Screenwriter moves from redemption drama to Gillard

01 May, 2014 by Don Groves

It took scriptwriter Alison Nisselle and director/co-writer Craig Monahan 10 years to make Healing, a redemptive drama which opens in Australian cinemas on May 8.

Nisselle is hoping her next project, a feature on Julia Gillard, will happen rather more quickly.


But she tells IF it will take at least two years to complete her research and finish the script on the former Prime Minister’s reign and ousting by Kevin Rudd.

It was announced last year that Rachel Griffiths will play Gillard in Stalking Julia, based partly on Kerry-Anne Walsh's book The Stalking of Julia Gillard. WTFN’s Richard Keddie is the producer and Emma Freeman (Puberty Blues, Offspring and the Bob Hawke telemovie Hawke) is attached to direct.

Nisselle got the idea for Healing after reading a Philippa Hawker story in The Age about a rehabilitation program caring for wounded eagles, falcons and owls run by the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Prisons Victoria.

She was struck by the article’s last paragraph which reported that none of the prisoners who took part in the program had since reoffended. Nisselle had been looking for a project that would reunite her with Monahan, for whom she worked as script editor on his 1998 psychological drama The Interview.

Monahan jumped at the idea, Nisselle put the project on her Film Victoria-funded script development slate, they spent time with prison officers, inmates and Healesville workers, and producer Tait Brady came aboard.

However Screen Australia rejected their first pitch for funding in 2011. “I thought we were dead,” Brady recalled this week. Then came a reprieve when Screen Australia’s Martha Coleman suggested they reach out to London-based script editor Lucy Sher.

“We had changed a lot of things in development as we went through so many hoops,” Alison said. “Lucy got us back to almost where we started.”

Hugo Weaving had been attached from the start to play Matt Perry, the senior prison officer who runs the raptor rehabilitation program in a minimum-security prison farm.

Ben Kingsley was considered for the role of Viktor Khadem, a crim of Iranian background who is serving a long stretch for murder and finds redemption in the program. Don Hany (who has an Iraqi father and a Hungarian mother) got the part.

The drama got glowing reviews at the European Film Market in Berlin and independent exhibitors are supporting the film, which will open on 40 screens, released by Pinnacle Films. 

Healing is the first feature from Nisselle, who started out as a writer on Crawford’s TV station-set soap opera The Box in 1977. Her credits include Parer’s War, Curtin, The Feds and Marshall Law, and she co-created the ABC crime dramas Janus and Phoenix.

While researching Stalking Julia, she met the former PM and found her “very impressive” and happy to co-operate.

“So much bullshit has been written about her in the Australian media, unlike the international press who esteemed her,” Alison said. “Her government made mistakes but every government makes mistakes.”