Lismore-born Naomi Fryer had her sights set on a career in the law when a controversial rape case came to her attention and diverted her into filmmaking.
- The River, a new short film by writer-director Naomi Fryer, was inspired by the high-profile rape case of Saxon Mullins, which brought to light questions around consent laws
- The film is a coming-of-age story set in Ms Fryer’s hometown of Lismore about teenagers leaving high school, rape and flooding
- The crew is currently filming in and round Lismore and the river, with cast and crew made up primarily of locals
The case involved a Newcastle teenager, Saxon Mullins, then a virgin, who had gone out with a girlfriend and was anally raped in a Kings Cross alleyway on her hands and knees.
The male involved was found guilty, but the case was overturned on appeal in a decision that shone a damning light on New South Wales’s arcane laws of consent.
Alone and scared, the girl froze and did not audibly say “no”.
“This story is not at all the Saxon Mullins case,” the film’s producer Katherine Shearer said.
“But it made her [Ms Fryer] angry.”
A personal story
From that emerged the script for This River, a coming-of-age story about teenagers leaving high school, rape and how the female protagonist deals with it, as well as flooding in the region.
Naomi Fryer wanted to write something that seemed personal, set in her home town, but was not her own story.
Lismore is at the junction of Leycester Creek and the Wilson River, which used to be known as the north arm of the Richmond River.
Ms Fryer’s alma mater, Richmond River High School would flood whenever the Wilson’s River and Leycester Creek would break their banks, leaving a thick sludge of putrid mud through the school once the waters had receded.
“The environment is telling the story through the danger of what’s happening here with the floods being an ever-present underlying threat,” Ms Shearer said.
“The environment is also healing in her emotional journey, so the environment plays a part in the narrative telling the story in a way only people who live in those environments can experience and understand.”
It is set in the 90s, when both Fryer and Shearer were themselves leaving school.
“We wanted to set it in the 90s because that was a very nostalgic era for us, we also wanted to set it pre-internet,” Ms Shearer said.
“And we also wanted to set it in an age where we felt there was an innocence, having the world at our feet, and that’s what this character does she’s at the end of high school she’s excited by the prospects ahead of her.”
‘The location was the star’
The film crew have taken over several houses raised on stilts near the flood-prone heart of the city.
They have also lugged camera gear up rocky, rainforest trails to Protestors Fall, and on cue, after weeks of dry weather, it rained.
“Everything on location is being shot in Lismore we also have Protestors Falls,” Ms Shearer said.
“The location was the star really — Naomi couldn’t have made this film anywhere else.”
From the beginning, Ms Fryer and Ms Shearer committed to use as many local cast and crew as they could.
As a result all the cast, bar one actor from the Gold Coast, as well as 80 per cent of the crew, come from Lismore and surrounds.
Ms Fryer also called on family friends including some in the local SES to help too.
A unique way of storytelling
For Ms Shearer, the pull to produce the film was immediate.
“I was really attracted by the themes,” she said.
“She’s [Naomi’s] done 11 drafts, but she was trying to say so much in a short film and we’ve tried to simplify it.
“To me it’s very important to tell stories that, yes, we may have seen before on screen, but maybe not in this setting, the rural setting, the Australian way of telling the story and also through a female gaze.
“I like working with female writers and directors, I think that’s really important that it’s their writing and their tone that they put through the film so to take it all the way from script to the final film is what I love.”
Topics: sexual-offences, womens-status, regional, short-film, film, floods, sexuality, regional, rivers, lismore-2480
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