Venice acclaim for Jason Raftopoulos’ debut feature ‘West of Sunshine’

‘West of Sunshine’.

The international sales prospects of first-time writer-director Jason Raftopoulos’ drama West of Sunshine look positive in view of the critical acclaim that has followed its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

Screened in Orizzonti, the section dedicated to new trends in world cinema, the film drew praise for the performances of leads Damian Hill and Tyler Perham and the affecting story of a father/son relationship.

Hill plays a working-class Melbourne man who is forced to care for his son (Perham, Hill’s real-life stepson) while he has less than a day to repay a $15,000 debt to a vicious loan shark.

Kat Stewart, Tony Nikolakopoulos and Arthur Angel co-star in the film based on Raftopoulos’ short Father’s Day, which won the Silver Remi Award at the World fest Houston International Film Festival.

In a director’s statement Raftopoulos said: “Cinematically I took inspiration from Italian Neorealist cinema, documenting the unfolding events, but also playing with that style to heighten the subtext in key moments of the film. In a disconnected society my aim for this film was to celebrate the simple but fundamental values of humanity and family.”

Screen Daily’s Sarah Ward hailed the film produced by Exile Entertainment’s Alexandros Ouzas as “a sincere and resonant effort that finds relatable insights in its slight yet involving scenario. As well as an Australian release, this engaging film has modest potential for further travel.”

Ward also praised the authentic rapport between the quietly compelling Hill and impressive first-timer Perham, and cinematographer Thom Neal’s penchant for hewing close into ruminating faces.

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks declared the film as a fine launch pad for the director’s career and a fitting reward for a heartfelt, earthy film that, however, never quite finds fifth gear or takes enough twists and turns.

Brooks compared its rough, down-at-heel Aussie vibe to Kriv Stenders’ Boxing Day and David Michôd’s  Animal Kingdom, observing that  Raftopoulos is “altogether more protective of his characters, shielding them from full-blown horror, clearly wishing them well even as they stumble and fall, and his film works best in tenderly framing a burgeoning father-son friendship. “

Variety’s Australian-based critic Richard Kuipers noted that fatherhood gets an incisive examination in Raftopoulos’ short, sharp and rewarding feature debut.

Kuipers said the film may face a challenge to break through theatrically in overseas markets but the exposure in Venice should attract fest attention at least.

Exile Entertainment is handling international sales and Australian distribution.