Out of the 25 million people in Australia, the Greater Western Sydney region is home to 2.5 million people. That means one in every ten people is a Westie. Even so, our cultures and stories are underrepresented in the creative industry, and a lot of the media attention we receive is mainly negative. This inevitably leads to a very prejudiced view of Western Sydney and those of us who live here.
Here Out West is a feature film that seeks to tell a story about Western Sydney and the people who call it home. After a successful run at the 2021 Sydney Film Festival, the film premiered in Australian cinemas on Thursday, 3 February. Lacking the hype of franchise juggernauts like Marvel Studios, the film primarily relied on social media and word of mouth from patrons at an advanced screening, which I was lucky enough to attend.
The film is an anthology of eight stories brought together by eight writers (Nisrine Amine, Matias Bolla, Arka Das, Bina Bhattacharya, Dee Dogan, Tien Tran, Vonne Patiag and Claire Cao) and five directors (Fadia Abboud, Lucy Gaffy, Julie Kalceff, Ana Kokkinos and Leah Purcell) amongst a larger creative team. It begins with grandmother Nancy visiting her daughter in hospital after giving birth. Accompanying her is her young neighbour Amirah, who Nancy is babysitting. In a desperate and spontaneous snap decision, Nancy ends up abducting her new granddaughter Grace from the hospital, setting off a chain of events that ends up connecting total strangers throughout the course of one extraordinary day.
Watching a movie at the cinemas often entails diving into far-off fictional lands and storylines. We often marvel at the sights on screen and idolise the actors playing the characters we love. So it was wonderfully strange to watch this film and see streets and roads I’m familiar with and characters that remind me of people I know or I’ve met before.
After the screening, I stayed back to hear the writers talk about their work. What ended up being one movie started as eight separate stories, each inspired in varying degrees by the lives and backgrounds of the writers themselves. Each story felt distinct and personal in different ways, which makes it all the more remarkable that they were able to converge into one cohesive storyline.
One notable point made by one of the writers, Bina Bhattacharya, was that all of the characters weren’t decisively good or bad. Some characters make appearances in more than one of the stories, which allows the audience to see different sides of them. It was impressive to see these characters code-switch through their various contexts. Especially in light of Western Sydney’s negative attention last year, it would be too easy to depict the region with rose-coloured glasses. However, all the characters felt real and that’s what provides a lot of the heart in this film.
As someone who has lived in Western Sydney for almost their entire life, this film felt incredibly familiar to me. This was helped by the fact that as large an area Western Sydney is, no specific location was singled out. Culturally, this film speaks to the universality of migrant experiences across multiple generations. The relations between the children and their parents made me think about my own relationship with my parents. Experiences as minor as filling out citizenship forms, and the complicated connection to one’s parents’ culture and language, are things that I have experienced in my own life.
Here Out West paints a tender, complicated and wondrously human portrait of Western Sydney, which I feel many people would be able to relate to. It gives a voice to a community that has historically felt shunned, especially throughout the pandemic. But even more so, it’s a wonderful achievement for the creative community in the region. From the actors’ remarkable portrayals on screen, to how each story was able to form one cohesive work, this film has the potential to inspire more Western Sydney creatives to tell their own stories.
Here Out West is still showing at a limited number of locations. Check your local cinemas for showtimes.