Nick Barkla in Stephen Sewell’s Embedded.

Erotic political thriller Embedded is the directorial debut of screenwriter and playwright Stephen Sewell.

The film world premiered at the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday and will screen again tonight.

Sewell, who also wrote the film, has a long career spanning both film and theatre. He’s written plays such as Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America and The Blind Giant is Dancing, as well as screenplays for film such as The Boys and Lost Things.

Film directing has been something Sewell has wanted to do for a long time but couldn’t get any traction with until now.

The Australian film industry often tends to shy away from controversial political and social themes that “you can get away with” in theatre, he told IF.

“I’ve had enormous success in theatre and become famous through theatre, but the same kind of themes don’t get anywhere in terms of Australia film,” he said.

“So Embedded is going to feel to a lot of people like a punch in the face. It’s very hard hitting, very broad, [has] very strong politics, and I’m sure is going to be quite controversial.

“And also the sexuality. It’s very erotic, in a way that’s not typical in Australia.”

Set in the Middle East, Embedded follows traumatised Australian war correspondent Frank (Nick Barkla), who has a plan to assassinate the commander he holds responsible for an atrocity he witnessed while embedded with American soldiers in Mali.

The night before the assassination is set to take place, the journalist meets the mysterious and alluring Madeline (Laura Gordon).

“The action of the story is really about the sex and the drugs that they take that night, and the unfolding story as he reveals more and more to her about what he thinks about the world and what he intends to do,” said Sewell.

Like much of Sewell’s work, the film takes a political stance, with the director saying he was inspired to make it after watching the expanding crisis in the Middle East.

Sewell originally wrote Embedded as a play, but later rewrote it for screen after he offered it to Jim Sharman who told him the story was emotionally intense in a way that would be better dealt with as a film.

Given its origins, Sewell said there may be some audiences who will see the film as having a theatricality.

“Front and centre in this film is acting and performance,” he said.

“There’s a big problem in a lot of Australian films in that directors don’t have a lot of experience or understanding of what actors do; there’s a fear of actors. I think it really shows. Coming from a background in theatre, I don’t have that fear.”

Sewell called Barkla and Gordon’s performances “incandescent”.

“I’m proud to have been able to get those performances out of them and give both of those actors the opportunity that they deserve.”

Steve Jaggi was the producer on the project. He and Sewell had previously teamed up together on a larger budget film that was difficult to finance with a first-time director, and so instead turned their attention to Embedded.

Sewell said his first foray into shooting was a thrill.

“I loved it. I can’t wait to get onto the next one.”

“At last I had the opportunity – Steve Jaggi gave me the keys to the Lamborghini and he didn’t even tell me not to crash it.” (laughs)

The director says he loved being able to “do what I always wanted to do: to convey a pure vision.”

Next for Sewell is another thriller titled Wolf, which is being produced by Tim Maddox.

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