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Damian Walshe-Howling is bringing MESSiAH to Flickerfest

In the trailer for Damian Walshe-Howling’s short film MESSiAH, actor David Gulpilil is seen laughing from the side of a road in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. The joy in Gulpilil’s laughter immediately hooks in the viewer; you can see why Walshe-Howling wrote the script for MESSiAH with Gulpilil in mind.

“I had heard about this international film competition called Lexus Short Films, and after I was shortlisted there was a two-page treatment you had to submit on the theme ‘anticipation’ and when I got thinking on it David just popped into my mind,” says Walshe-Howling of getting Gulpilil involved in the film, “I thought initially I didn’t have a story to go with it, but as I kept thinking of ideas he kept knocking on my mind.”
 
Well known in outback ‘tracker’ roles, Gulpilil was someone Walshe-Howling had wanted to work with for a long time. “I had never met David before,” says Walshe-Howling, “I saw Stormboy in 1976 when I was about six, and I think he’s one of the greatest performers of all time. He’s ethereal.”
 
The film depicts a couple – one French, one Irish, both tourists – who encounter Gulpilil’s character along a highway. “I don’t want to give the plot away because it’s a short film,” says Walshe-Howling, “But thematically it’s about our need sometimes to project what we want onto other people or other cultures and see them in a way that suits us, or is romantic to us, instead of in a way that is actually in line with our own needs.”
 
MESSiAH is screening at the short film festival Flickerfest, who Walshe-Howling has had a good working relationship with over the years, and four years ago was on the judging panel. “Ten years ago I made a film called Bloody Sweet Hit which screened there, so I’ve been engaged with the festival for a long time,” says Walshe-Howling. The festival started in 1991 and has grown to include a countrywide tour, including regional towns. “It’s great that it is going around the country, because there is going to be a screening in Kununurra where we shot as well which is very exciting.”
 
Born and raised in Melbourne, the East Kimberley was unfamiliar terrain for the filmmaker, though it is a popular location for Australian films depicting the outback. “The Kimberley has more roads and highways which is what I needed,” says Walshe-Howling, “It’s an outback and road movie, and I needed that wide land, but there’s so many films that have done that, I wanted it to be somewhere more lush. We were lucky to shoot right on the corner of a wet season so we got to show that area a little greener and a bit more alive”.
 
Walshe-Howling is a well-known Australia actor, including parts in Underbelly and Bikie Wars, and having been involved with short films for some time now, he is looking forward to pursuing feature length projects in the future. “Long-form television is very interesting to me and of course feature film,” says Walshe-Howling, “But it’s all about finding that definitive idea that really clicks, and in my experience so far, that happens when it’s ready to happen.”
 
By Hannah Joyner

MESSiAH will screen at Flickerfest, coming to Palace Kino Cinemas on Wednesday February 15 and Thursday February 16.