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A Fair Combination?

“Film should act as a mirror to society, it should make people think”

I heard this quote – by Greek director, Carlos Gavros – via Australian film critic, David Stratton, during one of his film history lectures in 2008.  As some time passed, and my passion for cinema matured, this quote (or even mission statement) has become more and more resonant with me.  Film, as a medium, became more than simply a 90 minute cinema experience; it became an experience which got me thinking about the structure of our society.

I recently traveled out to Bankstown (a suburb in Sydney’s west, and one of Australia’s most culturally diverse areas), to see the Australian film ‘The Combination’.  The film is set and shot in another western Sydney suburb, Parramatta.  In fact, it was screened exclusively in these suburbs (apart from one inner-city arthouse cinema) – with distributors deciding that only those residing there would want to see it.

Put simply, ‘The Combination’ is not a technically brilliant film, it will not revolutionise Australian cinema (at least not in the conventional sense).  Yet David Stratton awarded it 4 ½ stars.  This is because the film explores issues both real and relevant – the structure of contemporary Australian society: where we are at as a country, and what the concerns are as the cultural demographics evolve.

‘The Combination’ focuses on the clash of cultures between Lebanese-Australians and white Anglo-Australians.  It is set during 2005, at the time of the infamous race-related riots in Cronulla, in Sydney’s south.  The story – written from personal experience by George Basha – follows the struggle of 2 Lebanese brothers as they try to find their place within Australian society.  Established Australian actor, David Field, directs the film; a role he gravitated towards because he strongly felt that similar social struggles could be understood by Vietnamese-Australians, Indian-Australians, African-Australians, South American-Australians, and so on and so on.  During meetings with George Basha, Field was surprised to learn that Basha had not seen the Australian films he was raising for discussion.  “Why would I, we [Lebanese-Australians] aren’t in any of them”, Basha retorted dismissively.  Field was silenced, as he realised that Australian films were not adequately portraying contemporary Australian stories.  It was this realisation that further solidified his drive to get the film made, despite a total lack of support from the Australian film industry funding bodies.

Australian cinema has a proud history of making quality human dramas; films which can confidently stand up to the esteem of European productions.  It would be great if we can continue this tradition with our eyes and ears open to the constantly changing nature of the structure of our society.  In doing so, we would be inviting our culturally diverse peoples to participate in, and embrace, our film industry.  ‘The Combination’ is one example of a full-length Australian feature film which explores the contemporary issue of racial tensions in Sydney’s western suburbs.  It will also be great when we start to see stories with universal themes (such as love, mistrust, and infidelity) featuring similar minority groups.  I look forward to seeing a ‘Lantana’ set in Bankstown.  Let’s advance Australia with a fair combination of cultures represented in our films.

Article written by Ryan Nance

You can also check out Two Flat Whites interview with one of the stars from The Combination, Clare Bowen here.

Also check out George Basha’s interview here.

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