Recently, I keep thinking of thinking of the old Qantas I still call Australia home and the Welcome home ads. You know the ones with the soaring Peter Allen music and the girl and boy choirs? I remember thinking they were cheesy and I remember feeling a great deal of pride watching multicultural Australians walk through those airport gates and come home to Australia.
In contrast, Australians these days are inundated with media reports about asylum seekers, refugees and loss of life. “Stopping the boats” has been Tony Abbott’s battle cry, held up as evidence that voting his government in has been the right thing to do. Sometimes, it seems to me like he thinks it’s the only measure of success of his time in power that should matter.
Some days, it seems like politics trumps everything for this current government, including the wellbeing of children.
And, now I keep thinking how far away from that Australia in those ads we are. Our humanity seems to have been lost when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers.
This is the point from which Benchmark Film’s animation series Woven Threads approaches the topic of refugees. The series will consist of nine animated short films that will tell the stories behind refugees who have survived so much to find a home in Australia. The series wants to humanise them and remind us of the small joys in life that we take for granted. I spoke to Paul Sullivan, the producer, about the series, expecting a commentary on refugees and the political climate, but arguably, the series has grander, if simpler, ambitions than that.
“What it [Woven Threads] is about, is that in everyone’s journey in life, no matter how difficult it is, whether you’re an asylum seeker, a refugee or whether you suffer from mental illness, everyone’s journey can be difficult,” says Paul. “But what we’re focusing on at this point in time is just those happy moments that everyone can relate to and that can humanise the topic.”
The series was created and directed by Michi Marosszeky, a friend and co-worker of Paul’s for about 15 years. “She showed me the sort of rough outline of what the concept was and how it was going to work etc. That’s sort of when I became involved because you know, it’s a great passion project to be involved in.”
For Michi, doubly so – the first film, Marti, is based on her mother’s experiences in Hungary at Christmas in 1956. Marti, Michi’s mother, and her family were fleeing to the Australian embassy during the Hungarian revolution. But, Marti’s mother was hospitalised and separated from her family for about six weeks, and in an effort to temper her child’s expectations, her mother told Marti not to expect a Christmas that year. But, through the kindness of strangers, their family did have Christmas before they left to come to Australia.
“We just wanted people to be able to relate to the stories on a level that everyone can and be like, ‘Oh yeah. Wow, what a beautiful moment, what a beautiful story. I get that’,” Paul explains.
Marti debuted at TEDx this year, and the response was incredible, he says. “It was great seeing it up on the big screen.” The second film, Kabil, is already finished.
“The next one is about an Iraqi family who were separated for five years in their plight to come to Australia and what kept them connected was mobile phone technology,” Paul explains. They fled persecution in Iraq to start a new life in Australia in 1999. For five years of travel they were separated, with neither side knowing if the others were alive or dead.
Through the gift of modern technology they were reconnected via mobile phone, and realised that they had all survived the journey. It took two more years for the family to be completely reunited in Australia, but since they’ve been back with each other, they haven’t been separated since.
The third film is about Somali brothers who came here a few years ago, he says, and there’s a fourth planned about a Vietnamese woman, who had been stranded on an island for 18 months.
“The one thing that concerned her the most about being stuck on that island as a teenage girl was that she only had the same clothes to wear every day for a year,” Paul explains, which elicits a laugh from me.
“So many people can relate to that,” he agrees, and it’s that sort of relatability that will help when they take this series into high schools next year. This year, the series was part of Harmony Day and Marti was screened at a couple of schools.
“The teenage girl Vietnamese story would be perfect [for high schools] because it’s something they can relate to,” he says. The remaining five stories are still to be determined, but Paul is open to anyone who wants to share their stories with Michi and him for the series.
“Some people that we’ve kind of talked to are a little bit wary to sort of really share their story yet. But others are you know, ‘Yeah this is what we did and it was amazing and please tell everybody’,” he explains.
They’re not looking for any stories with specific criteria, but people who’ve been on a journey that wasn’t necessarily what they expected on their way to Australia. “We just look to find a story within their journey,” he says.
In a far cry from the media and politics recently, the series portrays Australia as a haven, a place where these refugees have been welcomed – a home.
“I think subconsciously that is part of it,” Paul says. “I mean, we are definitely a multicultural society and although things might seem a little bit tense at the moment, you know, it is something that is very prevalent for us. It’s very prevalent across every single facet of society and I think that if we can — when people are thinking about it and they see our videos, put a smile on their face in relation to it, as opposed to a frown or a scowl then our job is done.”
Organisations like Documentary Australia Foundation and Amnesty International have thrown their support behind this series as well. The project is open to more sponsors to be able to bring the remaining five films to screen.
It’s haunting listening to Marti in the first film. She’s a survivor of a revolution, and she and her family turned to Australia to find a home. It’s a wonderous thing to consider what coming to Australia means to so many people.
If you have a story to share for the series, please contact Benchmark Films: PaulSullo@bechmarkfilms.com.au