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An interview with David Field,

director of The Combination

 

David Field has the kind of lived-in knockabout face that lends his acting skills to vicious villains, cranky cops and working class rascals. He’s on our screens right now in Channel Seven’s City Homicide (Sunday, 8.30pm), where he plays Detective Superintendent Terry Jarvis (Armed Robbery and Drug Squad, no less). But his credits stretch back over 25 years, taking in tough projects like: Ghosts of the Civil Dead, Everynight…Everynight, Blackrock, Two Hands, Silent Partner, Unfinished Sky and the BlackJack series. Now the AFI Award-winning actor has stepped behind the camera to direct a film, and it’s no surprise that his debut feature, The Combination, is a tough, sometimes violent and thoroughly convincing depiction of life in Sydney’s western suburbs.

 

Written by George Basha, (who also plays the lead), The Combination is based on events in Basha’s own troubled youth. The film tells the tale of two Lebanese brothers living in Sydney’s Guildford, and dealing with gang violence, crime, racial conflict and cultural expectations. Privately financed, and starring many young untrained actors, the film has an authentic vigour. This is backed up by experienced cinematography (Toby Oliver, Looking for Alibrandi) and editing (Ken Sallows, Chopper) and a vibrant original soundtrack (by Jimmy Jamal) that mixes traditional Middle Eastern sounds with Arabic hip-hop and R&B.

 

When the AFI caught up with David Field recently, (pictured above with George Basha), he told us why he spent the last seven years bringing this story to the screen, and why he hopes it connects with audiences outside of the inner-city art-house cinemas:

 

AFI: Why do you think you had trouble getting any kind of official funding for this film?

 

David Field: I think perhaps it was because of the work I’ve done, and maybe because I have a kind of ‘working class feel’ about me. I think to be honest, there’s a real middle class snobbery in our business towards people who don’t sound university educated. There’s a tendency to think that university equals intelligence and imagination. I think in Australia that no matter what your track record is – of acting in 25 films or whatever – somehow people seem to think that [any success I’ve had] is due to instinct or luck rather than any sense of craft or intelligence.

 

AFI: Do you think perhaps also it was the fact that George Basha, your writer, didn’t have that kind of traditional script-writing background either?

 

DF: Definitely. I always felt a little bit offended that nobody wanted to listen, because George had a really unique story. And the first time I read the draft I thought, ‘you can’t write this unless you know this’. We have no voice from out in the west. We make no films from out in the west.

 

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AFI: And there aren’t any independent cinemas out in the western suburbs of Sydney either.

 

DF: No, there are real structural problems that I think this film takes on. We don’t have a film school out in the west. We don’t really give these sorts of people access to the film world. We have a pretty white-bread sort of a film industry and perhaps that is why filmgoers haven’t been going to see Australian films. I remember asking George if he’d seen certain Australian films, and he hadn’t. And I said to him, ‘you don’t watch many Aussie films do you?’ and he said, ‘why would I? We’re not in ‘em.’ Touche.

 

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AFI: So you’re targeting your film at those people?

 

DF: Yes, though of course we also want to reach that other audience who want to see a world they haven’t seen before. But I think one of the problems in the Australian film industry is that we’re making films for our own peers a lot of the time. But these people here in the cinemas are the ones who have to lay down $15 every time they want to see a film. I think we’re coming to a bit of a crossroads [in the industry] and we have to stop all the self-praise and self-aggrandising, and – it’s a bit like the Obama approach – pull in our heads and have a bit of humility. Stop resting on the laurels of the people who’ve gone to Hollywood, and bring ourselves back to a humble place. I think we need to reappraise the reasons we make films.

 

AFI: You spent seven years trying to get this film up?

 

DF: Yes, it was always going to be a difficult path but I always had faith. I always knew that visually and dramatically this

story would work, it would hold together. And we wanted to take people into a world that perhaps they hadn’t been into – the way Once Were Warriors takes you into a different world, or La Haine takes you into new places, even if they’re urban or suburban.

 

AFI: The Combination explores racism and prejudice on so many levels, but it’s not giving Lebanese gangs an easy ride either.

 

DF: There’s so much anger being perpetrated by the media all the time, especially since 9/11. And there are so many suppositions made about Middle Eastern people all the time in Australia – the remnants of ten years of Howard government, ten years of fear mongering is still potent in our psyche. But I think one of the beauties of George’s script is that he hasn’t had a whinge about that. In fact he has affronted his own youth community to say, ‘hey guys, you’re travelling a very dangerous track here. You make a choice and you f*** up, then you’re going to pay the price, no matter where you are, or where your people are from.’

 

AFI: Your distributor [Australian Film Syndicate] is trying a bit of a new strategy here to engage a younger outer suburban audience aren’t they?

 

 

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DF: We’ve got to grab our core audience and get our figures on the board straight up so that the exhibitors say, ‘hey we’ve got a film here that’s travelling well – a film that’s in plusses not minuses’. So we’re targeting our core audiences, for example in Melbourne it’s Northland, Southland, Sunshine, Knox…and the Lebanese population, a lot of flyers in Turkish, and a grass roots campaign in those areas. Our viral campaign has been very successful – we’ve had over 600,000 hits on our YouTube trailer, so that’s not bad. There’s an audience for the film, we’ve just got to let them know it’s here and where to find it.

 

AFI: All the best with your film, David. We’ll be watching its progress with interest!

 

Rochelle Siemienowicz
AFI Editor

 

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE FILM

 

READ

Filmink article on The Combination. By Erin Free.
Inside Film review of The Combination. By Zona Marie Tan.
Inside Film’s article about Australian Film Syndicate’s plans to market and promote

The Combination. By Simon de Bruyn.


LISTEN

An interview with George Basha and David Field on 774 ABC Radio with Richard Stubbs.


LOOK

Visit the AFI page devoted to The Combination for trailers, cast and crew listings and cinemas showing the film.



 
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