Steve Vidler’s 2019 film Standing Up For Sunny, which centred on a comedian with cerebral palsy, ignited in the director a passion for bringing stories of people with disability to screen, driving forward his next project, Always & Everywhere.
The feature, written by Chris Phillips, is inspired by a life-changing event from her childhood and the ‘magical healing qualities’ of Sydney’s Currawong Beach.
The script has been through various different options since 2005 (under the title Six Weeks in Heaven), but Vidler’s suggestion to Phillips, his partner in Sidekick Pictures, that the young main character be reworked to have Williams Syndrome, has given it new momentum.
The film centres on Celeste, a 9-year-old girl whose quirky expressiveness, enthusiasm and lack of social boundaries makes her an outcast. When her beloved teen brother Hal is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Celeste vows to help him achieve three rites-of-passage wishes. So when her family travels from New York City to take their camping holiday at the Australian beach, Celeste and Hal dive into an imaginary reality that only they can see.
Melbourne’s Sunjive Studios will produce the project with Sidekick Pictures, with Phillips having and pitched the project to Sunjive’s Silvio Salom at an Australians in Film event in LA in 2019.
“When we were first approached about Always & Everywhere two things intrigued us. First was the story, that of warmth, humanity and positiveness as uniquely seen through the eyes of a very special young girl, a tale that in any other circumstance would be tragic,” Sunjive producer Vasili Papanicolou tells IF.
“The other element was the magic realism that permeated the narrative and allowed for powerful symbolic storytelling to take shape and capture the changes in people’s lives. The themes that Chris Phillips and Steve Vidler are tackling in this heartwarming and often heart wrenching story, we find not just remarkable but hugely inspirational.”
The screenplay is being further developed through a co-creative workshop model with individuals with Williams Syndrome, individuals living with a disability, and parents of children with Williams Syndrome, with the hope for an “authentic voice” through development, pre-production, production and marketing.
Among those involved are Williams Syndrome Australia CEO Dianne Petrie and partner Richard Petrie; filmmaker Fiona Tuomy; filmmaker Judy Huemann; psychologist, researcher and Williams Syndrome specialist Melanie Porter; and Change for Balance – Cause Media and Marketing CEO Judi Ketcik. The latter’s organisation is partnered with Easterseals, the largest disability advocacy organisation in the US, tasked by Netflix and Amazon with sourcing and recommending disability based screen projects.
Standing Up For Sunny, which won the Best Indie Film AACTA, has also strengthened Vidler’s relationships with disability advocacy groups in LA.
The hope is to begin production in early 2022, with a number of interested parties in the project. Caitlin Yeo is attached as composer and Dany Cooper as editor.
The aim is to now secure cast, with the team putting out a casting call for a young girl (8–13) with Williams Syndrome or other appropriate neurodiversity to play a leading role in the film (see below). SunJive’s LA representative Brian Gersh is also helping to spearhead the casting process.
Applicants for the role of Celeste will be invited to participate in the screenplay workshops. When production commences the team are also committing to hiring at least one crew member in each department who identify as living with disability.
The producers hope the film will prompt a conversation about death and dying that is accessible to a four-quadrant audience, and that the magical realism elements, grounded in the iconic Australian beach and bush, make the film fresh and distinctive.
Vidler says: “The film will transport the audience visually into Celeste’s point-of-view, with all its wonder, emotion and delightful unpredictability, while remaining grounded in the powerful emotional reality of a family dealing with the loss of a child. Celeste is navigating her own challenges and heartbreak differently to everyone around her. Despite her differences, she becomes the link that holds the family together. I’m really excited about finding a young actor with Williams Syndrome to be our Celeste, and working with her to bring this wonderful character to life.”
The casting call:
SunJive Entertainment and Sidekick Pictures are seeking a young girl (8 – 13) with Williams Syndrome, or who is otherwise neuro-diverse, to play a leading role in a new feature film, Always & Everywhere. Acting experience preferable but not necessary.
Always & Everywhere is a magical, heart-warming family drama in the vein of Wonder and Beasts of The Southern Wild. It is the story of a young family finding hope and courage in the face of grief and loss, seen through the unique POV of a little girl with Williams Syndrome.
The role: Celeste (age can be anywhere from 8 to 13)
Celeste is an extraordinary little girl with Williams Syndrome who lives with her American mum and Australian dad in New York. Celeste is highly social, empathetic and extremely friendly. She is verbally expressive and speaks with a poetic flair beyond her years. Celeste’s favourite person in the world is her big brother Hal. As long as she’s with him, everything is wonderful. When Hal is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, all Hal wants is to have their yearly family camping holiday by the Australian beach. Celeste escapes into an imaginary reality where she believes she can save Hal by helping him achieve three holiday wishes.
What the child will need to do:
- Learn and remember lines from a script
- Let go of what people think so they can be the character
- Take direction
- A love of singing will be helpful
- Acting coach will be provided to assist throughout production
If this sounds of interest to you and your child, please email a headshot and if possible a short video (taken on your phone will be fine) and little blurb about who you are and any previous performance experience to: firstname.lastname@example.org