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New film ‘Here Out West’ depicts elements of Filipino hardship and resilience in Australia

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Here Out West was filmed in Western Sydney and brings to light genuine and relatable stories from multicultural communities, redefining life in Australia as it is generally portrayed in the mainstream.

Stories from eight talented Western Sydney writers bring forth the themes of family and place in this ground-breaking feature film. Here Out West was the Opening Night Film at the 2021 Sydney Film Festival and was awarded as a finalist in the 2021 Cinefest Oz Film Festival in Western Australia.

Here Out West is released on 3 February 2022 in selected theatres around Australia. | Image credit: Twitter @CoCuriousAus
Here Out West is released on 3 February 2022 in selected theatres around Australia. | Image credit: Twitter @CoCuriousAus

The film is an outstanding collaboration of talents, including some of Australia’s top female directors Fadia Abboud, Lucy Gaffy, Julie Kalceff, Ana Kokkinos and Leah Purcell.

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Two Filipino-Australians filmmaker/screenwriter Vonne Patiag and actress Christine Milo were involved and share their experiences as part of this project with The Philippine Times.

VONNE PATIAG

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Blacktown Hospital and raised around the same area living in Plumpton and Minchinbury. Besides some stints living closer to the city and overseas, I’ve lived in Blacktown my whole life.

How did you start to become involved in filmmaking and screenwriting?

As a child I was always fascinated by movies and acting so I took drama classes, but it was really in high school where I was introduced to screenwriting as a craft. From there I started to really appreciate the craft that goes into filmmaking and decided I wanted to learn more. I remember quite vividly changing my University preferences from Medicine to Film Production on the last night we could change them – and from there I went on to study Media Arts Production at UTS. Through my studies I made a bunch of short films, worked on online projects and eventually advanced to working in TV writers’ rooms. Now I’m excited to be releasing Here Out West in the same cinemas that I used to frequent as a teenager – it feels very full circle to get to this point. 

Who inspires you as a filmmaker and screenwriter?

I’m inspired by other filmmakers who work in a similar space – I’ve always loved the work of Wong-Kar Wai and how he infuses his films with such a local sense of space, and am really loving the recent work of Lulu Wang who made The Farewell a few years ago as well as Xavier Dolan with his series of youth-skewed queer films. I’m also inspired by the other Filipino filmmakers working across the US, Canada, Europe and the Philippines, who are also writing and making stories that honour their own family and migration stories, as it’s nice to feel like there’s a small community of next-gen Filipino filmmakers working in the same space. And of course, I’m creatively inspired by my parents, especially my Mother who is a woman of a billion stories, and who inspires me everyday with her continual resilience as a healthcare worker at the frontline of the pandemic currently.

How did you become involved in Here Out West? What is your role in the production of the film?

I became involved with Here Out West through a callout for writers – I submitted the script I had written for Tomgirl, a Filipino short film I had made for SBS, and was lucky to have been chosen for the program. From there, 8 of us were chosen to come together and craft a long-form story which took different forms – initially pitched as a web series, we were excited when we decided to pursue making a full-length feature. From there, the 8 of us wrote subsequent drafts, and were also involved in research, pre-production, production and post as Associate Producers. We were all very engaged with the making of the film at every step of the way, and I was excited to help oversee the Filipino elements of the story, especially when it came to the Tagalog translations, working closely with my director Julie Kalceff, and the beautiful Filipino cast we assembled for the film.

What were the challenges you experienced in the film? What did you learn?

One of the biggest challenges was obviously working with COVID, which slowed everything down but also gave us more time to refine the scripts and prepare for the shoot. Creatively, a massive challenge for us was working with so many languages in the films (9 different languages) so making sure the translation process for Tagalog was smooth and could work within the resources we were sharing on the film was tantamount. I definitely learned the joy of collaboration while working on the film, being able to give the script to the director and the wonderful actors who really infused their characters with their own quirks and sensibilities. The high level of community and teamwork on this film really honours the communal spirit I’ve always felt living and working in Western Sydney.

What aspects of your Filipino heritage were you able to draw from when writing the story?

My chapter, called The Long Shift, follows a Filipino nurse named Roxanne as she tries to survive a double shift working at the local hospital. It might sound like a simple setup, but through the film I wanted to explore my Mother’s own long history working as a nurse and the community of other Filipino nurses that make up the bulk of healthcare workers currently working in Western Sydney. My Mother would sometimes come home tired, having given so much to her patients, but she’d always reserve some love and joy for her family, and this film really honours her resilience as she faces the unseen pressures of surviving a gruelling shift. It also honours our long migration history of sending Filipinos overseas to work as OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), and pays tribute to the legion of women who work in the healthcare systems of other countries sending back money and support to their families in the Philippines. It’s a reality that touches a lot of Filipino families, my own parents having spent 7 years living and working in Abu Dhabi. But also the film honours the joy in being Filipino – our secret love of sweets, the fun in partaking in chismis (gossip), and the way we use technology to keep the connections to our overseas families alive. Through my chapter I really wanted to mix the pain and joy of what it means to be Filipino.

