Film-makers discover Binalong

Director of photography, Zabi Kazimi, has made his way from Afghanistan to Binalong. Photo: Bernie Zelvis
Director of photography, Zabi Kazimi, has made his way from Afghanistan to Binalong. Photo: Bernie Zelvis

Clutches of cameramen, groups of gaffers, abundances of actors: Binalong was buzzing with them all this week as students and their mentors from the Sydney Institute of Film Academy rolled into the village to make a feature film.

The community welcomed them with open arms. There were local auditions, crowd scenes and donations from local businesses to smooth the film crew’s path as they turned ‘Aussie Spring’ from a student’s film script to a fully-fledged feature film about an adopted boy who suspects his parents are lying to him.

The mentors, Billy Marshall Stoneking and Bernie ‘Git Go’ Zelvis, live by the maxim that you don’t learn by sitting in a classroom being told what to do. You get out and do it.

The students travel from far and wide to attend SIFA, located on the Randwick TAFE campus. There are directors, editors, cameramen, script-writers and technical specialists, many with international backgrounds, all with a passion for film-making. 

When their film script needed a country setting, serendipity stepped up and, via local woman Paris Hunter, pointed the way to Binalong. The film-makers describe the village as “a town that is made for film-makers, the Disneyland of all bush film-makers.”

Chofo Castenada is a student gaffer and editor. When asked why he attends SIFA he doesn’t hesitate.

“He’s the best,” he says, nodding towards Billy Marshall. The Guatemalan was overwhelmed by the welcome the crew received in Binalong. 

“We are very happy and proud to be in Binalong, very grateful for the way the community has opened their hearts to welcome us,” he adds.

Egyptian-born Michael Grace specialises in data wrangling, a process that would be alien to old-time film-makers, but which ‘wrangles’ the digital data into the computer. Why does he do it?

“Passion,” he answers. “I want to create magic. It’s amazing, creating magic and getting it out there.”

“He needs to transfer the magic in his heart to the magic in someone else’s heart,” chimes in mentor Bernie.

Yanni Luxford specialises in editing and special effects. One of his jobs in this film was to make a hessian bag appear to ‘breathe’, as if it had a live dog inside. Of course, no animals were harmed in the making of this film. It’s all in the skill of the special effects man.

“You plant a suggestion in the mind of a viewer,” explains mentor Bernie, “and they’ll do the filming in their head.”

Yanni’s ingenuity was also called for to make it seem as if Binalong’s young up-and-coming star, Oscar Knight, was on the railway tracks. Naturally the 11-year-old was not allowed anywhere near the tracks, so it was the Greek-born artist who created the deception.

“A film involving children requires extra planning,” explains Billy Marshall, adding that all the children are accredited. “We had great advice and assistance from the NSW Government Office of Kids Guardian.” 

Mentors Billy Marshall and Bernie have big plans for ‘Aussie Spring’. There’ll be a world premiere in Binalong, which they are hoping may lead to bigger and brighter things. They talk of a Binalong Film Festival, where people will come to Binalong, shoot a film, then screen it in a competition at the local hall. They also dream of camera, script-writing and film editing workshops. They talk of people making films on their phones, technology which is becoming more mainstream by the day.

“We want to facilitate local people making their own films,” Billy Marshall says.

Michael Dobos, who grew up in country NSW and is working on a documentary on the filming of ‘Aussie Spring’, chimes in: “If I’d had that sort of opportunity when I was at school I’d be much further advanced in my career than I am now.”

Cast and crew of ‘Aussie Spring’ includes Liz, Oscar and Thomasina Knight, Guy Yates, Jason Saunders, Jack and Abbey Best, Sarah and Josh Sykes, Charles, Ben and Alfie O’Brien, Ruby Woodhead, Jack and Abbey Paterson, Will Allan and many more. Steve Baxter, Mark Spencer, Russell Johnson, Jeff Swan, Leonie Hunter, Bill Arabin and Steve Chown all contributed to the effort, as did the Binalong Hotel, Bill Kosseris, Binalong Butchery and Tanks Bakery.