Adon Blake was visiting the National Gallery of Victoria in 2018 with his wife when he came across Peter Graham’s 1889 painting After the Massacre of Glencoe.
The haunting depiction of survivors climbing to safety in the Scottish Highlands above their torched homes would form the inspiration for his debut feature Heretics, which wrapped filming in Western Australia in August.
Set in 10th century Europe, the film follows 15-year-old Alka (Chloe-Jean Vincent), who must find the courage within herself to save her brother Sylwester (Kilian Roberts) from the clutches of the enemy.
The cast also includes Scott Cathery, Justin Markham, William Wallace Killen, and Kiran Wilson.
Blake, who wrote, directed, and is producing the project via his company Full Heart Films, said he wrote the story after being fascinated by the landscape in Graham’s work.
“For whatever reason, I imagined a family running up that hill [in the painting] away from something,” he said.
“I didn’t know what they were running from but because of the painting’s style, I knew it was some kind of medieval time period.
“I asked myself what was the scariest thing they could run away from and I thought there was nothing really scarier than people, so I knew I could base it on some kind of historical event.”
After researching the Middle Ages, he found a backdrop that matched the style he was aiming for.
“It was something that happened mostly in Poland and around central Europe.”
“There was this group of ‘unofficial crusaders’ in the year 900 that went through central Europe to wipe out the pagans and that kind of thing.”
Blake began filming what was initially intended to be a short in October 2019, before deciding to extend the running time to just over an hour.
Shot on a crowd-sourced budget of less than $5,000, the production utilised pine trees of Gnangara and Myalup to replicate the European setting, along with the Moondyne Convention Centre and the hills of Harvey, south of Perth.
Producing with Blake are Evelyn Gomez and Greg Pereira, with the creative team rounded out by composer Matt Dewson and production designer Kitty Hiraeth.
All the costumes for the core characters of the film were designed and handmade by the filmmaker’s mother, Leslie DeSilva, while the majority of costumes for the extras were acquired from a local LARP (Live Action Role Play) store.
The project’s financial constraints soon became coupled with COVID challenges as the pandemic led to some of the casting being done via zoom and a reconfiguration of the shooting schedule.
Blake said while the process was not easy at any stage, he did his best to ease the pain for his cast and crew.
“From the very beginning, I had multiple plans in place and an idea of how we would do things if money was no issue and of how we could get it done if we never made any money at all,” he said.
“We got enough money to meet the minimum requirements and the only reason why the film was possible was because everyone was so generous with their time and their talents.
“I tried to do my best to make it easier for them because they were giving so much to the project.”
With the film in the can, Blake hoping for a festival run encompassing both domestic and international events.
He is also eyeing Event Cinemas Innaloo as a screening location, although no distributor has yet been confirmed.
“A lot of people prefer to go for the independent cinemas but Innaloo is special for me because that’s where I met my wife for the first time and we ended up doing our wedding photoshoot there too,” he said.
“So I think it is only fitting that I try and do a screening there.”