Ali is not an Australian citizen. He drives a taxi using another man’s license and relies on the GPS to negotiate his way around a city he doesn’t know. His passenger, Esther is an old woman who settles into the back of the cab and forgets where she is going. She is angry because she has been stripped of everything that is familiar and she cannot recognise the world anymore. But Ali is fed up with being a scapegoat. He has suffered immeasurable loss and survives each day by risking his safety. Ali and Esther set off in search of a vague destination and all they have in common is their damage. She can't remember and he can't forget.
The use of non-actors is central to the concept of the film; it could have been a documentary but is an experiment in fiction. The actors used improvisation as well as texted script, they used their own lives as resources for an invented narrative. The film has been five years in the making and expresses the importance of humanity and hope in a world where war is becoming the norm and fear of the refugee a symptom.
This is Madeleine’s first feature as a producer. As the writer and director of DAMAGE she was confronted with time-critical elements in a high-risk project using non-actors. She decided to produce this unique film herself working with a small, determined group of film-makers in Adelaide, South Australia and receiving guidance from various industry professionals along the way. The film has been made through the generosity of many donors in our three crowd funding campaigns in addition to personal investment.
Ali is played by Ali Al Jenabi, an asylum seeker from Iraq whose life story is the subject of Robin de Crespigny’s award winning book, The People Smuggler - The true story of Ali Al Jenabi, the Oskar Schindler of Asia. It has been published twice by Penguin and won the Queensland Literary Award and the Human Rights Book Award in 2012 - www.thepeoplesmuggler.com
The character of Esther is played by Imelda Bourke, a well-known jazz singer in her hometown Adelaide where she raised her five children, one of whom is the writer/director of Damage, Madeleine Blackwell.
The music is like a third character in the film. It comes in through the car radio and is a key point of connection for the characters. The radio is a reminder of the outside world – the bad news, the attitudes and catastrophes that have uprooted Ali in the first place. The soundtrack comprises compositions by Peter Knight, Jem Savage, Mohammad Ameen Marrdan and Kate Reid.
I am interested in close-up portraits and this film is a portrait of two people. It is also a portrait of us, now,… and the Australia we are creating.