Sweetshop & Green has secured Australian film director, Rodd Rathjen, to direct the screen version of Behrouz Boochani’s remarkable book, No Friend But The Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.
Behrouz Boochani. Photo: David Collins
Rathjen is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts (School of Film & Television). His debut feature, Buoyancy, a powerful dramatisation of human trafficking within Thailand’s offshore fishing fleet and shot largely in Khmer and Thai, premiered at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival in Panorama, where it won the Ecumenical Jury Prize. It was selected as Australia’s foreign-language Oscar contender and was also awarded an AACTA for Best Indie Film and an Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Youth Feature Film.
Rathjen first came to critical attention with his breakout short, Tau Seru, which was selected to premiere at Cannes in 2013 as part of Critics Week. It went on to win awards at top festivals around the world, including the Melbourne International Film Festival. He is currently also in development on feature film, Rizgari, with producer Grant Hill (The Thin Red Line, Titanic). The story follows the fight against ISIS in Kurdistan in 2014.
Rathjen stated, “’I’m really excited to join such an important project with an amazing team. In particular, I’m looking forward to collaborating with Behrouz to ensure the film retains his voice and becomes a unique and profound cinematic experience.”
The film has been announced as one of the selected projects to take part in Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) International Financing Forum (IFF) in September, with Rathjen working in close collaboration with Boochani and writer-producer, Ákos Armont. Boochani, who was granted refugee status in New Zealand last month, will take on the roles of story consultant and associate producer, joining the writer’s room and contributing to scripting. He has already been working with the Australian producers to develop his story for the screen, with support from Screen Australia.
Behrouz Boochani. Photo: David Collins
Discussions are underway with other international filmmakers to join the team. The project is jointly led by Aurora Films, Hoodlum Entertainment and Sweetshop & Green.
Boochani commented, ”Writing has always been an act of resistance. When I started to work on the book, six years ago, no one had really heard about Manus Island. Today the book is published in 25 countries and in multiple languages. I hope that by now adapting the book into a film we will make this story even more accessible to audiences and continue to generate discussion and change for the world’s refugee communities. I hope the film will inspire others [to] speak out and share their stories; to talk and write about their experiences of survival. I am very happy to be working with Rodd and Ákos to develop this story and shape it into something very special. This is not just my story. This story belongs to the almost 80 million people around the world who are currently stateless.”
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish Iranian journalist, author and poet who fled Iran in 2012 after the newspaper he co-founded was raided by the Iranian government. As a refugee, he attempted to travel to Australia by boat from Indonesia to seek asylum but was intercepted and imprisoned on an Australian-run offshore processing camp on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. Boochani would spend almost seven years confined in offshore detention. His book, No Friend But The Mountains, is a vivid and lyrical account of his harrowing experience.
The book was typed out arduously on a contraband phone via WhatsApp in Farsi and translated by Omid Tofighian (Research and Translation Associate on the film), all in defiance of the system detaining him. It was dangerous work. The mere existence of the book is a testament to his resilience.
Boochani’s book went on to win one of Australia’s top literary awards in 2019, the Victorian Prize for Literature, while he remained detained on Manus Island, and ironically, he accepted the award via phone link. No Friend But The Mountains is an international bestseller and is sold in nineteen countries. It has been recognised by The Guardian as “a cacophony that evokes the harsh physical reality, uncertainty and the incessant abuses practiced in Manus Island prison – [he] deconstructs the established principles of genres as he employs them, thus positioning his book as an anti-genre.”
In addition to winning Australia’s richest literary prize, the Victorian Prize for Literature, the book was also awarded the Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize for Non-Fiction, the Special Award in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) for General non-fiction book of the year and the Australian National Biography Award.
Boochani publishes regularly with The Guardian, and his writing also features in The Saturday Paper, Huffington Post, The Financial Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was recently interviewed for a profile by The New York Times. He writes about statelessness, of extra-legal limbo, and is an outspoken defender of human rights.
Sweetshop & Green, Aurora Films and Hoodlum Entertainment are partnering to develop and produce the film with the aim of shooting in mid-2021. In a joint statement, Gal Greenspan, managing director at Sweetshop & Green; Tracey Robertson, executive producer and co-founder, Hoodlum Entertainment; and Antony Waddington of Aurora Films, said, “No Friend But The Mountains is a defining tale of our time, about the power of one man’s resistance. It tells the incredible true story of Behrouz Boochani’s courage and triumph over despair, as he gives voice to the many voiceless. We are thrilled to join Behrouz and Rodd in crafting a powerful film to inspire audiences everywhere.”