The Story behind Riz, Curiousworks' debut feature film
Nelson Meers Foundation project partner CuriousWorks is a community arts and media organisation working in Western Sydney to identify, nurture and build a new generation of storytellers from diverse cultural backgrounds. CuriousWorks' programs enable individuals and communities to tell their stories powerfully and sustainably, ensuring that these stories occupy a central place within the Australian cultural dialogue.
Earlier this year, CuriousWorks' debut feature film, Riz, was selected for the prestigious 2015 Sydney Film Festival. The film tells the story of life growing up in Sydney's western suburbs, sharing the untold stories of the region's multicultural communities to new audiences.
Riz was the narrative feature debut for co-writers and directors Guido Gonzalez (one of CuriousWorks' Cultural Leaders, who leads the Curious Creators) and S. 'Shakthi' Shakthidharan (CuriousWorks' Artistic Director). Riz is based on Guido's real life experiences growing up in Cabramatta.
"This is just amazing recognition," said Shakthi, who made it his artistic mission to "reveal another Australia" when he founded CuriousWorks ten years ago.
"We're telling the stories of western Sydney, and taking them to new audiences. For a debut film with unknown actors and a crew filled with our trainee 'Curious Creators' to be accepted into the Sydney Film Festival is incredible."
The film was made on a shoestring budget, using local debut actors and a crew that included young aspiring film-makers who have been developing their skills through the CuriousWorks' training programs for western suburbs youth. These 'Curious Creators' were able to acquire invaluable feature film production experience during the making of Riz.
Riz is a unique Australian coming-of-age story. The central character, Riz, is a leader among a group of teenage boys. He excels at school, becomes the first in his Indian family to be offered a university place and seems destined for great things. His bond with mates from different refugee and working class backgrounds is stronger than family. As an 18th birthday present, his friends film stories of how Riz has supported them through a maze of problems they have encountered during high school years - keeping them off the streets and away from crime.
But Riz now faces betraying his closest friends as he struggles to maintain a secret second life and a future at odds with his cultural and social background.
His middle-class girlfriend, Kylie, has never met his family or friends. They don't even know she exists. He has also lied to her about where he lives. She doesn't know he has doubts about going to university or on their planned gap-year. He has created two worlds, and the conflicting expectations of each gradually overwhelm him.
The film is a moving, sometimes funny, portrayal of life for young people, particularly young people in western Sydney, but one that also lays bare the rarely-crossed divide between 'the West' and the city's more affluent suburbs, according to Guido.
"Kylie's comfortable upbringing and carefree attitude to university are alien concepts for Riz, who feels the pressure to 'start earning'. To him a gap year is a fantasy," Guido said.
"Riz's issues are real issues for many young people in the west. The film is a personal story of friendship and betrayal but it also illustrates the social division we have in Sydney and the tension and barriers to opportunity that creates."
Shakthi believes another strength of the film is that it features culturally diverse actors, but in roles as normal everyday people.
"It's a strange thing to say in 2015, but it's still the case in so many Australian productions that the Indian or Sri Lankan characters will be doctors or small shop owners, or the Muslim is a terrorist. That's not the reality you see when you walk around communities in western Sydney," he said.
"Australian films and TV, even so-called documentaries, still don't tell the story of western Sydney without resorting to stereotypes. Riz shows an economically-poor and culturally-diverse Sydney, not the narrow travelogue vision of beautiful beaches and blond surfers that so often gets presented to the world," Shakthi said.