Ali is not a 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 can’t remember where she is going. She is angry because she has been stripped of everything that is familiar to her and she doesn't recognise the world anymore. They travel through the night in search of a vague destination while surveillance cameras mark their journey, coldly redacting the human element, defining who belongs and who does not, who is safe and who is not. What they are left with is their damage – she can’t remember and he cannot forget.
A theatre methodology on film.
Ali is played by Ali Al Jenabi, an Iraqi asylum seeker who has been living in Sydney on a pending removal visa for over twenty years. His epic 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 use of non-actors is central to the concept of the film; both Ali and Imelda used their own lives as resources for an invented narrative. The initial script was written by Madeleine but became a flexible structure as the actors played with improvisation to develop a complicity in story-telling which is full of vitality and almost brings the screen to life.
Damage took five years and a deeply committed team to create. It is a truly independent feature that expresses the importance of humanity and hope in a world where war is becoming the norm and fear of the refugee a symptom.
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.
From the Director
As an artist working primarily in theatre I was not able to resist the impulse to create this film, and once the first steps were taken that impulse became a responsibility. I led a team of courageous, generous and determined explorers who, over many years of difficult night shoots, interruptive funding campaigns, interminable challenges of all types, not least of all was a pandemic delivered this film in February 2022.
The film was made with the support of many donors and supporters with many crowd-funding campaigns administered by The Australian Cultural Fund. The Adelaide Film Festival of 2020 was a great moment for us, our first audiences loved the film and the festival programmed three additional screenings due to popular demand, albeit an incomplete version. From there on the pandemic slowed down our final stages of post-production but we completed the film in February 2022.
I have always loved the distilled power of portraiture and through the intensity of two expressive faces this film becomes a portrait of our world at this moment in time.