The four-part psychological thriller, which was screened a week ago as part of the Berlin International Film Festival’s drama program, is about a group of Australians — played by Phoebe Tonkin, Joel Jackson, Ewen Leslie, Leeanna Walsman and Jacqueline McKenzie — enjoying a picturesque sailing holiday in the waters to this country’s north.
But when they encounter a broken-down fishing boat of asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia, life-and-death decisions are required. After initially offering help, the Australians find a tow rope is furtively cut in the night, leading to an immediate tragedy for one Iraqi family as well as a persistent mystery that affects all their futures.
“We worked hard to overcome the distance between audiences and this scenario,’’ says Ivin. “It’s easy to think: ‘If I was in that situation, I would act nobly.’ But when you are confronted in the open water and you can’t turn away — or change the channel — we would all probably act differently to how we imagine.”
Ivin, whose directorial work in recent years includes Seven Types of Ambiguity, Gallipoli and Puberty Blues, says the metaphorical significance of the yacht was mirrored in the Brisbane filming location.
“If we think of the Aussies’ yacht as Australia, they have food, water and space in abundance, surrounded by water, in contrast to the asylum-seekers’ boat,” he says. “I hadn’t shot or even spent a lot of time in Brisbane before, but when I started really looking, it was clear that this is what Australia looks like to the outside world — a place where, if you work hard, you can have a good life.”
For Tonkin, 28, best known for playing a mermaid in the long-running children’s series H20: Just Add Water, it marks a return to acting in Australia after almost a decade in Los Angeles. Ivin says he saw the dramatic depth in the actress, who has been starring in The Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals for the past five years.
“Phoebe sent this screen test from LA and I just had tears in my eyes,” he says.
“She could just see her character Olivia on the page. There was so much emotion and honesty. I don’t think people have seen Phoebe that way.”
For her part, Tonkin says playing a “pure dramatic contemporary role” rather than the “heightened” world of fantasy, was a long-held ambition. “I have been very fortunate in working solidly for 10 years in LA, but have frankly felt typecast and limited in the type of opportunities I’ve been offered,” she says.
“I always knew I was capable of doing work that was more grounded and serious. Olivia has a very distinct character arc, going from a very vibrant and excited person to being profoundly affected by what happens on the boat, and its aftermath. It’s like the light in her has been dimmed.”
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