History rises amidst film's humane depth

Lucky Miles: 105 minutes. Rated: MA. Director: Michael James Rowland. Starring: Kenneth Moraleda, Rodney Afif, Sri Sacdpraseuth, website. 

History rises amidst film's humane depthLucky Miles is an outrageous buddy comedy set in the Western Australian wilderness; a film where mismatched characters face down communication difficulties and personality clashes to work together and overcome obstacles.

But the film also has a brazen finger plunged into more than one hot political pie.

It traces the ordeal of three men — Iraqi Yousif (Afif), Cambodian Arun (Moraleda), and Indonesian Ramelan (Sacdpraseuth) — whose destinies become entwined after they are abandoned on a remote stretch of WA coastline by Ramelan’s devious people-smuggler uncle (Sawung Jabo).

Set in 1990, the film resonates with the echoes of recent history: September 11 and the furphy of border security; the 'children overboard' and Tampa fiascos; even the Federal Government’s recent totalitarian intervention into indigenous Australia.

This topicality borders on prophetic, when you consider the film was conceived seven years ago, well before any of these events occurred.

"When I started working on this film I wanted to imagine what was going to be relevant in seven years time," says co-writer and director, Michael James Rowland. "I was trying to find a metaphor to speak to the world about things I thought would be front page news."

"I’d read Thomas Friedman’s book The Lexus and the Olive Tree about globalisation; he talks about how telecommunications and global markets are making us come in contact with each other, and how it’s great because we’re all going to make a buck. I felt what he was saying was true, but that a lot of little people are going to miss out."

History rises amidst film's humane depth"So the film’s genesis is not a reaction to Tampa or September 11; it’s about people who hitherto had nothing in common with each other, coming in contact with each other and, under a certain amount of stress, hoping to resolve problems."

Rowland admits the journey from The Lexus and the Olive Tree to Lucky Miles was not the route most people would have taken to explore the potential conflictive aspects brought about by our 'shrinking world'.

"I came across several true stories — for example, in the early 90s, 40 people from southern China were abandoned on the remote WA coast. Two weeks later one turned up on a cattle station...they got him help, did a search and found the other 39 people."

"I became interested in people who get dropped off on the coast and walk into the desert looking for the West, but find nothing but desert. How do they communicate their hopes and expectations to each other through a second language?"

When events such as September 11 and Tampa did occur, it seemed Rowland and co-writer Helen Barnes had shown great foresight in terms of choosing a complex metaphor for the 'shrinking world' that would be both relevant and timely.

"History rose up around us," Rowland agrees. "I’m kind of intellectually proud that we were able to pick the trend."

During their time researching the story, Rowland and Barnes spent time developing the film’s thematic layers and sense of authenticity by meeting, hearing the stories and sharing in the lives of refugees now integrated into Australian society.

As a result of this personal insight, Lucky Miles is a deeply humane film, bursting with humour and empathy. It’s also extremely moral, although Rowland insists he and Helen deliberately steered clear of didacticism.

 Second Opinion

History rises amidst film's humane depth

 This film would have been so much better if it the director had been more economical with the material... But it will be a great help to many teachers who want to find a creative way to open up the issues this film explores with students.
 – Richard Leonard, Australian Catholic Film Office

"We take these three characters and put them into the great Australian myth of Burke and Wills — the story that’s writ large across our continent, where you walk inland and get your arse kicked by the desert," he says.

"We put them through that journey, and by the end of it, they’ve ceased to be three men emblematic of a situation or nationality; they’ve become full characters, full of ordinary humanity. If the audience goes on that journey with us then we’re really proud of them."

"We’re not trying to teach the audience stuff they don’t already know. We’re trying to entertain and tell a story, but not to say, ‘So therefore…’ We’ve got a lot of faith in the audience to figure that out."

That said, Rowland says if the film leaves audiences with a sense of empathy — "the most creative emotion" — then it’s played a part in smoothing the creases in globalised society.

"The film is saying that whatever is going to be front page news, sporadically, for the next 10 years, is going to be all about because the world is shrinking and, in the absence of compassionate connections, people feel threatened and react accordingly."

"But it acknowledges the humanity in the characters’ dilemma, and follows the story through to a breakthrough that suggests that among the conflict there may be still good outcomes...compassionate connections."

"I don’t see any of the big problems in front of us, from free trade agreements to climate change, that would not benefit from us making connections with people we’re currently strangers with," he concludes. "In fact I think it’s the way forward." 



submit a comment

Similar Articles

Ten poems: From Woman in Bushfire to man in Sea of Tranquillity

  • Ten Poets
  • 11 July 2007

The sound of the horse races is my father’s music / A soft dream hidden by ambition / take other paths or just stay put / silence(d) / beer and didgeredoo / the time it might take in getting home.


Further challenge to historical record on Aboriginal massacres

  • Tony Smith
  • 11 July 2007

A 19th century dispute over rights to whale on Victoria’s western coast saw a massacre of local Aboriginal people. The image of uniformed, white officers appearing in Aboriginal communities, supposedly to restore order and protect children, gives eerie timeliness to an uncompromising new account by Bruce Pascoe.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up