Jason Raftopoulos has wrapped on his next feature Voices in Deep in Athens, starring newcomer Hannah Sims in the lead as an Australian humanitarian.
The film is the second from the writer-director, following the Melbourne-set West of Sunshine, starring the late Damian Hill. That drama premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the Orizzonti section and went on to be nominated for three AACTA Awards.
In Voices in Deep, Sims stars as Bobby, who becomes connected to the lives of two orphaned refugees Tarek and Zaheed following a tragedy at sea.
Bobby compulsively exposes herself to strangers to dull the tragic memories, but a chance encounter with Gloria (played by Greek actress Angeliki Papoulia), leads them on an adventure together. Tarek and Zaeed (newcomers Michael Hilane and Christos Karavevas) fend for themselves on the streets. Tarek sells his body for food and shelter to provide for his increasingly vulnerable younger brother. Desperate to pull them out of their situation, Zaeed takes matters into his own hands, setting off a chain of devastating events.
“For centuries, Athens has been a place where the lives of millions have intersected; it’s a city that has been both conqueror and conquered, a place of great enlightenment and great oppression, a melting pot of religions ideas and sexual ambiguity,” Raftopoulos said.
“It is for these reasons that I chose Athens as the setting to explore ideas of time, desperation, identity and freedom.”
Many of the West of Sunshine team have reassembled for the film, including Exile Entertainment producers Alexandros Ouzas and Tessa Mansfield-Hung. Raftopoulos also produces through Small Village Films.
Arcadia are the Greek production company, with George Linardakis serving as producer.
Ouzas told IF he wanted to continue to working with Raftopoulos after West of Sunshine as they share similar tastes, work ethics and attitudes towards filmmaking, as well as a deep respect for each other.
However, preparing a production in Greece during a pandemic was no mean feat.
“Mounting our first international production overseas, during COVID, without access to the Temporary Interruption Fund, without a bond and without production funding through the agencies, was as hard it gets for producing a film,” Ouzas said.
“But we wanted to challenge ourselves after West of Sunshine, to raise the bar, and the material that we were dealing with, coupled with shooting a film overseas felt like that challenge.”
Initially the plan was to shoot in September of last year, but the COVID risk still seemed too great. The next window, given the seasons in Athens, was May this year.
By that stage, it was “now or never” as the Gallipoli clause, which allowed certain international shooting expenses to be claimed as QAPE under the Producer Offset, was due to end in July.
“By then we trusted our team could execute the creative vision while staying COVID-safe. We managed to get through production without any major issues – the Greek Gods were on our side!
“We have to give a shout out to our lender, Michael Agar from Mind The Gap, and our private investors – without their support this film wouldn’t have happened.”
The team were introduced to its Greek producing partners via a mutual connection in late 2019.
“There were a lot of meetings over Zoom and late night calls on WhatsApp that allowed us to form a bond that acted as the backbone to the relationship,” Ouzas said.
“Importantly, they understood Jason’s creative vision and our style of filmmaking. We can’t speak more highly of our experience producing a film in Greece and the incredible cast and crew that we had the pleasure of working with.”
As for Sims, Raftopoulos had her on his radar from very early on in development after conducting a workshop she was in. When casting began the team asked her to put down an audition and were “blown away”, noting she had the fearlessness needed for Bobby.
Further collaborators from West of Sunshine include DOP Thom Neal, editor Paul Rowe, colourist Nicholas Hower and post supervisor Darius Family.
In Greece the team worked with combination of veteran and up-and-coming HoDs, including Vassilia Rozana (costume designer), Lydia Georgana (casting director), Zabela Chaviara (1st AD) and Marilena Efthymiou (Line Producer).
Post-production moves back to Melbourne at PostLab IO.
Voices in Deep is supported through the Producer Offset and the Greek funding body EKOME, with development funds from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.
Exile Entertainment will distribute the film in Australia and New Zealand, with Arclight handling the rest of the world.