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The Furnace

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Furnace, The (Roderick Mackay, 2020) wr. Roderick Mackay, dp Mick McDermott; Ahmed Malek, David Wenham, Osamah Sami, Jay Ryan, Trevor Jamieson, Baykali Ganambarr, James Hagan; WA; 116 min.

Previously untold story of an Afghan cameleer during Australia's Gold Rush. A young cameleer (Malek) forms a partnership with Mal, a bushman on the run (Wenham) with Crown gold. Together, they must outwit zealous troopers in a race to reset the gold bars at a secret furnace.

Jay Weissberg:
Does The Furnace engage in hoary tropes? You bet it does, but that’s built into the DNA of every Western. So sure, there’s the hard-bitten gold thief, the exaggerated stereotype of an army sergeant, and the naive younger man whose good heart will be tested. There’s no superfluous love interest — they were always tacked on anyway — but there’s also no Caucasian savior on a white steed. In ways similar to the Jordanian epic Theeb, the film acknowledges its influences and then shifts in another direction, in this case foregrounding the experience of immigrants in a harsh colonialist environment who band together to find relief from murderous racism. Variety.

GG: I can't work up enough enthusiasm to write about this. It's pretty ordinary - like David Wenham. He needs subtitles as well as the Arabic-speakers. Such a lazy actor.

Roderick MacKay’s ‘The Furnace’ wins plaudits in Venice

IF, 7 September, 2020

Don Groves:
Roderick MacKay’s debut feature The Furnace has been hailed as a compelling, ambitious and meticulously researched exploration of a little-known slice of Australian history following the world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival.

Critics praised the performances of Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek as Hanif, a wide-eyed young Afghan cameleer, and David Wenham as a shifty gold prospector.

DOPs Michael McDermott and Bonnie Elliott’s camerawork was lauded for capturing the ancient landscapes of the Western Australian interior, as were Mark Bradshaw’s score and production designer Clayton Jauncey’s recreation of the gold rush town Mount Magnet in its infancy.

Produced by Timothy White and Tenille Kennedy, the 1890s drama co-starring Jay Ryan, Erik Thomson, Kaushik Das, Baykali Ganambarr, Trevor Jamieson, Mahesh Jadu and Samson Coulter screened in the festival’s Horizons section on Saturday.

The plot follows Malek’s Hanif and Wenham’s Mal who is on run with two Crown-marked gold bars. Together the unlikely pair must outwit a zealous police sergeant and his troopers in a race to reach a secret furnace – the one place where they can safely reset the bars to remove the mark of the Crown.

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney opined: “The Furnace is a handsomely mounted film of an ambitious scale for a first feature, and there’s much to admire in its measured approach, echoed in the brooding strings of Mark Bradshaw’s score.

“Most of all, it holds your attention with its unfamiliar account of pioneer immigrant experience and its poignant depiction of the affinity between those outsiders and Indigenous Australians.

“While the simmering threat of violence could have been dialed up into more visceral climactic set-pieces, the film tells an engrossing story of a little-known chapter in colonial history, unfolding across the ruggedly beautiful desert landscapes of Western Australia.”

Roderick MacKay in Venice.

Screen Daily’s Nikki Baughan responded to a “weighty, surprising and beautifully made tale” and its meticulously researched depiction of the mix of cultures and religions.

She said the film is likely to win attention for its sensitive exploration of a little-known area of Australian history as well as strong performances and should attract audiences at home and overseas.

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks declared: “MacKay’s film is as tough as old leather and as unadorned as cow hide. There’s something of the 1960s spaghetti Western to its tense standoffs around the campfire, even a nod to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to its climactic showdown.

“But by this point Hanif is in for the ride – the temperature is climbing and it’s thoroughly enjoyable to see how this one will play out. We’re immersed in the action, living each twist and turn of the trail. When Hanif’s camel senses water and starts to kick up its hooves, it’s all we can do not to break into a run.”

The writer-director had to get federal government approval to leave the country, making the case that The Furnace is the only Australian official selection at Venice.

On arriving in Italy, MacKay quarantined at a Rome apartment for two weeks, watching movies like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. When he returns to Perth, government-appointed hotel quarantine awaits him.

Funded by Screen Australia, Screenwest and Lotterywest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund, the film will be released in Australasia by Umbrella Entertainment, probably in 2021; Arclight Films handles worldwide sales.


