Challenged with Screen Australia’s Wild Card Pitch, I set out to create a pitch that would be “good in a room”. Inspired by coming of age films like Boyhood (2014), Rushmore (1998) and The Virgin Suicides (1999), my first initial stories extended from concerns of self-exploration and discovery, looking towards the problems and ideals surrounding young women. Being a young woman in Australia, there are not many popular film texts available that explore local identities, a woman’s place in Australian society or the struggles of Australian women of colour. Often following the fixation and revelation of the white female body being commodified – for example, The Piano (1993), Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) and Sleeping Beauty (2011) – however, I’d like to see more films created by women for women; empowering self-exploration and challenging the discourse of where a women belongs in Australian society.
While I am no videographer, I am drawn to cinematography that works like a dreamscape. From the quiet and sleepy suburbs of Palo Alto (2013), to the specifically curated colour palettes of Her (2013), I wanted to create a pitch idea that champions the frame and framing.
The story follows two teenage girls named Isla and Shaan as they explore themselves, their relationships and their place in Australian society.
Set in the outer eastern suburbs by the Mornington Peninsula, the two friends have been inseparable since their first year of high school; working, laughing and learning together as their relationship grows both in and out of school. Shaan is a darker-skinned girl obsessed with female artist Frida Kahlo, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and fruit. Isla is a fair girl with long hair who is taller than Shaan, she sports an athletic build from her years of playing hockey and enjoys reading by the sea.
Although hindered by their family differences – Isla, from a single-mother heteronormative Australian household, and Shaan, from a strict but colourful Sri Lankan home – the two push against their backgrounds; Shaan’s family welcoming Isla warmly as their daughter’s friend, while Shaan is racially rejected by Isla’s mother. While this racial rejection isn’t yet clear to Shaan at this point in time, Isla is established to constantly reassure her that her Mother is “just too busy”; sneaking Shaan into her house before her family comes home at 6PM. Underlining this rejection, race and coming of age are the driving forces of the film; Shaan quickly realising that there are people who look down on her for the colour of her skin and features, while Isla flourishes in her 17-year-old newfound womanly charm.
Events begin to turn as these personality traits begin to clash together, the two feeling more than friendship for each other but have a fear of acting upon it; Isla instead fixing her attention on James, the 27-year-old student teacher who has known her since she was 13 through her older, Masters-studying brother. As Isla becomes closer by flirting with James, Shaan’s emotions come to a boil and creates a character breaking point, their typical after school “Girl Talk” leading to Shaan lashing out at Isla with confusion, jealousy and worry. Heartbroken and angry with herself and her feelings towards Shaan, she calls James and finds herself inside his car by the ocean, kissing and being unpleasantly coerced to give him sexual favours. Strong and independent, she flips the tables out of fear to regain control, smiling and asking if she can call him “Daddy”.
Returning to school, alienation begins to unfold as Isla refuses to acknowledge Shaan and her attempts to make-up out of embarrassment. Deeply saddened and frustrated over the last few days, Shaan grows impatient through Isla’s silence and decides to confront her at her house. Giving a quick thought on how badly she wants to heal the friendship, Shaan buys flowers from the local corner shop and makes her way to Isla’s house after school. Surprised and relieved to see Shaan, Isla invites Shaan upstairs into her room where the two begin to apologize and talk. Finally on the same page and before they can embrace, the doorbell rings; Isla making her way downstairs where she is greeted by James, who knew “she would be alone” by her older, innocent brother and “came to pick something up”.
Forcefully inviting himself in for tea, they awkwardly chat in the kitchen before he asks to go upstairs to her brother’s room. Upstairs, Shaan panics at the thought of being caught inside Isla’s house without permission and quickly hides behind Isla’s bedroom door out of sight as the two pass by. Realising that James is here, Shaan listens intently as the two talk less and less next door. Revealing his sadist personality in full bloom, James talks down to Isla and insults her relationships and crippling family life before physically abusing her. Enraged, Shaan bursts through the door with Isla’s hockey stick and beats James bloody, Isla pulling herself up on the floor before wiping her now smiling mouth. In a moment of silence, the two kiss and draw each other closer.