Curtin graduate?s award winning film opens this week

Curtin University of Technology graduate Elissa Down’s award winning first feature film The Black Balloon – starring Australian actress Toni Collette – opens in cinemas around the country this week on March 6.

Elissa directed and co-wrote The Black Balloon that was filmed in the outer suburbs of Sydney and tells the story of a family dealing with the challenges of autism.

The film – also starring Perth’s Gemma Ward – was awarded a Crystal Bear for best feature-length film by the Generation 14plus Youth Jury of the 58th Berlin International Film Festival.

‘This film was very personal to me as my family was the main inspiration behind it. It is a film that will make you laugh and make you cry,’ Elissa said.

‘I have three brothers – two of whom have autism – and I grew up knowing in my heart of hearts that one day my family story would make fertile ground for a film.’

Elissa graduated from Curtin in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts with streams in Film and TV and Theatre Arts.

After leaving Curtin she started out making short films and concentrated on honing her skills in directing and writing as well as building up her networks within the film industry.

‘I met Gemma Ward while we were working on my short film Pink Pyjamas which was shot in WA and we have been friends ever since,’ Elissa said.

‘We started writing the script for The Black Balloon in 2002 and my big break came when I sent a draft of it to Tristram Miall – the producer of Strictly Ballroom – and he promptly fell in love with it. Together we worked on the script that was eventually sent to Toni Collette who also fell in love with the story too.

‘Having Toni Collette on board was just amazing as I believe she is one of the finest actors in the world. After Gemma Ward joined the cast we started filming in January 2006.’

Elissa is thrilled will the success that her film has received on the international festival circuit.

‘Now that the film has gone on to win an award my head is spinning and it’s all a little overwhelming for me at the moment,’ Elissa said.

‘We had our premiere recently, and I am delighted that The Black Balloon received good reviews from some of Australia’s top critics such as Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton.’

Curtin’s Head of Communication and Cultural Studies, Dr Ron Blaber, said Elissa was an outstanding example of the accomplishments that Curtin students can attain.

‘We are very proud to have a shining star like Elissa as one of our graduates,’ Dr Blaber said.

‘Other talented graduates from Communication and Cultural Studies include actor Frances O’Connor who is starring in the new TV series Cashmere Mafia, Simone Heng who is a TV Presenter with Postcards WA and the face of cable network HBO Asia, and freelance playwright and director Luke Milton.’

To help produce higher quality graduates Curtin has recently injected over $1million into improving and upgrading the film and television areas with new editing systems and equipment.

Elissa fondly remembers studying at Curtin.

‘The Film and TV course was awesome, and I learnt heaps about films and acting by studying Theatre Arts too,’ Elissa said.

‘I believe the key to getting anywhere in the film industry is sheer determination, believing in yourself and perseverance.’

[release from Curtin University of Technology}

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