Aquarius Films developing gay refugee feature ‘Paradise’

Left: Aquarius Films' Polly Staniford and Angie Fielder. Right: Journalist and 'Paradise' co-writer Abdul Karim Hekmat.

Aquarius Films is developing a feature film based on journalist Abdul Karim Hekmat’s The Monthly article ‘True Love in Nauru’, about two gay refugees who meet and fall in love while in offshore detention.

Titled Paradise, the film will explore how the men’s relationship becomes a life-affirming source of strength as they take on institutional indifference and overcome hopelessness, before finally making their way to freedom.

Hekmat, himself a refugee from Afghanistan who spent five months in detention, will write the screenplay in collaboration with Roger Monk, who recently worked with Aquarius on The Unusual Suspects.

Attached to direct are Rhys Graham and actor Phoenix Raei, in the latter’s feature directorial debut. Graham recently directed episodes of Aquarius’ ABC children’s series, The Unlisted, while Raei’s recent projects as an actor include Netflix’s The Night Agent and Clickbait.

Aquarius’ Angie Fielder and Polly Staniford produce with Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding). Miranda Culley is the executive producer.

“When Nima and Ashkan told me about their incredible and forbidden love story, I was so moved I decided to write it for others to read,” said Hekmat.

“This kind of heart-wrenching and harrowing story, I thought exists only in imaginative literature, however, this is a true love story that happened in the secretive and inhospitable place of Australia’s offshore detention centre. I am excited to be working with the team at Aquarius and talented scriptwriter, Roger Monk, to bring this passionate love story to the world.”

In a joint statement Fielder and Staniford they were so moved by Hekmat’s article, in that it captured “the triumph of the human spirit”.

“We want to bring this story to the screen because we are so inspired by these brave men who, despite every imaginable obstacle, prevailed and stayed true to their love.”

Screen Australia has already funded script development in partnership with LevelK, who are handling international sales.

Aquarius Films is currently in production on ABC drama Savage River, helmed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, and has a hefty development slate.

It includes series The Geography of Friendship with Dollhouse Pictures, which is in development with Stan and Lionsgate; film Most Admired Woman based on the biography Sister Kenny: The Woman Who Challenged the Doctors, co-produced with Decade Films; sci-fi thriller The Subjugate based on the acclaimed novel of the same title written by award-winner Amanda Bridgeman and co-produced with Anonymous Content; and comedy drama series Fight Like a Girl adapted from novel of the same title by Clementine Ford.