Ben Lawrence to tell refugee tale in ‘Hearts and Bones’

(L-R): ‘Hearts and Bones’ writer-director Ben Lawrence, co-writer Beatrix Christian and producer Matt Reeder. 

Fresh off a Sydney Film Festival win for his doco Ghosthunter, writer-director Ben Lawrence has received funding from Screen Australia and Create NSW for narrative feature Hearts and Bones, set in Western Sydney.

The film, co-written by Beatrix Christian and produced by Night Kitchen Production’s Matt Reeder, will detail the friendship between a war photographer and a South Sudanese refugee in western Sydney.

According to the synopsis, it will explore issues of “personal identity, the ties of family, friendship, masculinity and fatherhood, all set against Sydney’s diverse and expanding cultural divide.”

Producer Matt Reeder worked with South Sudanese criminal lawyer, refugee and public speaker Deng Adut for community consultation to develop the story and scripting.

“Throughout development it was vitally important for the voices of the characters to be as truthful as possible,” he said.

“With the support of Screen Australia we were able to consult directly with members of the South Sudanese community, in particular Deng Adut, who offered invaluable first-hand insight which enabled us to ground our fictional story with the anchor of authenticity.”

Principal production funding has been provided by Screen Australia in association with ANZ distributor Curious Film, and financed with support from Spectrum Films and Create NSW.

South Sudanese filmmaker Ez Deng, who worked on SBS drama Sunshine, is working as a casting consultant for the film, and as a director’s attachment. Deng will conduct open casting for a male lead for the South Sudanese communities in Melbourne on June 23 and Sydney July 21.

This will be Lawrence’s first scripted feature. His documentary Ghosthunter, about a Western Sydney security guard and part time ghosthunter Jason who has spent two decades searching for his missing father, won the $10,000 Documentary Australian Foundation Award at Sydney Film Festival on Sunday evening.

Screen Australia head of production Sally Caplan said: “Ben Lawrence has had huge success as a TVC director, and so we are excited by this timely, moving and surprising feature film story he has crafted with co-writer Beatrix Christian, about the residual trauma of war and the road to redemption and hope, set in Western Sydney.

“It is compelling and distinctive. Ben’s a star on the rise and it’s fantastic to see his talent develop into features, first with his extraordinary award-winning documentary Ghosthunter and now with his first scripted feature, Hearts and Bones.”

Create NSW director of screen sector investment Sophia Zachariou said: “Finding diverse stories that reflect cultural realism is a key priority for us and we were delighted with the premise of Hearts and Bones. As home to a significant refugee population, for a NSW and specifically Western Sydney set story, it’s important that audiences have access to such reflective stories. We were glad to see that such consideration has been taken in developing the feature.”

If you are interested in auditioning for Hearts and Bones, please contact: