Shawn Seet on why the new ‘Storm Boy’ resonates with today’s audience

(L-R) Jai Courtney, Finn Little and Shawn Seet.

Shawn Seet was 12 when he saw Henri Safran’s Storm Boy, the 1976 family drama based on Colin Thiele’s acclaimed novel.

The director was born in Australia but lived in Malaysia until he was 12. His uncle took him to the movie which made such an impression he kept the film’s poster, which still adorns his bedroom.

So when producers, Ambience Entertainment’s Michael Boughen and Matthew Street asked him to direct a contemporary re-imagining of the movie, he did not hesitate.

“It was amazing,” Seet tells IF. “I asked them, ‘Do you know my history?’ Safran’s film was wonderful, a classic, and as I left the meeting I wondered if I had what it takes to pull it off.”

Enthusiastic responses to previews staged by Sony Pictures and screenings at the St George OpenAir Cinema suggest he’s nailed it. Storm Boy, which stars Geoffrey Rush, Finn Little, Jai Courtney, Trevor Jamieson and Morgana Davies, launches on more than 300 screens this Thursday.

Scripted by Justin Monjo, the plot follows Rush as Michael Kingley, a successful retired businessman who goes to Adelaide as the company he founded decides whether or not to lease vast farming lands in the Pilbara to a mining company.

When his grand-daughter Maddy (Davies), who worries about the environmental impact of the deal, rebels against her father, he tells her the story of his youth when he lived with his father Hideaway Tom (Courtney) in a small shack between Ninety Mile Beach and the Coorong.

Little is the young Michael, aka Storm Boy, who befriends Fingerbone Bill (Jamieson), an Aboriginal man, and rescues three pelican chicks whose mother was killed by hunters.

Seet says: “Justin’s script, which gives the two time frames, is brilliant, underlining the timeliness of the story. We’ve passed the baton of the story onto another generation. I think audiences will have a good cry, but there is a layer of optimism.”

Casting directors Ann Robinson and Hannah Charlton searched far and wide for an actor to play Storm Boy. Little sent in a self-test which was so good the director and producers flew to Brisbane to meet with him to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

Seet hails Little, who has since appeared in Kim Farrant’s Angel of Mine, Hoodlum/Netflix’s Tidelands and Playmaker Media’s Reckoning, as an “absolute discovery,” explaining: “I can’t imagine how we would have made the film without him.

“He is Storm Boy. He’s one of the most sensitive, open actors that I’ve ever worked with, young or old, completely in touch with his emotions. He’s vitally robust and energetic, but has a very sensitive, almost fragile demeanour. He wears his heart on his sleeve and you feel his inner grief and sadness.”

Good Deed Entertainment has acquired the North American rights to the film funded by Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation, Piccadilly Pictures, Aurora Global Media Capital and Salt Media and Entertainment.

Kathy Morgan International pre-sold the film to a bunch of territories/regions including France, South East Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

It is Seet’s second feature following Two Fists, One Heart in 2008. He’d have liked to have directed more films but has ridden the TV drama wave with credits including Reckoning, Deep Water, The Code, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door and Love Child.

Next up for the director is Hungry Ghosts, Matchbox Pictures’ 4-part drama commissioned by SBS, which sees a vengeful spirit wreak havoc across the Vietnamese Australian community in Melbourne.