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With temperatures expected to soar beyond forty degree Celsius this summer, it is quite apt that the only Australian feature film to make it to the Venice Film Festival in 2020 is a period drama called The Furnace.
Roderick MacKay’s directorial debut was inspired in many ways by an untold chapter of the Australian colonial history about the Gold Rush. Himself a son of immigrant parents, MacKay tells a moving story about the migrant cameleers from Afghanistan, India and Persia, who worked in transportation of materials as the job of nation-building raged on.
The plot revolves around a young Afghan cameleer (Ahmed Malek) who partners with a bushman (David Wenham) who is on the run with two Crown marked gold bars with overzealous police in hot pursuit. Their goal is to outwit the police and reach a furnace in a secret location so that the gold can be melted down, removing the mark of the Crown to be claimed as booty for their perilous travails.
The Furnace boasts of an international star cast with powerful performances from Ahmed Malek, David Wenham, Jay Ryan, Erik Thomson, Baykali Ganambarr, Trevor Jamieson, Osamah Sami, Goran D Kleut, Samson Coulter, Mansoor Noor, Steve McCall, Amanda Ma, Gary Young, Sean Choolbura, David Motearefi, Mahesh Jadu, Dayal Singh and Brisbane-based Australian Indian actor Kaushik Das.
There is an additive heart-warming narrative about unique bonds formed with local Aboriginal people.
Interestingly, this film is not only a historical Western subgenre but also experiments with multiple language forms in addition to English. The voicing of dialogues in Pashto, Punjabi, Cantonese and the Badimaya, an Indigenous Australian language, is sure to touch a chord with both international and local viewers. The quality of the subtitling and other cinematographic features is excellent.
For history and language buffs, Badimaya is known as a “sleeping language” as the last speaker of Badimaya language passed-away in 2018 before the completion of the film.
The Indian links are the three Punjabi characters with one Hindu and two Sikhs who play pivotal and memorable roles in the film. Kaushik Das who plays a role of a Sikh cameleer had to work hard on his Punjabi accent being from West Bengal originally. Speaking to Indian Link, Das said, “This movie is a game changer in how the Indian, Punjabi and Sikh community will be viewed by future Australian generations.”
Filming in the forty degree plus heat in Western Australia, he added, also toughened him both physically and emotionally.
This film has received rave reviews from movie critics around the world after much acclaim in the prestigious Venice Film Festival earlier this year. The success of this film at the international stage is a very positive outcome for Australian cinema.
Speaking to Indian Link, director Roderick MacKay sounded confident that this film will cause a sea of change in how history is taught in Australian schools. He also gave credit to Geoffrey Bolton, Western Australia’s most prominent historian, for inspiring him to think about this project, and to Hanifa Deen, writer of Ali Abdul v The King, for her research.
After capturing the viewers’ imagination and critics’ attention in Western Australia and Venice, The Furnace released across Australia on 10 December.
The Furnace has been described as an unlikely hero’s tale navigating greed and the search for identity in a new land. Even though the film portrays a fictional account of men chasing their dreams of fortune, it is very relevant today where many overseas migrants come to Australia in search of a better life. A must watch for those curious about the history of Australia.