Shadow tells a story about humanity, AI and a town hall meeting gone wrong
Australia’s internationally acclaimed Back to Back Theatre is a professional theatre company with an ensemble of actors with disabilities at its core. For the last 30 years they have questioned the assumptions of the possibilities in theatre and challenged the assumptions about how we see ourselves and also others. The Geelong-based theatre company has won multiple national and international awards with their performances throughout their history.
This year the Australian theatre company’s debut feature-length film is a part of Tampere Theatre Festival’s Main Programme. Shadow (2022) by Back to Back Pictures is a dark but humorous 56-minute film about Simon, Scott and Sarah, a trio of activists with intellectual disabilities, who hold a town hall meeting about the future impacts of artificial intelligence. A polite discussion quickly drifts into chaos.
The director of the film, Bruce Gladwin, states that the production team wanted to understand the individual and collective responsibility in decision-making better. He also mentions the importance of questioning how we come together to make decisions that serve the society’s best interests.
Producing the debut feature-length film
The story of producing the film Shadow begins in 2020, when Back to Back Theatre’s busy international touring schedule was put on hold due to the global lockdown. In October 2020 the company were able to prioritise the production of the film Shadow. It is based on Back to Back Theatre’s award-winning stage play The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes (2019). The film production enabled internships for people with a disability including roles both in-front and behind the camera, working alongside with a team of film professionals.
In the middle of 2020, Back to Back put out a call for people with disabilities who were interested in or had some kind of experience working on film sets. They received 40 internship applications from individuals all over the country. Alice Fleming, producer of Shadow, explains that in the first part of the process the team had a conversation with each individual interested in a technical department about the applicants’ interests, experience, possible barriers and what the team could do for removing those barriers.
– We didn’t want to assume to know what is best for any one individual seeking this experience. It was a learning experience for us as well, and sometimes quite depressing to hear the barriers to entry and barriers to further pathways for those who’d had some significant experience on sets before, Fleming says.
According to Fleming, the goal in the next part of the process was forming the team around the interns to support and to create an environment for learning experiences.
The filming took place in and around Geelong for three weeks in December 2020. One of the members of the Shadow team is Production Supervisor and Internship Mentor John Cumming, who supported the two camera teams. Cumming describes that his role was to help the interns to get to know the particular camera they were using. He says that ”very quickly it became apparent that we would just start using the cameras”. According to him, it was more like learning through practice than having multiple workshops before the actual filming.
The screenplay is by Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price and Sonia Tauben. Gladwin explains that the film is created through constant conversation as well as improvisation and that way the performers are also the co-authors. The ensemble is comprised of actors Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Breanna Deleo, Belinda McClory and Brian Lipson.
The piece was adapted for film by the cast and director with script consultants Madeline Stuart, Louise Gough and Melissa Reeves. The process of transforming the theatre work into a feature film was highly collaborative right from the beginning. Shadow was co-funded by the Australian government Department of Social Services, and the City of Greater Geelong through the Arts & Culture Department’s Arts Industry Commissions Program in partnership with UNESCO Creative City of Design.
Shadow is a part of the Tampere Theatre Festival 2023 Main Programme. It is performed in English, but there will be subtitles in Finnish and English. The age recommendation for the film is 15+. A post-screening panel discussion will be held at the same place after the show and it will be mainly in Finnish.
Shadow will be performed twice at Pakkahuone: on Thursday 10 August at 7pm and on Friday 11 August 4pm. Buy your tickets here.
Text by Mirja Nurminen