Ahmed Malek, David Wenham and Baykali Ganambarr to star in ‘The Furnace’

Ahmed Malek.

Writer-director Roderick Mackay’s feature debut The Furnace is set to kick off in WA next month, headlined by a cast that includes Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek, David Wenham and The Nightingale’s Baykali Ganambarr.

Set in the during the 1890s gold rush, the film is described as an “unlikely hero’s tale” navigating greed and identity. It illuminates a history of Australia’s ‘Ghan’ cameleers, predominantly Muslim and Sikh men from India, Afghanistan and Persia, who opened up the desert interior, and formed unique bonds with local Aboriginal people.

Malek, named a Rising Star at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, will play Hanif, a young cameleer who forms a partnership with a bushman on the run with Crown gold. The bushman, Mal, will be played by Wenham, a long-time supporter of the project. Together, they must outwit zealous troopers in a race to reset the gold bars at a secret furnace.

Starring alongside is Ganambarr, winner of the Venice Film Festival’s 2018 Marcello Mastroianni award for best new young performer, Trevor Jamieson (Storm Boy, Cleverman), Erik Thomson (Storm Boy, The Luminaries), Mahesh Jadu (Marco Polo) and Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding).

Timothy White (I Am Mother) and Tenille Kennedy (H is For Happiness) will produce the film, a Southern Light Films, Meaning Maker and The Koop production. HODs include DOP Mick McDermott (Hounds of Love), production designer Clayton Jauncey (Last Cab To Darwin), costume designer Lisa Gunning Galea (Below) and editor Merlin Eden (Hounds of Love).

The production has been supported by Screen Australia, Screenwest and Lotterywest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund, and will shoot in Mount Magnet and Kalbarri in WA’s Mid-West region.

Mackay said: “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to shine a light on a crucial yet little known chapter of Australia’s history, celebrating the cultural diversity of our early pioneers. In addition to our talented and diverse supporting cast, I could not be more excited to be working with iconic Australian actor, David Wenham, and rising Egyptian star, Ahmed Malek, whose heartfelt performances will anchor the story’s rugged gold rush setting.”

Screen Australia head of content said Sally Caplan said: “Writer/director Roderick Mackay has been on our radar since the release of his impressive short films Trigger and Factory293. We’re delighted to support his feature directorial debut and look forward to seeing him bring this multicultural frontier story to screen with this talented and diverse cast, and the support of experienced producers Tim White and Tenille Kennedy.”

Screenwest CEO Willie Rowe said: “It’s terrific to have this untold period of Australia’s history be brought to life in WA and I wish the team all the best for the production. The Mid West region is the perfect location for this story. I can’t wait to see how they capture the rugged landscapes and showcase the region’s unique beauty to the world with this film.

Umbrella Films will distribute in Australia and New Zealand.