September 2019 Online Short | The Rolling Ground — Filmmaker Q&A with Simon Cunich

Q: What inspired you to make this film?

I was hiking in the Snowy Mountains, the highest mountain range in Australia, and I started daydreaming about setting a story there. It’s a landscape that’s totally distinct from the image of the outback that’s usually represented in Australian films.

Sometime later I was reading through my grandma’s memoires and found a description of her time working in the Snowy Mountains in the early 1950s. She was one of thousands of newly arrived European refugees that moved to the area to find work during the enormous dam construction project. There was one line in her memoires that was the catalyst for the story: “it was a harrowing experience, second only to Auschwitz”.

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Q: What was your greatest challenge during the filmmaking process?

We shot the film in a remote area that was only accessible by foot. We were a crew of five and carried all the camera equipment and our supplies, hiking from one location to the next over four days. It was physically tough, and the icy winds made everything difficult. But it was also a lot of fun and a spectacular trip.

Possibly more challenging was the writing process; trying to do justice to my grandma’s experience without creating a hagiography, and while capturing her complicated legacy.

Q: Any thoughts you’d like to share about screening this film in a Jewish context?

In terms of my grandma’s self-identity, she was a Hungarian first and a Jew second or third. Ironically, the Holocaust probably made her more Jewish. But even in her later years in a Jewish nursing home in Sydney she felt like an outsider. While my film necessarily sits in a Jewish context, it’s also a universal story about the intergenerational reverberations of trauma.

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still from The Rolling Ground

Q: What film/media has inspired you lately?

I recently saw Advocate, the documentary about Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel who is known for defending Palestinians facing terrorism charges. It’s a challenging film that gives a very complex portrait of Tsemel. Another film that stayed with me long after it finished is the recent Australian feature The Nightingale. It’s set in early-1800s Tasmania and shows the brutality of colonisation down under. It’s an extremely difficult watch and isn’t for everyone (a number of people walked out of the Australian premiere I went to) but it’s an important film about our history.

Q: What do you do when you’re not filmmaking?

I hang out with my 6-month-old son. As soon as he can walk, we’ll probably take him hiking.

Q: Lastly, gefilte fish: delicious, or disgusting?

Somewhere in between.

View the short film at https://jfi.org/watch-online/online-shorts

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Inspiring communities to expand their understanding of Jewish life through film, media and dialogue. Presented by the Jewish Film Institute! www.jfi.org

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