Article in IF Mag, 13 September 2019 (by 'staff writer'):

Ahmed Malek, David Wenham and Baykali Ganambarr to star in ‘The Furnace’

Writer-director Roderick Mackay’s feature debut The Furnace is set to kick off in WA next month, headlined by a cast that includes Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek, David Wenham and The Nightingale’s Baykali Ganambarr.
Set in the during the 1890s gold rush, the film is described as an 'unlikely hero tale' navigating greed and identity. It illuminates a history of Australia’s ‘Ghan’ cameleers, predominantly Muslim and Sikh men from India, Afghanistan and Persia, who opened up the desert interior, and formed unique bonds with local Aboriginal people.
Malek, named a Rising Star at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, will play Hanif, a young cameleer who forms a partnership with a bushman on the run with Crown gold. The bushman, Mal, will be played by Wenham, a long-time supporter of the project. Together, they must outwit zealous troopers in a race to reset the gold bars at a secret furnace.
Starring alongside is Ganambarr, winner of the Venice Film Festival’s 2018 Marcello Mastroianni award for best new young performer, Trevor Jamieson (Storm Boy, Cleverman), Erik Thomson (Storm Boy, The Luminaries), Mahesh Jadu (Marco Polo) and Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding).
Timothy White (I Am Mother) and Tenille Kennedy (H is For Happiness) will produce the film, a Southern Light Films, Meaning Maker and The Koop production. HODs include DOP Mick McDermott (Hounds of Love), production designer Clayton Jauncey (Last Cab To Darwin), costume designer Lisa Gunning Galea (Below) and editor Merlin Eden (Hounds of Love).
The production has been supported by Screen Australia, Screenwest and Lotterywest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund, and will shoot in Mount Magnet and Kalbarri in WA’s Mid-West region.
Mackay said: “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to shine a light on a crucial yet little known chapter of Australia’s history, celebrating the cultural diversity of our early pioneers. In addition to our talented and diverse supporting cast, I could not be more excited to be working with iconic Australian actor, David Wenham, and rising Egyptian star, Ahmed Malek, whose heartfelt performances will anchor the story’s rugged gold rush setting.”
Screen Australia head of content said Sally Caplan said: “Writer/director Roderick Mackay has been on our radar since the release of his impressive short films Trigger and Factory293. We’re delighted to support his feature directorial debut and look forward to seeing him bring this multicultural frontier story to screen with this talented and diverse cast, and the support of experienced producers Tim White and Tenille Kennedy.”
Screenwest CEO Willie Rowe said: “It’s terrific to have this untold period of Australia’s history be brought to life in WA and I wish the team all the best for the production. The Mid West region is the perfect location for this story. I can’t wait to see how they capture the rugged landscapes and showcase the region’s unique beauty to the world with this film.
Umbrella Films will distribute in Australia and New Zealand.

Not listed in the cast list in IMDb is James Hagan. It remains to be seen if the scenes in which he performed will be in the finished film. They were shot at Paynes Find in October 2019.

Western Australian Feature Film THE FURNACE to Strike Filmmaking Gold

Screenwest, 1 Oct 2019

Director Roderick MacKay will make his feature film debut with THE FURNACE with TIFF rising star, Ahmed Malek and Australia’s David Wenham to headline the cast.
Set in Western Australia’s 1890s gold rush, THE FURNACE is an unlikely hero’s tale, navigating greed and the search for identity in a new land.
The film, set to go into production in Western Australia in October 2019, has received principal production investment from Screen Australia, in association with Screenwest and Lotterywest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund.
The project is the debut feature film for Writer/Director Roderick MacKay and will be produced by Timothy White (I AM MOTHER) and Tenille Kennedy (H IS FOR HAPPINESS). Other key creatives include Director of Photography Mick McDermott (HOUNDS OF LOVE), Production Designer Clayton Jauncey (LAST CAB TO DARWIN), Costume Designer Lisa Gunning Galea (BELOW) and Editor Merlin Eden (HOUNDS OF LOVE).
Leading a diverse ensemble cast will be one of Toronto International Film Festival’s 2018 Rising Stars, Ahmed Malek, who will play Hanif, a young cameleer who forms a partnership with a bushman on the run with Crown gold. The bushman, Mal, will be played by long-time supporter of the project and celebrated Australian actor, David Wenham. Together, they must outwit zealous troopers in a race to reset the gold bars at a secret furnace.
The film will also star Venice Film Festival’s 2018 Best New Talent winner, Baykali Ganambarr (THE NIGHTINGALE), Trevor Jamieson (STORM BOY, CLEVERMAN), Erik Thomson (STORM BOY, THE LUMINARIES), Mahesh Jadu (MARCO POLO) and Osamah Sami (ALI’S WEDDING).
THE FURNACE illuminates the forgotten history of Australia’s ‘Ghan’ cameleers, predominantly Muslim and Sikh men from India, Afghanistan and Persia, who opened up the Nation’s desert interior, and formed unique bonds with local Aboriginal people.
Writer/Director MacKay said, “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to shine a light on a crucial yet little known chapter of Australia’s history, celebrating the cultural diversity of our early pioneers.
“In addition to our talented and diverse supporting cast, I could not be more excited to be working with iconic Australian actor, David Wenham, and rising Egyptian star, Ahmed Malek, whose heartfelt performances will anchor the story’s rugged gold rush setting.”
Head of Content at Screen Australia, Sally Caplan said, “Writer/director Roderick Mackay has been on our radar since the release of his impressive short films TRIGGER and FACTORY293.
“We’re delighted to support his feature directorial debut and look forward to seeing him bring this multicultural frontier story to screen with this talented and diverse cast, and the support of experienced producers Tim White and Tenille Kennedy.”
The film will shoot in Mount Magnet and Kalbarri, in Western Australia’s spectacular Mid West region.
Screenwest CEO Willie Rowe said, “It’s terrific to have this untold period of Australia’s history be brought to life in WA and I wish the team all the best for the production. The Mid West region is the perfect location for this story. I can’t wait to see how they capture the rugged landscapes and showcase the region’s unique beauty to the world with this film.”
THE FURNACE is a Southern Light Films, Meaning Maker and The Koop production. Principal production investment from Screen Australia in association with Screenwest and Lotterywest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund.
It will be distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Umbrella Films.

