Director/producer Kate Whitbread is wrapping production on The Unlit, a female-targeted supernatural thriller which has a witch as the protagonist.
Cassandra Magrath (Underbelly Files: Chopper, Wentworth) plays Claire Nash, a cop who is forced to go on leave after the suicide of a teenager in which she is implicated.
When she receives news of her father’s death she returns to her hometown in the country, a place which is in the grip of fear and decay while the locals report seeing a shadow seeking blood.
Claire uncovers the shocking facts surrounding the death of her father from her uncle Cliff (John Voce), the former head doctor at a now-abandoned asylum. She sets out to try to convince him to return to the asylum where her late mother Sarah (Francesca Walters) was committed.
“I find the idea of fate fascinating and wanted to put it into a modern context – this is how the germ of The Unlit came about,” says Whitbread, who devised the story with screenwriter Darren Markey.
“Australia is yet to produce a quality witch story and what is more pagan and cinematic than witches? The film also explores the complex relationship between mothers and daughters and how these relationships help define us.
“Claire is from a long line of witches, with the film exploring what happens when she is called back to take up her rightful place, highlighting the universal need for identity, which is often found by returning home.
“Darren and I worked extensively on fleshing out the story before he went to work on the screenplay. We also found appeal in the female protagonist and the idea of a town taken over by women. We felt the motif of empowered women to be timely and relevant.”
Whitbread shot the privately financed film in just 15 days over three weeks in Lorne, Victoria, with Paul Hughes as the DOP. She did a further days of pick ups which Cindy Clarkson is editing. The cast includes Nicholas Denton, Kevin Hofbauer and Lee Mason.
She is yet to secure a distributor or sales agent but hopes to launch the film at the Berlin Film Festival, believing it will appeal to European buyers.
In Berlin she also aims to raise funds for her next feature, The Wolf of Rostov. Scripted by George Viscas, the psychological thriller set in 2001 is based on the true story of Josh, an ageing journalist who is determined to uncover the truth about The Wolf, one of the last remaining Nazis living anonymously in the suburbs of Melbourne. With his young colleague Kate he sets out to expose the man they believe was responsible for the murder of more than 100,000 Jews.
“We had very strong marketplace interest in the project at the MIFF 37ºSouth Market because of its international themes,” she said. “The story is based on fact and is one that hasn’t really been told here of the Australian government’s involvement in harbouring Nazis in Melbourne.”
Whitbread produced Darran Scott’s Spirit of the Game and Sandra Sciberras’ The Caterpillar Wish and she co-directed Surviving Georgia with Sciberras.
She is also developing for television Girls on the Street, a two-part bio of the Australian artist Joy Hester.