Focus on life in drought, and tough times

Drought film shot in Moree premieres to a city audience

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A film that was shot around the Moree district earlier this year and aims to shine a spotlight on rural mental health issues and the devastating impact of drought is set to be showcased to the world.

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Mental health and suicide have long been taboo topics in rural communities, where farmers are known for their stoicism, strength and a 'she'll be right' attitude.

However, one director is hoping to shine a light on these topics and break the stigma around rural mental health issues through his film Drought, which was filmed in the North West earlier this year and premiered in Sydney on Friday.

Based on a true story, Drought depicts the struggles of young farmer Rob (Matt Oxley) and his wife Sophie (Jacqui Buchanan) as they battle the relentless pressure of the Australian drought.

"As their livelihood is threatened, their relationship begins to suffer," director Nathan Colquhoun said of the film's story.

"Throughout their struggle Rob always seems to remain positive and constantly tries to support his wife. However the pressure is slowly getting to him and he is left with a choice that no one should have to face."

The Sydney-based director said he was inspired to create a film after hearing about the devastating impacts of the current drought during the media coverage last year.

"I started Googling things and came across the severity of not just the drought but what it was doing to farmers' mental health," Colquhoun said.

Matt Oxley and Jacqui Buchanan as Rob and Sophie, whose relationship is tested under the immense pressures of the drought. Photo - Still from the film 'Drought'.

Matt Oxley and Jacqui Buchanan as Rob and Sophie, whose relationship is tested under the immense pressures of the drought. Photo - Still from the film 'Drought'.

"Farmers are known for being positive ... but everyone has their limitations.

"Delving deeper and talking to farmers, every farmer I talked to knew someone or was related to someone who had ended their own life on farm. That shocked me, so I started writing a script."

Four months later and Colquhoun and his film crew and cast found themselves in Moree, where they spent about a week filming around various properties in the district.

Matt Oxley as Rob. Photo - Still from the film 'Drought'.

Matt Oxley as Rob. Photo - Still from the film 'Drought'.

One hundred per cent of the film was shot on location around Moree back in April, and now Drought is finished and ready to be showcased to the world.

It premiered to about 150 people - including media, politicians, industry representatives, and even some of the Moree farmers who lent their properties for filming - at a VIP private screening at the Ritz Cinema in Randwick on Friday, October 25 before it hits the international short film festival circuit.

"We've submitted it into a dozen short film festivals, so it's now a waiting process before finding out if we're selected, but we've tried to nut out the very high-end festivals, Academy Award-level, because we want the right people to see it," Colquhoun said.

Jacqui Buchanan as Sophie. Photo - Still from the film 'Drought'.

Jacqui Buchanan as Sophie. Photo - Still from the film 'Drought'.

With more than double the rate of farmers taking their own lives than their city counterparts, mental health is a serious issue in rural communities and one Colquhoun hopes his film will shine a light on and get people talking.

"Mental health and suicide are often topics pushed under the rug; they're still taboo topics, especially in rural communities," he said.

"Through film, it's a medium that can capture people at a deeper level."

The harsh reality of life on the land, combined with isolation, financial stress, and the added pressures of drought, on top of a reluctance to seek help, is the reality currently facing many farmers, which is depicted in Drought.

"We will see how the slow build of pressure can leave someone feeling hopeless and with no other option," Colquhoun said.

"The film will show that even the most positive people can be suffering on the inside.

"I wanted to create a story that doesn't pull any punches and shows it for what it is - devastation when farmers take their own lives. I wanted to tell a story that encapsulates that and shows audiences the brutality of what happens out here."

Not only does Colquhoun hope the film will bring to light the issue of depression and suicide in rural areas, but that it brings greater awareness to city people about the impacts of drought on rural families and communities.

"I'm hoping that it connects with people and makes people aware of what's going on in our rural communities and to all of our farmers," Colquhoun said.

I wanted to create a story that doesn't pull any punches and shows it for what it is - devastation when farmers take their own lives. - Nathan Colquhoun, director

"You hear about the drought on the news and you can kind of shut yourself off ... but the power of cinema is that it has the ability to hit you in another emotional level and you can relate more with the characters and the music and cinematography. Whether the drought breaks or not, this film is relatable on so many different levels, so even if the drought wasn't going on at the moment, I'd hope the film would have the same impact, especially regarding mental health issues."

The film has had a few small test screenings and Colquhoun said the reaction has been "very positive" from those who have seen it.

"A few farmers have actually watched it and they couldn't go to work the next day because it hit too close to home for them," he said.

"For me, that's the best reaction we can have because it means it is portraying the real issues affecting farmers."

With hype for Drought building over the past few weeks, Colquhoun said there are now talks about turning it into a feature-length film. There are also discussions about bringing the film out to Moree for a private screening in the coming months for locals interested in seeing it. For more information about the film go to www.droughtshortfilm.com.au.

  • If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

The story Focus on life in drought, and tough times first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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