The only Australian film featuring at the Venice Film Festival this year stars Pitjantjatjara/Nyungar actor Trevor Jamieson (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Storm Boy) and Australian actor David Wenham (Lord of the Rings).

The Furnace (2020) is Writer-Director Roderick MacKay’s directorial debut and is set during the 1890s Western Australian Gold Rush.

Filmed on Yamatji Badimia Country in Mount Magnet Shire and Yamatji Nanda Country in Kalbarri, The Furnace tells the often-forgotten story of the Afghan Cameleers.

Sometimes known as the ‘ghans’, the cameleers were a Muslim group of mainly Indians, Egyptians and Turkish people who drove camels in the Australian outback, opening up the desert and forming unique bonds with the Indigenous people of the area.

The story centres around young Muslim Cameleer, Hanif (Ahmed Malek), who crosses paths with a wounded bushman, Mal (Wenham).

Unable to leave Mal to die, Hanif helps the bushman before discovering he is on the run after stealing two 400-ounce bars of Crown marked gold.

Hanif makes a bargain with the stranger; a share of the gold enough to pay his way home to Afghanistan in exchange for saving Mal’s life.

Together, the pair set out across the desert pursued by a zealous police sergeant, searching for a secret furnace to melt and remove the Crown’s mark from the bars.

The film’s depictions of the Badimia people of the Mid West were carefully researched, and the  diverse languages in the film were supported by Cantonese, Pashto and Punjabi language experts.

Director Roderick MacKay said the project intentionally brought a neglected part of Australia’s history back into the limelight.

“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.”

ScreenWest CEO Graeme Mason praised the film’s showcase of the geography and history of Western Australia on a world stage.

“To have the world premiere of this compelling drama at Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section is a real coup and doubly impressive for Roderick MacKay’s debut feature,” said Mason.

At 77-years-old, the Venice Film Festival is the oldest running film festival in the world. The Orizzonti section showcases new trends in the aesthetic languages used by filmmakers.

The Furnace is a Southern Light Films, Meaning Maker and The Koop production. It features Erik Thomson (The Luminaries), Baykali Ganambarr (The Nightingale), Mahesh Jadu (The Witcher) and Samson Coulter (Breath).

The film will be distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Umbrella Films and internationally by Arclight Films.

By Sarah Smit