Writer-director Dee Dogan and producer Bethany Bruce.
Following on from anthology film Here Out West, writer-director Dee Dogan is readying another project set in Western Sydney – her debut feature, the semi-autobiographical A Cup of Tea.
The comedy drama centres on Helin Most, an 18-year-old in her final year of high school with dreams of becoming a journalist. However, her ambitions create conflict with her Kurdish parents, who struggle to make ends meet with their food truck, where Helin works as well.
When her English teacher encourages Helin to enter a prestigious journalism competition, she writes a story about the tea ceremonies that are a cornerstone of her community’s life. The tea is traditionally served by the women and enjoyed by the men.
The research and writing Helin embarks on fuels tension within her family and the broader community, and in the process, she uncovers a tragic secret.
Dogan describes A Cup of Tea as as a fresh take on the coming-of-age tale, drawing on the two worlds she has grown up in as a Kurdish-Australian.
Designed as a comment on the casual mistreatment of women in domestic settings, she believes it captures themes many women growing up in the diaspora community can relate to. Beyond that, it touches on universal issues like self-discovery, family and intersectional connection.
“It’s a timely, entertaining, contemporary story about belonging and definitely identity, in one’s family and the community in Australia,” she tells IF.
“The film will hopefully cast light on the casual mistreatment of women and the need for change, especially the change that needs to happen from our kitchen.”
She wrote chapter ‘The Musician’, which followed a Yazidi refugee family and their experiences settling into Australia, including the central character’s desire to open a music school.
Her other work includes short films A Loss and Being Kurd – Bashur.
Producing A Cup of Tea is Bethany Bruce, alongside Bridget Ikin and John Maynard from Felix Media.
Bruce tells IF she was keen to work on the project as it felt like the kind of film she’d want to see, noting there are still far too few projects helmed by female directors and told from underrepresented perspectives.
A Cup of Tea was one of three Australian projects recently selected for the second stage of global film incubator Attagirl, which supports women and non-binary filmmakers.
The For Film’s Sake initiative sees participants undertake industry-facing workshops centred on story, market and audience.
As a result of the lab, script is now almost ready to take to market, with plans for a diverse cast.
Bruce tells IF initiatives like Attagirl are “absolutely crucial” for emerging and mid-career filmmakers in terms of attracting marketplace attention. Of particular benefit were the script development intensives, in terms of honing the narrative and determining the target audience.
“I really want to thank Attagirl. In our screen industry, there is a lot of push for female and diverse creatives, but there is a huge gap between the financing or the support for that. It’s not just diversity, it’s class. Both Dee and I are from incredibly working-class backgrounds and families, and to cut through in this industry purely on merit is actually an extraordinary feat.
“My whole career has been built on receiving funding from Screen Australia via specialist initiatives, which were propelled a lot from Gender Matters and #MeToo. What is the next wave of that in terms of finding and elevating talent like Dee, for example, which Here Out West did really well. If it wasn’t for programs like Attagirl our project wouldn’t be at this late stage.”
Dogan adds the lab has shown a great deal of commitment to help female and diverse creatives bring projects to market.
“The experience has been both positive and supportive. Bethany and I have worked very hard – with sweat and tears – to get here and we are just so thrilled to be supported by Attagirl.”
With Bruce, Dogan is also developing short film Lullaby, about a Kurdish lullaby soloist.