Tony Briggs and Tracey Rigney.

Tony Birch’s Miles Franklin-shortlisted novel The White Girl is set in the 1960s but the themes of the courage, strength and dignity of Indigenous resistance are just as relevant today, according to Damienne Pradier.

Emerging producer Pradier and her partner, writer-actor Tony Briggs, optioned the novel and are developing a feature film with Tracey Rigney as the director and co-writer.

It’s among six Australian projects selected to participate in Attagirl, the feature film development lab devised and run by For Film’s Sake.

The plot follows Odette Brown, who is raising her granddaughter Sissy, who was conceived when she was raped by Joe Kane, a white pastoralist for whom Odette once worked as a domestic.

Traumatised by her violation and unable to cope with life as a mother, Odette’s daughter Lila fled to the big city, leaving behind Sissy, the white girl of Birch’s title.

Odette faces a dual challenge: Bring about a reconciliation between Odette, Lila and Sissy to prevent the new town cop, Sergeant Lowe, from taking Sissy away; and seek natural justice from the Kanes.

“The story is just as relevant with what is happening now in lockdown,” Damienne tells IF. She and Briggs have long known Birch, who told them he would only entrust the screen rights to them.

They reached out to Rigney as the ideal director to handle the female-driven story. “We want to support her career as she directs her first feature,” Pradier says.

“We are hoping The White Girl will attract international interest through Attagirl and that we can fast track it.”

The book, which won the 2020 NSW Premier’s Prize for Indigenous Writing, is on secondary school reading lists, which gives it a high profile. Briggs and Rigney are concurrently developing a stage play based on the novel, which they may co-direct.

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