‘Wish You Were Here’ kicks off Australian Film Fest

Kieran Darcy-Smith discusses first feature about the aftermath of a Southeast Asian vacation turned ugly.

Kieran Darcy-Smith 370 (photo credit: Lisa Tomasetti)
Kieran Darcy-Smith 370
(photo credit: Lisa Tomasetti)
Kieran Darcy-Smith’s feature film debut, which is the opening attraction at this year’s AICE Australia Film Festival, is called Wish You Were Here, and the director is clearly happy to be presenting his film in Israel.
“I’ve always been interested in this area,” says Darcy-Smith, having a late breakfast of black coffee and cigarettes on the steps of the Mount Zion Hotel in Jerusalem the morning after the screening of his film at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. The film opens the Australia Film Festival tonight at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and on July 2 at the Haifa Cinematheque. “There’s so much religious iconography, there’s this weight of history here, I’ve always loved places like this.”
Darcy-Smith then launches into a story about a knockdown, drag-out fight he observed while wandering around the Old City on his own.
“Two guys were fighting over bread, like someone had taken bread and hadn’t paid for it. But it got very ugly. It was one of the most violent confrontations I’ve ever witnessed. I was afraid someone would really get hurt,” he says.
Trips to the Old City are rarely that action-packed, but it’s fitting somehow that Darcy-Smith happened to witness this scene, since Wish You Were Here is a psychological thriller that starts out when two couples from Sydney go on a vacation together at a beach resort in Cambodia.
The film, which opened the International Feature Competition at Sundance this year, is set in a “risky, evocative place. I’ve always been attracted to dangerous places,” he says.
Southeast Asia is often a vacation destination for Australians, since “it’s the closest place we can go.” He remembers his first trip abroad, to Thailand when he was 25, “and I stepped off the plane and was in Bangkok on a Monday morning and there was a sense of adventure. The light and the sounds and smells were so different, it was so busy, it was madness, it just kind of smashes you in the face.”
Wish You Were Here is about the contrast between the orderly, middle-class life of one of the couples in Sydney, and the exoticism and danger they experience on their Cambodian vacation.
“It was based on the true story of an Australian tourist who disappeared while traveling in Thailand 30 years ago and has never been heard from again.”
But Darcy-Smith wanted to go behind the headlines. He and his wife, actress Felicity Price, who stars in the film, co-wrote it together over a period of several years.
“We wanted to examine the life of a couple, from our generation, who has grown up now and has responsibilities. It’s a contemporary portrait of Gen X grown up,” he says.
There’s an element of emotional autobiography in the material, clearly, as Darcy- Smith describes his own journey, from musician to a working actor and eventually to a screenwriter and director. He’s appeared in nearly 40 films and television shows, many of them action films such as the 2010 shark-munches-tourists flick, The Reef.
“I started writing short pieces, monologues for acting classes and I realized I wanted to write a script,” he says.
“I’m lucky I keep myself alive on acting,” he says, but he and Price never let go of the dream of writing a film that would actually get made. He realized that in the film world, a “good screenplay was the best commodity.” So they put their energy into writing a film that had an exotic backdrop which would make it appealing to audiences and investors.
After the success of Wish You Were Here in Sundance and Australia, Darcy-Smith and Price are moving their entire family to Los Angeles, where Darcy-Smith is set to start shooting Memorial Day, another original screenplay.
“It’s a crime drama, set in 1991, with two brothers, and it’s set among the surfing community and the outlaw motorcycle riders,” he says. His drama school pal, Joel Edgerton, who stars opposite Price in Wish You Were Here, will surely see Darcy-Smith in Los Angeles. Edgerton snagged the coveted role of Tom Buchanan in the upcoming Great Gatsby remake, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and was directed by fellow Australian, Baz Lurhmann.
Price probably won’t act in Memorial Day, which will have a mostly male cast, but working together wasn’t a problem for the couple.
“It was ideal, there was absolutely no conflict,” says Darcy-Smith. “She trusted me implicitly, because she knew I would never let anything in that wasn’t real.”
For more details on the Australia Film Festival, go to the website at http://aice.com.au/affwelcome.php