WA film The Furnace wins applause at Venice Film Festival

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Ben O'SheaThe West Australian
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VideoCate Blanchett is serving as the jury president for the 2020 Venice Film Festival, and on the event's socially distanced red carpet, she not only stayed safe with a face mask, she also helped the planet by breaking out a gown she's used before.

There might have been more empty rows than audience members at the COVID-19 version of the Venice Film Festival on Friday night, but that didn’t stop the critics raving about The Furnace, a gritty WA-made film about the State’s colonial history.

Perth director Roderick MacKay secured travel permission from the Federal Government to attend the festival, then endured two weeks of COVID quarantine in Venice, but it was all worth it to be on the red carpet for the world premiere of his film.

The Furnace, which was partly funded by Screen Australia and Screenwest, and features former WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls and Northern Star boss Bill Beament as executive producers, is set during the WA gold rush of the 1890s. It illuminates the forgotten history of Australia’s predominantly Muslim and Sikh cameleers, who traversed the nation’s desert interior and formed close bonds with indigenous people.

Stylistically similar to recent Aussie period pieces such as The Proposition and The Nightingale, MacKay’s film stars Ahmed Malek as one of these cameleers, and a crusty David Wenham as a bushman trying to make off with a cache of stolen gold bars.

The Furnace is the only Australian film in competition at the film festival this year, and its selection is helped by the fact it stars Baykali Ganambarr, an Aboriginal actor who won the prestigious Marcello Mastroianni Award at Venice in 2018 for his performance in The Nightingale.

No decision has been made on an Australian release date.

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