THE LATEST film from Bena based filmmaker Thomas Baricevic will have its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival in June, before touring the international festival circuit.
Dubbed a ‘neo urban Western adventure’, and set in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne, ‘The Coin’ tells the story of a young supermarket trolley collector named Suli and his quest to find the rare lost coin he believes will bring him a better life.
Thomas, who moved to Bena from North Warrandyte with his partner Jess Innes and their three children late last year, co-wrote, directed and co-produced the 15-minute film after winning a $50,000 Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship in 2017.
A fresh take on the classic Western, ‘The Coin’ is a visually beautiful film, with a stirring original score and a universal message.
It’s also the fourth film Thomas has made involving Melbourne’s Sudanese and South Sudanese communities, and touches on similar themes to those found in the 2009 documentary ‘Step by Step’ and short films ‘The Fabric’ (2014) and ‘Hope City’ (2015), but in a more light hearted and comical fashion.
“Coming from a migrant background myself, my previous work has often focussed on the idiosyncrasies of migrant communities and their struggles,” Thomas says.
“The Coin is probably the most light hearted. There are hints of the struggles Suli and his family have been through, but it’s a fairy-tale, magical realist kind of story.
“It’s essentially about mateship, and there’s a love story in there as well.”
Thomas says his films aim to challenge stereotypes and highlight some of the many other stories out there beyond the popular narrative about criminal African ‘gangs’.
“The idea is to create stories that have a different narrative than a political narrative,” he said.
“All the hysteria around gangs… it seems to go through lulls and then it comes back up again, and you’re not sure whether or not the government’s using it as a political tool.
“The first film I made with Sudanese kids, the documentary, Step by Step, was about delving into and demystifying some of that bad publicity that was happening back then, in 2009.
“And then I thought I’d dramatise some of it, and the drama films have just kept going.”
Working with Sudanese and South Sudanese youth with little to no acting experience, Thomas’ films tell stories about combating racism, being a refugee in a new country, dealing with a past of being a child solider and more.
“I write and direct films to tell stories to a global audience. To entertain, but also to provoke and encourage audiences to reflect on my protagonist’s plight and the broader themes embedded in these stories.
“I think that generally people are accepting of new communities but every time I hear something in media about Sudanese this or that or see gang violence, I just cringe and I just think what’s really behind this?
“Why are they picking on these people? There’s crime everywhere, there’s kids doing lots of bad stuff. Not just black kids but white kids as well.”
Thomas would love to screen ‘The Coin’ locally, after its premiere, and he’s keen to connect with any interested groups or venues.
And as for filmmaking in South Gippsland, Thomas says he’s “always got ideas brewing”, but he’s having a break at the moment, to “catch [his] breath” after spending nine months intensely crafting The Coin.
But he has been sitting on a treatment (the first draft of a screenplay) for a feature length horror film set in South Gippsland, called ‘Blood Red’, about a young farmer who goes to desperate lengths to save his beloved cows from slaughter.
“I wrote it ages ago, but it could happen one day. I’ve got locations for it, and I’ve sent it to a couple of producers to read, so we’ll see what happens.”
As he continues to work in a Melbourne production office three days a week, Thomas says he loves coming home to Bena, finding its green hills a great place to nurture his creativity, and his and Jess’ young children.
“The hills are alive,” he says. “They are! The soil down here, it’s very rich, everything just grows like crazy. And something about that fertility is something that I’m drawn to in terms of creativity.
“And I love the peace and quiet. I think creative people maybe need that. Need that space and that freedom. Where I can just walk around and you know ideas just pop into your head…
“I love nature. I think it’s good for the soul, and when we were in North Warrandyte, the kids were inside a lot. Here, we’ve got cows in the paddock and they get to kind of understand a little bit more about where things come from.
“My daughter’s seven years old and she’s already saying she wants to be a farmer.”
Award-winning filmmaker calls the Bena hills home