“It started by accidentally plagiarizing To Sir With Love, then twisting it” is how director Reuben Field describes the creation of his hour-long TV drama, Dungoona. Winning last year’s ONE80PROJECT with the trailer Wauchope, Field and producer Dean Bates set about adapting 180 seconds into an hour spot with the help of their $180,000 prize money (which as been expanded this year to $250,000).
“So when you make the trailer, you don’t necessarily have a film in mind and I didn’t very thoroughly,” Field reveals, “and most critically, after making that trailer, I got around to watching To Sir With Love…and then I sort of shit myself and realised that my plan was to basically remake that without knowing it.”
Amidst hours of watching inspirational teacher movies (“many of them being crap”), Field teamed up with screenwriter, Jonothan Gavin, “We decided to push it more towards the foul-mouthed, scummy, country school kids and away from the teacher.” The resulting Dungoona (a name that literally means ‘shit shit’) is fronted by the feisty 15-year-old Gemma McNeill (Natasha Bassett) who leads the audience into the motley crew of misfits dumped at the feet of unorthodox teacher Mr. Berlin (Darin Berlin). Any obvious Dangerous Minds (or To Sir With Love) transformative scenes are very quickly dispensed with, as these stylish, snappy and darkly comedic drama follows Gemma and her cohorts as they traverse the drug, sex and alcohol minefield of teen life.
Drawing from personal experience Field says, “It’s actually a mixture of stories between myself, Jonothan Gavin and Dean Bates.
"We all grew up in country towns. I didn’t have a pregnant girlfriend, but there were half a dozen pregnant girls in my school, so it was something I was pretty close to.
“I think the kids in the country have an extra serving of angst as they grow up. They’re agitated. It’s a mixture of boredom, and the limitations of being in the country pisses kids off.”
This personal resonance is something that drew Logie winner Kat Stewart (Underbelly) to the role of Gemma’s trashy mother, Trish. Field puts this casting coup down to the fact Stewart, “saw people from her youth in the character and wanted to do it.”
The generational thread of Stewart’s role forms a key part of the story.
“Growing up I thought the rebellion of kids in my school was not really a rebellion at all because they were acting like their parents. These are kids who were being rebellious by getting very drunk and smoking, and their parents are alcoholics who smoked. This totally faulty kind of rebellion seemed absurd to me and I wanted to paint a picture of that.”
However it is the formidable newcomer Bassett who steals the show with her fearless embodiment of Gemma. Field is clearly impressed, “Especially because she’s a SCEGGS girl [referring to the Eastern Suburbs school]. With that in mind she’s really quite unbelievably good.”
Neither director nor actor pull any of their punches, “I wanted the subject matter to be difficult,” Field describes, “but for the film to be nonetheless easy to watch. I wanted the entertainment of it to be a Trojan horse for the themes.”
What: the ONE80Project
Where & When: Voting commences 1 March. Head to one80project.com.au
Dungoona is screening on MTV tonight at 8pm - or watch it online.
Published by Street Press Australia