Here Out West
Directed by five female filmmakers and penned by eight writers, this moving Australian drama tells eight different stories set in western Sydney.
February 03, 2022
Western Sydney could use a love letter right now, and that tribute arrives in Here Out West. The product of eight up-and-coming screenwriters from the area, it celebrates a place that has spent much of the past year garnering attention for a reason no one wanted: thanks to the tighter rules applied to the region during Sydney's four-month stretch of stay-at-home conditions in 2021, it was home to New South Wales' strictest lockdown of the pandemic to-date. Thankfully, COVID-19 isn't this movie's focus. Instead, as told in nine languages — Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Kurdish, Tagalog, Turkish, Vietnamese, Spanish and English — and helmed by five female filmmakers, Here Out West dwells in everyday lives. It champions by seeing and recognising, and by trumpeting voices that have always been there but are infrequently given a microphone.
Of course, as thoughtful and meaningful as Here Out West is — and as welcome a move it makes with sincere multicultural representation in Australia — it really shouldn't stand out as much as it does. There shouldn't have needed to be a concerted effort to champion western Sydney voices to make a film like this. It shouldn't grab attention as a rarity, either, and it shouldn't feel so timely because of the events of the last 12 months. Here Out West does all of these things because it's an outlier in Australia's homegrown filmic output, but it also clearly makes a case that's already apparent and inherent anyway: that presenting more than just the stereotypical image of Australia, and opting for a genuine picture of the country as it actually is instead, should always be the baseline and status quo.
Opening shots of suburban houses and looping highways set the scene: viewers aren't journeying to an Aussie beach or the nation's parched outback expanse, aka two of the prevailing visions of this sunburnt, sea-girt continent on-screen. Rather, Here Out West unfurls its octet of intertwined vignettes in spaces far more ordinary — not to downplay the importance of surveying western Sydney, but to clearly note that these are its daily playgrounds. It's here that mothers have babies, neighbours look after the kids next door, grandmothers worry about their grandchildren, dads struggle to connect with their sons, and sport and food are among the ways that people come together. It's here that adults bicker among themselves over love, and with their parents about their futures. It's where lives begin and end, and where folks with dreams both big and modest also try to start anew. And yes, all of these scenarios are covered by the film's narrative.
Initially, Here Out West spends time with Nancy (Geneviève Lemon, The Tourist), who takes care of her eight-year-old neighbour Amirah (debutant Mia-Lore Bayeh), but wasn't actually planning to help out today. She has a newborn granddaughter to meet — one that the authorities are planning to take away, so Nancy makes a drastic decision that'll ripple throughout the community across the movie's one-day timeframe. In the film's second segment, hospital carpark security guard Jorge (fellow first-timer Christian Ravello) is brought into the wider story, and also gets a snapshot chapter of his own. His instalment then intersects with friends Rashid (Rahel Romahn, Moon Rock for Monday), Dino (Thuso Lekwape, Book Week) and Robi (Arka Das, Babyteeth), who run through the streets arguing about Rashid's cousin. Next, their section links in with Ashmita (Leah Vandenberg, The Hunting) and her dying Bengali-speaking father back at the local hospital.
Returning to specific spots comes with territory, because it comes with living anywhere; paths cross, people are drawn to the same busy and central locations, and some facilities — such as Here Out West's pivotal hospital — are always a hive of activity in any community. That truth continues to drive the film as it meets Kurdish refugees Keko (De Lovan Zandy) and Xoxe (Befrin Axtjärn Jackson), who are hoping to make a new beginning that still involves his penchant for music and her skills hand-weaving carpets, before jumping to Tuan (Khoi Trinh) and his brother Andy (Brandon Nguyen), who possess varying ideas about what it means to be Vietnamese Australian. Then comes a glimpse at nurse Roxanne's (Christine Milo, It's a Cult!) day as she works a double shift and misses her family in The Philippines. And, there's also Winnie (Gabrielle Chan, Hungry Ghosts) and Angel (Jing-Xuan Chan, Neighbours) as the mother and daughter close their Chinese restaurant for the last time.
The common threads linking Here Out West's chapters are the ties that bind everyone: family, place and hope. But writers Nisrine Amine, Das (who acts as well as pens his section of the film), Bina Bhattacharya, Matias Bolla, Claire Cao, Dee Dogan, Vonne Patiag and Tien Tran find their own takes on the movie's common elements, sometimes by drawing from experience — and, unsurprisingly, the feature frequently feels personal. That sensation connects each of the picture's segments, too, with every section peering intimately at western Sydney residents, their lives and their emotions, and showing both the specific and the universal in the process. That isn't a revolutionary overall approach, and has long made so many stories strike a chord on pages, stages and screens, but the way that Here Out West uses such sparks of recognition is equally astute and moving.
As directed by feature first-timers Fadia Abboud, Lucy Gaffy and Julie Kalceff, as well as the more seasoned Ana Kokkinos (Blessed) and Leah Purcell (The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson), Here Out West also charts a route that most anthologies do — because not every part matches the last or next. Each of its eight vignettes bring engaging people to the screen, and function as perceptively drawn character studies, but there's more to some than others. That's as fitting as the movie's naturalistically shot look, however, because that too reflects the reality that Here Out West so determinedly channels. Some tales are slight, others are immense and plenty sit in-between, but in this powerful, authentic, diversity-celebrating ode to western Sydney, they're all worth telling and sharing.