Peter Hegedus’ Sorella’s Story and Ryan Griffen’s Lustration have joined the Australian contingent for next month’s Venice International Film Festival, selected as part of the Venice Immersive strand.
Hegedus wrote, directed, and produced the 360-degree immersive film, which is screening in competition at the event.
With the help of VR headsets, audiences find themselves in a snowy landscape with 10-year-old Sorella Epstein (Kiara Kalmár), who they soon learn is part of a group of Latvian Jewish women ordered to undress in freezing temperatures prior to mass execution on a beach in Liepaja, Latvia during the Holocaust.
The Soul Visions Films production was shot in Hungary with Sorella voiced by Charlotte Stent.
It was developed with the assistance of Queensland’s Griffith Film School, where Hegedus teaches, and produced by Jaclyn McLendon and Bobbi-Lea Dionysius, with Axel Grigor and András Muhi co-producing.
Latvian Australian Ethel Davies, whose aunt and cousins perished in the same massacre as Sorella, acted as a consultant to the fictionalised work.
Principal production funding came from Screen Australia, in association with Screen Queensland, Griffith University’s Disrupting Violence Beacon, and Dalarna University Sweden.
Screening out of competition in the Best Of section are all four episode of the first season of New Canvas’ virtual reality series Lustration, written and created by Griffen.
The four-part fantasy noir follows a group of characters whose stories are mysteriously intertwined in both the real world and the afterlife. As the characters’ stories unfold and intersect, it is revealed the lengths some will go to in the name of love, while uncovering a conspiracy so vast it has impacted every facet of existence. Each episode is told from a different character’s perspective and can be experienced from different vantage points.
Voice actors for the project include Kevin Conroy, Grey Griffin, Dante Basco, Tamlyn Tomita, Shakira Clanton, Kelton Pell, and Hunter-Page Lochard.
Taryne Laffar and Carolina Sorensen produced, while Nathan Anderson was the executive producer with Griffen, Wolfgang Bylsma, and Conroy.
Hegedus, who was inspired to create his project after coming across a 1941 smuggled photograph while researching for his 2018 documentary Lili, told IF he was “so humbled” with the recognition from the international film festival.
“Sometimes when you make films, you think, ‘Oh I can’t wait to get into this festival or that festival’,” he said.
“When I was making this film, all I could think about were the women in the photograph and what they were put through, along with thousand of others.
“My intention has always been to illuminate this story and get it in front of an audience and so the Venice selection is more than what I imagined.”
Sorella’s Story forms part of a suite of projects from Hegedus on the subject matter, the next of which is In Their Name, a half-hour exploration into the three-year journey to make the immersive film that will premiere on ABC’s Compass at 6.30pm on Sunday, August 7.
There is also the upcoming feature documentary, To Never Forget, which uses Sorella’s Story to offer a broader examination of the Latvian Holocaust.
Hegedus hoped to release the film this year, having been encouraged by some positive international feedback.
“The selectors at Venice watched the rough cut [of To Never Forget] and loved it,” he said.
“At one stage, they thought they would want to show it as part of the immersive experience, but they said it was a very powerful documentary that deserves its own premiere somewhere else where it can be properly seen.
“I’ve downloaded the graded version and hopefully in 2-3 weeks we will have finished the sound, at which point we will look a premiering it somewhere overseas.”
Venice’s 79th edition will run August 31 – September 10.