looking for her daughter who fled to Australia with another family. But she is held against her will in a country town hotel, until she escapes and ends up on the remote farm of reclusive widower, John Woldring (William McInnes).

“John is an Aussie farmer in self imposed isolation,” says Peter, “who is forced to confront this strange foreigner and he has a choice to either embrace or reject her. Embracing her makes his life richer.” The role of the woman in both films, named Tahmeena in Unfinished Sky and Anna in The Polish Bride, is played by the same actress: Monic Hendrickx. In the Dutch film she had to speak some lines in Polish; in the Australian film she learnt some lines in Dari (Persian). Peter admits he agreed to meet with her when casting the film “to be polite to the producers,” but was quickly convinced Monic was ideal for the role.

"an engaging and intriguing drama"

Anchored by its two outstanding central performances, Unfinished Sky is an engaging and intriguing drama. It is engaging for its characters and intriguing for its unpredictable story.

The film is the first production by New Holland Pictures, a company established by Australian producers Cathy and Mark Overett and Dutch producers Anton Smit and San Fu Maltha, specifically to make English language feature films.

Previously Cathy and Mark had established a highly successful international television business, which included a relationship with IdtV Film in Holland, run by Anton Smit.

“We were very keen to get into the feature film business and they were very keen to start to expand into English language films, so we sat down at a round table and discussed a number of projects which were possible, and this one rose to the surface,” Cathy explains.

“It is a remake a Dutch film called De Poolse Bruid (The Polish Bride) and it is very much one which has universal themes. It is four years since we started to make this and it is interesting that the themes even then were quite resounding, but now even more so. It is quite pertinent to today’s times both in Australia and internationally.”

Anton Smit has been visiting Australia for 30 years and was looking for the right opportunity to work here: “I’ve always been very frustrated when a beautiful Dutch movie doesn’t cross over internationally because of its language and so I’ve been toying with the idea of finding a Dutch movie and trying to translate it to make it into an English language movie.

"a real Australian film"

“With this film, I had from the beginning the idea of making it into a real Australian film, a beautiful love story which would also be a political statement. In Holland, the film was about how, when the Iron Curtain went down, a mass of women from behind the Iron Curtain came to the West. Some of them were forced into prostitution. In our film the woman is from Afghanistan and she falls in love with a Queensland farmer.”

Anton and Cathy talked to several writers about adapting the script of The Polish Bride to an Australian setting. They chose Peter Duncan initially as the writer but then it quickly became apparent that Peter was also the right person to direct the film.

“We only had five weeks to shoot it,” says Peter, “but what you lose in exuberance over the years you make up in experience.”

Published June 19, 2008

 

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Peter Duncan

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UNFINISHED SKY
Dir Peter Duncan
When loner John Woldring (William McInnes) sees a distraught, bruised & bloodied woman scrambling on his outback Queensland property, he has no option but to tend for her – even though he doesn’t understand a word she says. She seems terrified of some locals. Within the next few days he learns her name is Tahmeena (Monic Hendrickx) and on a map, she indicates she’s from Afghanistan. In town, John gets suspicious of the publican (Bille Brown), who is asking about one of their ‘cleaners’ having made a run for it. John keeps Tahmeena hidden at his house, teaching her English and soon learns she fled Afghanistan in search of her daughter, who had replaced a dead girl in a refugee family. When he offers her clothes from a cupboard, Tahmeena discovers secrets from John’s past. But the publican comes looking for her and local cop Carl (David Field) also catches up with her. And they’ve met before …

Australian release: June 19, 2008







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