SBS crime drama ‘Sunshine’ unearths new talent as it focuses on an often-vilified community

Behind the scenes of ‘Sunshine’: director Daina Reid speaks to actors Wally Elnour (Jacob) and Ror da Poet (Deng Deng).

When Daina Reid was offered the gig of directing SBS’s crime drama Sunshine, she readily agreed for three main reasons.

One was to immerse herself in a very different culture, the South Sudanese community, who often have been vilified by sections of the media.

Another was the opportunity to work with first-time actors who play members of that community in Sunshine in Melbourne’s outer west.

The final clincher was being able to collaborate with the producers, Ian Collie (now heading up Easy Tiger Productions) and Carver Films’ Sarah Shaw and Anna McLeish, and writers Matt Cameron (Secret City) and Elise McCredie (Nowhere Boys).

In sum, she tells IF: “I wanted to do something challenging, to help tell a real and authentic story about people who had not had their story shown on Australian television before.”

The director, whose extensive credits include The Secret River, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Wrong Girl and Offspring, is delighted with the result, declaring: “It’s been one of the most uplifting, rewarding and joyous experiences I’ve ever had.

”Viewers will get to see an incredible crime story and a part of their diverse culture. These young South Sudanese people are Australians but I don’t think most of Australia understands that. With any new culture coming into Australia, everyone takes time to adjust. I think telling these stories helps that process.”

Creative consultant Ez Eldin Deng, director Daina Reid and DOP Bruce Young on the set of ‘Sunshine’.

Reid acknowledges she had a lot of help from Sudanese-born Ez Eldin Deng, who served as director’s attachment, cultural consultant and liaison between the production and the South Sudanese community.

The search for new talent started with casting director Allison Meadows handing out flyers at a big basketball event in Werribee, which led to auditions. “We found the most incredible performers with whom we then did workshops with our actors, working with drama coach Greg Saunders,” Reid said.

One of their discoveries, Wally Elnour, plays Jacob, a young, aspiring South Sudanese-Australian basketball player who dreams of playing for the NBA in the US.

His hopes hang in the balance when he and his friends are drawn into a criminal investigation as police are hunting the perpetrator of a violent assault on a teenage girl.

“Wally has a beautiful vulnerability and connection to the story,” the director said. “It is his story.”

Anthony LaPaglia plays Eddie, a former basketballer and Sunshine resident who once played in the US and agrees to coach Jacob’s underperforming team, The Sunshine Kings.

Melanie Lynskey is Zara, a Sunshine-raised lawyer and adopted daughter of a terrible basketball coach known as The White Peacock (Kym Gyngell), who comes to Jacob’s aid.

The cast also includes Tiarnie Coupland, Vince Colosimo, Leah Vandenberg, Paul Ireland and Trudy Helliers.

The drama premieres on SBS on Wednesday October 18 at 8.30pm. Screen Australia provided major production funding in association with Film Victoria. FremantleMedia is handling international sales

Reid spoke to IF from the set of Romper Stomper, the TV series sequel to Geoffrey Wright’s 1992 movie, which was commissioned by Stan and stars Toby Wallace, Jacqueline McKenzie, Lachy Hulme and David Wenham.

The six-part crime drama/political thriller is produced by Roadshow Rough Diamond’s John Edwards and Dan Edwards and Wright. Reid is sharing directing duties with Wright and James Napier Robertson, with scripts by Wright, Robertson, author/poet/rapper Omar Musa and journalist Malcolm Knox.

“Everything is very ambitious: we are trying to achieve a lot with a little, as usual,” she said. “It’s much darker than Sunshine when it comes to race issues. We are dealing with the rise of the Alt-Right, which is depressing.”