Why is your participation in this film important to you and the Filipino community?

I’m proud to have been part of the team behind Here Out West as it honours the different cultures all living together in Western Sydney, and puts a name to the many faces we pass on the street – the tradespeople, the healthcare workers, business people – the film really does force you to stop and realise that all of us here have stories to tell with our own lives. I’m proud to continue bringing more Filipino stories to our screens, and hope Filipinos see themselves and hear the joy of our language on screen. There are so many Filipino stories to tell, so hopefully you all come out and support seeing the film while it’s in theatres so we can bring more stories to life and also inspire more Filipino creatives to write and produce their works! And if you are a Filipino nurse, hopefully you might recognise some of the names of the main characters as they are all named after my Mother’s best friends who all work as nurses in Western Sydney!

CHRISTINE MILO

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. There’s a great  Filipino community there that my family were, and continue to be, quite active in. My  grandma was actually one of the founding members of it. I’m really grateful for it as it made me feel connected to my heritage. 

How did you get into acting? 

I actually started as a dancer when I was a child and that was my introduction into  performing arts. I also explored music for a little bit but I became curious about  acting through the behind-the-scenes features that came with DVDs of all things! I  did drama in high school and really loved that. After high school, I was accepted into acting school at QUT (Queensland University of Technology) where I trained for three years. 

Who inspires you as an actress? 

I could point to so many great actors and my list is quite long. But some standouts  are Viola Davis anda Tom Hanks. To me as an actress, Viola Davis is an incredible  inspiration. Her work is so raw and visceral, it takes great courage to go there as an artist. To be unafraid to be seen as a human un-glossy female character. Her work is definitely  something I aspire to. My acting teacher once described acting as private moments  playing out in public. There is a scene in the film Captain Phillips where Tom Hanks’  character has just been rescued and he is in complete shock and it left such an impression  on me as an actor because it felt so so real. I remember watching it in the cinema and  going, “thats what acting is”. It shouldn’t feel like you’re watching someone acting, it should  feel like real life – messy and real.  

What is the role you play in Here Out West

I play the role of Roxanne, a Filipino nurse who works a double shift at the hospital.

What were the challenges you experienced in the role of Roxanne?

Roxanne’s journey was quite emotionally demanding and a story like her’s can be a  challenge in itself. I also had to contend with the accent and acting in a language other  than English which was quite interesting. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to act in  Tagalog. So it was also quite freeing to have something like that to focus on. Roxanne is  quite isolated and lonely and that really hit home when I was onset and most of my scenes  were by myself. So when I had my fellow Filipina actresses onset it was such a joy to be in  scenes with them. 

6.     What aspects of your Filipino heritage were you able to draw from in the role?

I drew as much as I could from my Filipino heritage as possible! It was really important for me to feel like I did everything in my power to authentically represent Roxanne. There are so few representations of Filipinos in Australian cinema and I knew this was a huge opportunity, and perhaps I’m just putting pressure on myself, but I knew  the Filipino community might scrutinise my portrayal so I wanted to do my due diligence. I  drew inspiration from my mother and grandma for this role especially with Roxanne’s  accent and how she uses the English language. I worked closely with my mum, my sister and then with my fellow actresses, Lena Cruz, Destiny Mylas and Elise Violan, to really hone my Tagalog. There are also some typical Filipino idiosyncrasies that I felt were imperative to infuse into her interactions especially in the banter and exchanges between the nurses. There is also a strong resilience in Roxanne that I’ve seen in my grandma and is inherent in any woman starting a new life in a foreign country that I hope I’ve captured.

Why is this role special for you?
This role is special to me for so many reasons. Not only is this my feature film debut, it’s also a literal dream role. I never in a million years thought I’d be playing a  Filipino character who speaks Tagalog in an Australian film. Roxanne’s story is so beautiful and I’m so grateful to Vonne for writing such an incredible chapter and continuing to  champion Filipino stories in Australia. Here Out West is groundbreaking and to be part of  this film is such an incredible honour. But I think the part that makes it the most special is  that my family, who immigrated to Australia in the eighties finally get to see an Aussie story featuring Filipino characters speaking Tagalog in a local cinema.  

What are you hoping to learn and experience in future work? 

The goal always is to get better at my craft. Every new experience is a learning  opportunity and I just hope I get the chance to continue to keep telling stories. I hope that Here Out West is just the beginning. I hope this film inspires others and  opens doors for other emerging creatives and it begins with your support. Come and see an Australian film like never before. Salamat po sa iyong support! 

Here Out West Trailer:

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