By Luke Voogt
A university assignment that became “so much bigger” is set to headline a North Bellarine Film Festival preview tonight.
Fallen, set during World War I in Mont St Quentin, France, won writer-director Grace Griffith the 2020 festival’s Emerging Filmmaker Award, sponsored by Portarlington Film Society.
“To have that recognition and support for all my crew and cast is huge,” the 25-year-old said.
“We all put so much of ourselves and our hearts into it.”
But with COVID-19 prompting organisers to shift the event online last November, the filmmaker had yet to officially accept the award.
“I’m so eager to finally celebrate and meet the people behind the film festival,” said Griffith, who also works as a country newspaper journalist.
The action begins when Captain Hughes tumbles into a trench with a serious bullet wound, which Private Lockhart tends to.
As the two men reveal intimate details of their life back in Australia, they make a chance revelation that will change the course of their war.
The idea for the historical fiction emerged as Griffith travelled through Germany as part of her film degree at Swinburne a few years ago.
“I was in awe of all the bullet holes dappled through all these old buildings in the CBD,” she said.
She later became “caught up” in history as she visited former concentration camps and other historical World War I and II sites.
“It made it feel a lot more real as opposed to reading it in a book or watching it in a documentary,” she said.
After returning to Australia, she stopped for the first time at the statue of Victoria Cross winner Sergeant Albert Lowerson, in Myrtleford, while driving to her parents’.
“Growing up you just take these things for granted– it’s part of the scenery,” she said.
Her curiosity led her to research Sergeant Lowerson, and discover his bravery at Mont St Quentin, which inspired the film.
She began filming in 2017, after using a professional casting agency, for what was initially a university assignment.
“It became much bigger than that – it was a massive production,” she said.
“We dug a trench on my parent’s property in Wandiligong [near Bright] and we actually piggybacked off the production of [the TV series] Gallipoli.”
She also gained permission to film flashback scenes in a “beautiful old home in Box Hill” and completed months and months of behind-the-scenes work before shooting the film.
Griffith had CFA firefighters onsite at her parents’ home while using flares during five days of shooting at the trench.
She had previously made a name for herself shooting short films around town as a teen and young adult, which later helped secure sponsors for Fallen, including businesses in Bright, she said.
Among the films was a short piece against cyber bullying she made at age 16, which won an Australian Human Rights Commission competition and aired as a commercial on ABC and Foxtel.
But she also forked out some of her own money to produce Fallen.
“I’ve always had a love of period pieces and I’m not the kind of person to do something half-hearted,” she said.
After a lengthy post-production, Griffith won the history category at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival in 2020.
“Some of the industry’s giants, like Spielberg, have won it, so that was pretty exciting,” she said.
She later won again at the North Bellarine Film Festival.
“I was absolutely honoured to be recognised locally,” she said.
Tonight’s sold-out preview of the 2021 festival at Provenance Wines, Fyansford, also features films Today (Australia), Alternative Math (US) and If God Exists (Canada).
Organisors plan to run the North Bellarine Film Festival this year from November 12 to 14, COVID-dependent.
For updates: northbellarinefilmfestival.org