Jub Clerc to celebrate teenagehood in debut feature ‘Sweet As’

Jub Clerc. (Photo: Martine Perrett)

Writer-director Jub Clerc’s debut feature Sweet As is due to shoot on location in the Pilbara early next year, after receiving major production funding from Screen Australia’s Indigenous department.

Set in the Pilbara, the coming-of-age film follows 15-year-old Indigenous girl Murra, who finds herself abandoned after an argument with her mother.

When an unusual lifeline is thrown her way by her Uncle Ian, a local cop, in the form of a travelling Photo Safari, Murra finds herself careening down a dusty highway with a bus full of ‘at risk’ teens and two peculiar team leaders.

A Nyal Nyal/Yawaru woman, the dramedy is inspired by Clerc’s own experience growing up in the Pilbara and The Kimberley; she did a photo safari with National Geographic when she was growing up.

While the story is embellished for screen, the writer-director says the characters are amalgamations of both herself and other people from her life. She promises a road trip that will both pull at the heartstrings and make you laugh.

“It’s not a dark, brooding, coming-of-age road journey. It’s a celebration of teenagehood; a young girl turning into a young woman, of first crushes, odd team leaders, and a motley band of other at risk kids,” she tells IF.

Sweet As stems from a long-standing ambition between Clerc and close friend, Arenamedia producer Liz Kearney, to create a feature together.

The duo have previously collaborated on a variety of work, from co-ordinating Screenwest’s Deadly Yarns initiative, and shooting The Turning segment Abbreviation. After tossing around ideas for years, it was Kearney who encouraged Clerc to bring the photo safari tale to screen.

“Her track record is just spectacular with Arenamedia, and having that relationship with her throughout my career, it’s just so easy to work with each other. We understand each other’s language, Clerc says. 

Penning the script with Clerc was another long-term collaborator, Steve Rodgers. He was the dramaturge on Clerc’s first play, ‘The Fever and the Fret’.

“Working with him was so effortless and such joy. He’s got a very intelligent mind, and a real empathy for characters,” she says. “He’s a blue-eyed, blonde haired white boy from Sydney and I’m this Aboriginal, brown-haired, brown-eyed girl from The Kimberley. But we were on the same wavelength, which was just this human connection.”

Cast and crew are still in some flux given COVID-19, but Clerc notes she wrote some characters with particular actors in mind, and has flagged crew she knows can work in “the desert and the heat”. Louise Gough is the script editor, and Robert Connelly executive producer.

The journey to greenlight has been nearly six years. Sweet As was the winner of Screenwest’s $750,000 West Coast Visions fund in 2018, and has also been backed by the Western Australian Regional Film Fund, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Premiere Fund and Film Victoria. Connelly’s Cinemaplus will handle local distribution, with international sales via LevelK

Sweet As marks Clerc’s first feature after helming episodes of the ABC’s The Heights, a segment of The Turning, and shorts Storytime and Min Min Light. She is also an actor, having appeared in Mad BastardsSatellite BoyJasper Jones and Mystery Road series 1.

The filmmaker is also working with Truant Pictures to develop short film Storytime, a supernatural thriller, into a feature (working title The Gooynbooyn), and is the writer’s room for a number of other projects.

Clerc is so grateful to all of the funding bodies for supporting her in Sweet As, stating “Considering what’s going on in the world at the moment, honestly, I didn’t know which way the pendulum would swing.”

Screen Australia head of Indigenous Penny Smallacombe said: “Jub Clerc is an exciting talent, and we are thrilled to support her as she embarks on the next step in her career. We are also excited that this story is told from the point of view of a young Aboriginal teenager, a perspective we don’t see enough of on screen. Coupled with the amazing back drop of the Pilbara, Sweet As will be a film that adds volumes to the Indigenous Australian film canon.”