Venice premiere for Roderick MacKay’s ‘The Furnace’

Don Groves:
Writer-director Roderick MacKay’s debut feature The Furnace, an 1890s drama set during the gold rush in Western Australia, will have its world premiere in the Horizons section of the 77th Venice Film Festival.
Produced by Timothy White (I Am Mother) and Tenille Kennedy (H is for Happiness), the film follows Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek as a young Afghan cameleer who partners with Mal, a mysterious bushman (David Wenham) on the run with two Crown-marked gold bars.
Together the unlikely pair must outwit a zealous police sergeant and his troopers in a race to reach a secret furnace – the one place where they can safely reset the bars to remove the mark of the Crown.
The cast includes Jay Ryan (It: Chapter 2, Top of the Lake), Erik Thomson (The Luminaries), Baykali Ganambarr (The Nightingale), Trevor Jamieson (Storm Boy), Mahesh Jadu (The Witcher) and Samson Coulter (Breath).
“I’m thrilled at this opportunity for the film to have its world premiere at such a renowned festival,” MacKay said. “We set out to shine a light on a crucial yet little known chapter of Australia’s history, celebrating the cultural diversity of our early pioneers.
“It was so rewarding to work with our talented and diverse cast, in particular Ahmed Malek, whose heartfelt performance so strongly anchors the story.”
Funded by Screen Australia, Screenwest and Lotterywest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund, the film will be released in Australasia by Umbrella Entertainment, probably in 2021; Arclight Films handles worldwide sales.
Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason said: “We are proud to see The Furnace represent our screen industry on the world stage and showcase a fascinating part of our history alongside the natural beauty of Western Australia.”
Screenwest CEO Willie Rowe added: “This is a fantastic outcome for The Furnace team. It’s great to see Western Australian stories and creatives being celebrated and recognised at the highest level and being shared with the world, at such a festival like Venice.”
The Venice Film Festival runs from September 2-12. The film was shot late last year on Yamatji Badimia country in Mount Magnet and Yamatji Nanda country in Kalbarri.
The filmmakers conducted extensive research which included consultation with the Badimia community, Sikh and Islamic experts in addition to Cantonese, Pashto and Punjabi language consultants.
Key crew include DOPs Mick McDermott and Bonnie Elliott, production designer Clayton Jauncey, costume designer Lisa Gunning Galea, editor Merlin Eden and casting director Nikki Barrett.


Notes from oral comments of a member of the cast and crew who saw the film at the Perth screening before the Venice formal premiere. The outcome of the story is obvious from the beginning. The tyro director cannot direct actors. Ahmed Malek is very good, but, without help, repeats the same performance rather than creating a character arc. The three policemen act as if in the Methodist hall at the back of the church. The film is an example of 'New Zealand acting'.

References and Links

Ahmed Malek, David Wenham and Baykali Ganambarr to star in The Furnace, IF, 13 September 2019.

Western Australian Feature Film The Furnace to Strike Filmmaking Gold, Screenwest, 1 October 2019.

Groves, Don 2020, 'Venice premiere for Roderick MacKay’s ‘The Furnace’', IF.


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