Way out west, where Melbourne’s inner-city hipsters fear to tread, lies the working class suburb of Sunshine. In recent years it has become home to a community of Sudanese refugees, looking to make a new life far from their war-torn nation. If you’ve watched the current affairs shows on the commercial networks, you’ll see this has met with mixed results. And now SBS has made a four-part series set in that community, named for the suburb: Sunshine.
The story follows Jacob Garang (Wally Elnour), a South Sudanese-Australian teenager hoping to make it as a basketball player, along with teammates Deng, Santino and Dazzler. He ropes a retired NBA player into coaching their team, but things get complicated when Santino (Autiak Aweteek) is implicated in the violent assault of a teenage girl.
In addition to local names like Kym Gyngell and Vince Colosimo, Sunshine also stars Anthony LaPaglia and Melanie Lynskey – both of whom postponed professional breaks to join the project. “I have had a very busy couple of years and my plan for this year was that I was not going to travel or work too much unless it was great,” reveals Lynskey. “Then I read it and it was great. I was like, ‘Damn it! Not going to get my break yet.’ I was really moved by the story. I think it’s such an important story to tell. I'd never read anything like it, so I wanted to be involved.”
LaPaglia reveals, “I like to be involved in things that have some kind of weight to them, some kind of gravitas. I think they’re really nailing it, in terms of quality television. It’s my second experience with Australian television, really, The Code being the first one. It’s tough, this whole block shooting thing – to play four episodes in one day, figuring out where you are as in actor in a thing, but I’m adjusting to it.”
Director Daina Reid, who's also worked on The Wrong Girl and The Secret River, says, “Sunshine has been one of the most exciting, challenging and uplifting projects I have ever worked on. When the scripts came to me, I was a little daunted. I was taking on the responsibility of telling the story of another culture’s experience in Australia – a culture that, at the time, I had very little experience with.”
Filmed on location in Sunshine, this is a series that captures the beauty of a place often given negative associations. “The light in the western suburbs of Melbourne is beautiful and casts a golden glow across the suburbs in the west,” says Reid, who worked with DOP Bruce Young to avoid the grey, industrial tones. “It is a vibrant and culturally diverse place, and we wanted to capture that visually. Night shots on the actors used a combination of warm and cool light, tungsten and moonlight. We incorporated hand-held intimate close-ups with graphic wide shots to capture every nuance of the performances and to connect the characters to the place they live in.”
Sunshine will air over two big weeks, premiering Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 October at 8.30pm on SBS. You can watch an encore screening on SBS VICELAND at 9.30pm or stream it online on SBS On Demand.