Dandenongs hit the big screen

Director Michael Bentham on set filming Disclosure. Picture: SUPPLIED

An award-winning feature film shot entirely in the Dandenong Ranges will make its debut onto Australian cinema screens later this month, beginning with a premiere at Belgrave’s Cameo cinema.

The Australian drama, titled Disclosure, was written and directed by The Patch resident Michael Bentham. Mr Bentham said the movie was mostly shot in The Patch, and one scene in Kallista.

Inspired by real events, Disclosure tells the story of four parents who go to war over an allegation of abuse.

Mr Bentham said the narrative centres on two families, and showcases talented Australian actors including Geraldine Hakewill and Mark Leonard Winter.

“When a four-year-old girl makes an allegation against the son of a politician, an attempt by the children’s parents to resolve the situation soon degenerates into a vicious confrontation. There are two key areas the film explores. The first asks the very simple question, do we believe the stories that young children tell? Which is a really important cultural question,” Mr Bentham explained.

“The second core theme came out of research I did around the back issue, which revealed that very often, particularly in small communities, the parents of the perpetrator begin calling in the support of their friends and creating alliances in an effort to discredit the disclosure made by the victim. I really wanted to explore the toxicity around that,” Mr Bentham said.

Mr Bentham said the late Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs’s wrote a detailed submission for a government enquiry into the issue, which “identified a pattern where the community turns against the family of the victim who then feel they have no choice but to leave the community”.

“As a dad I thought this was an appalling outcome, and as a filmmaker and storyteller I found it fascinating. In a nutshell, the film explores the genesis of a contemporary witch hunt,” Mr Bentham explained.

Mr Bentham said the Dandenong Ranges were chosen due to the “real contrasts in landscape and how they create their own drama”.

“As an outsider, from the UK, I noticed the Dandenong Ranges have these real contrasts in the landscape. You’ve got this temperate rainforest with tall mountain ash gums everywhere and then peppered among that amazing bush are these pockets of European architecture,” he said.

Mr Bentham said the visuals for Disclosure are built around a swimming pool, located at a private residence, that “looks like it has landed from Italy or Spain”.

“Coming from Europe, it was really interesting to see that very strong European styling plonked in the middle of the bush in the Dandenong Ranges. For me, there was drama in that, so I thought it would resonate with the dramatic arc of the story,” he said.

The tall ceilings and large rooms in the mountain homes were also the perfect fit for the film crew, allowing plenty of room for crew, camera and lights on set.

“We are lucky a lot of properties in the hills have large open rooms,” Mr Bentham said.

Disclosure was shot in 2018 and premiered at the prestigious Palm Springs International Film Festival in California last year.

“It was a huge boost for us and really launched the film. Disclosure played three times at Palm Springs, and benefitted from this amazing word-of-mouth culture at the festival, so by the time of the third screening it was so oversubscribed they decided to play the film simultaneously in two theatres,” he said.

“The North American audience was incredibly vocal. It was extraordinary, the reaction”.

Mr Bentham said the film secured North American distribution but ended up going straight to streaming services due to the closure of US cinemas in response to COVID. However, the wait has made bringing the film home to Australia and into our theatres all the more exciting.

“Australia’s response to Covid has been really fantastic and has meant we can now have a theatrical release in Australia. We are going to start with an advanced screening at the Cameo, Belgrave,” he said.

“It feels like we are bringing the film home to where it was shot.

“The other exciting thing about opening in Australia and the Cameo in Belgrave at this time is the current resurgence of audience interest in Australian films. Some of the big American studio blockbusters have been held back due to the pandemic, and this has created an opportunity for homegrown independent films on much smaller budgets to grab the limelight. Aussie films are doing well in the box office and we hope our film will play a part in that resurgence.

The premiere at the Cameo will play from 3-5pm on Sunday 21 February. Mr Bentham, producer Donna Lyon and actors Geraldine Hakewill and Mark Leonard Winter will be present after the film for a Q&A.

For more information, visit https://www.cameocinemas.com.au/events/disclosure-q-and-a-screening.