If there is one thing that the Australian film industry knows how to do well it is make heartfelt and important films. Films like The Castle gave a voice to characters that every Australian could relate to, while The Jammed opened up Australia’s eyes to a social issue that many didn’t even realise was happening on our door-step. Now comes The Merger an Australian film that is heartfelt and deals with a social issue that should have been explored a long time ago.
Written by and starring Damian Callinan, a man known for his comedy work on Skithouse and Spicks And Specks, The Merger explores the issue of racism in a country town when the town’s local football team is set to merge as it can no longer sustain on its own due to poor management from local legend Bull Barlow (John Howard). Enter, shunned former footy star turned town killer Troy Carrington (Callinan) who decides to save the team by recruiting some of the refugees who have been settling in the town… a move that proves very unpopular with the locals.
HEAVY Mag recently had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting to Callinan and he told us that the film originated as a stage show. “I was commissioned back in 2010 to write a show that tackled the issue of racism in regional communities,” he says. “I’d done a lot of touring in regional areas and I had already done a show about this footy team The Roosters, so they gave me some cash to write the show and I went away and came back with the stage show. The film is based on that, and the heart of it, is pretty much the same, and sadly the treatment of refugees with our current immigration policy makes it even more timely now. It has now gone from me talking to myself in small theatres around the country to a cast of hundreds on the big screen.”
Callinan is also quick to explain that this isn’t just a film about Aussie Rules football either. “It’s been funny because I have had people coming up to me and saying ‘oh thank God finally another film about footy’ and part of me says ‘yeah, they are fun’ but that is just the dish that this is served up in because the story is actually about community and empathy. Like it could have been anything, but when I was doing the stage show we didn’t do any shows in Queensland, except for Brisbane, because they said they would put on the show but only if I changed it to rugby league and I was like ‘no, because if that is your reason for not touring it then you aren’t really listening to what the show is about.’ But yeah it is a sport movie at heart but it is tackling global issues so it doesn’t really matter what sport it is but there is a special Australianess to these refugees who have fled Syria and lived in refugee camps in Cambodia to suddenly have a Sherrin thrust at them and have to play a sport that is only played in one country in the world… so comedicly it works really well”
The Merger opens in cinemas today and you can listen to our full interview with Damian Callinan above.