ABOUT 25 years ago filmmaker David Pulbrook thought it would be a fascinating idea to have a Holocaust survivor and a Palestinian terrorist stuck in a room together to see what evolved.
“I carried the idea around for many years, but eight years ago I told scriptwriter Terence Hammond about it and he went away and wrote the first 60 pages of a script.
“It evolved slowly into something that is a big universal story that has a lot of international implications.”
The result is the 90-minute drama Last Dance, which will premiere this month at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
It stars veteran actress Julia Blake, whose career spans 50 years and has garnered her numerous awards, including two Australian Film Institute awards.
Blake plays East St Kilda resident Ulah Lippman, a Holocaust survivor who lives alone in her apartment.
The film opens with her buying food at a kosher butcher in Carlisle Street as she is served by Mr Steinberg, played by Jewish actor Greg Ulfan.
Soon panic grips the neighbourhood as news spreads of a terrorist bombing at a nearby synagogue. Lippman hurries back to her apartment only to be taken captive by a wounded Palestinian terrorist, Sadiq Mohammad (played by rising star Firass Dirani).
Despite the fact that Sadiq has tied Lippman up, a verbal battle of wills unfolds. Lippman sees something of her dead son, Ari, in Sadiq and when the Palestinian collapses from his wounds, she nurses him through the night instead of calling the police.
As Sadiq regains his health, the two are drawn closer together by revelations about their families.
“Last Dance touches on issues of ideology, faith, freedom and oppression, as well as the power of compassion,” says Pulbrook.
“The film is more about humanity and motherly love than the politically volatile issues between Israelis and Palestinians.”
For Pulbrook, Last Dance marks his debut as a feature film director, although he has had plenty of experience directing and editing for the screen.
“When I was at Crawford Productions in the 1970s I directed more than 50 episodes of the TV series Homicide, so it is not a brand new experience,” he says.
However, getting finance for the film was a challenge, Pulbrook noting that he tried several avenues to no avail until he contacted producer Tony Ginnane, who obtained initial funding with Screen Australia.
“It is such a tough thing to get funding, especially if it’s your first film.”
Pulbrook says that Hollywood star Gena Rowlands and English actress Helen Mirren were approached for the lead role, but it was decided to offer the role to Blake.
“Julia embraced the role with open arms. She said, ‘Women of my age do not get roles like this; it just doesn’t happen.’”
Also featured in the film is Lippman’s inquisitive neighbour, the widowed Mr Nathan, played by veteran actor Alan Hopgood.
Pulbrook explains that there was close liaison with the Jewish Holocaust Museum during the making of the film, including interviews with Holocaust survivors.
“It was important that the character of Lippman came across as believable. We had suggestions and input. We also submitted the script to the Islamic Council of Victoria and the feedback was incorporated.”
Filming started last November and the four-week shot included location filming in Carlisle Street, East St Kilda.
After Last Dance premieres at MIFF, there are plans for an Australian cinema release in September and hopes for an international release, as well as screenings at film festivals in Israel.
The Melbourne International Film Festival is being held from August 2-19. Last Dance screens on August 9 and August 19. Bookings: www.miff.com.au.
REPORT by Danny Gocs
PHOTO of Julia Blake in the new Australian film, Last Dance.