Young cast Burn up the screen in new crime film

Young people from urban Sydney are the stars of a groundbreaking, gritty improvised crime drama about life on the street.

The 30-minute film Burn and accompanying website will be shown to young people across Australia and is part of a landmark NSW crime-prevention initiative directed by Australian filmmaker David S Vadiveloo, of Community Prophets.

“This was a potentially risky project because there were very real tensions between some of the ethnic groups that we cast from,” Vadiveloo says. “But our Community Prophets model works because the process is collaborative�the cast guides the film and their identities are never threatened. In that environment young people quickly realise they have more in common than they thought.”

Burn is a film and interactive project that uses improvised scenarios to engage urban youth and help them to consider the consequences of their behaviour.

The story centres on a group of youths who commit a typical juvenile robbery offence, which escalates into violence. It covers themes such as youth violence, and its common precursors, alcohol and illegal drugs, as well as public-space policing and legal responsibility in situations of group behaviour.

The cast of 11, plus two production trainees, were recruited through youth services across Sydney. The ethnically diverse group of inner-city kids aged between 16 and 20 participated in a 10-week crime-prevention filmmaking program, which targeted at-risk youth. The film was shot on location this year in the Sydney suburbs of Bankstown, Campsie and Padstow.

While carefully directed, the cast worked without a script and improvised the way scenes unfolded, based on what they felt was real and believable.

“What distinguishes this drama from other Australian television is that it uses the real dialogue and rhythms of young people on the street – it wasn’t created by screenwriters or actors trying to represent young people. And because there’s nothing manufactured about it, young audiences really respond to it.”

An initiative of Legal Aid NSW, Burn has already changed lives, with one cast member, Ali Haidar, landing a lead role and six others appearing alongside him in a new feature film.

Vadiveloo also created the groundbreaking Us Mob series, Australia’s first Aboriginal television and web series for the ABC, set in the town camps of Alice Springs. The Community Prophets model, in which at-risk young people collaborate with experienced filmmakers to bring their stories to the screen, has also been adopted in Canada and the United States.

[release from Community Prophets]

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