How this Aussie filmmaker won a Palme d’Or at Cannes

Charles Williams has returned home from Cannes with one of film’s most prestigious prizes. Here, he reveals the secret to his success.

It has been an eventful couple of weeks for Australian film-maker Charles Williams.

The 36-year-old returned home from Cannes Film Festival on Friday with some precious cargo; this year's Short Film Palme d’Or, awarded for his film All These Creatures. 

 “It was pretty overwhelming,” he told SBS News of the win after landing at Sydney Airport. 

“As they read the name out I just tried not to think about it too much and embarrass myself in front of the audience.”

Charles Williams accepts the Short Film Palme d'Or award at the 71st Cannes Film Festival on 19 May.
Source: EPA

The 13-minute drama was one of eight finalists selected from almost 4,000 entries from around the world.

Shot in the Melbourne suburb of Dandenong on a shoestring budget, the film tells the story of Tempest, an adolescent attempting to untangle his memories and reflect on a challenging relationship with his father. 

It was inspired by the filmmaker’s own experiences.

Crucial casting

Ethiopian-born Yared Scott, 12, who was adopted by Australian parents and raised in Melbourne, took on the lead role. His casting even led Williams to re-write the script.

“It was important to get the right soul and the right presence for this character … the race, and to some extent the gender, were things I could re-write around,” Williams said.

All These Creatures was filmed in Melbourne.
Source: Supplied

It is unusual to re-write after casting, he admits, but not unheard of.

Choosing an African-Australian actor too, was also unintentional, but admits it influenced the “feel” of the film.

“That helps everyone see each other as ‘people’ and not specifically where they’re from and what their previous background before being Australian is.”

Williams said Melbourne’s Ethiopian community was pivotal in ensuring the script was authentic, and ultimately successful.

“It was more about making sure we were accurate to certain bits of dialogue, behaviour, costume, and production design”.

But casting Yared was the masterstroke.

Schoolboy and actor Yared Scott.
Source: SBS News

Williams said the head judge at Cannes was full of praise for the young star and encouraged them to work together again.

“He told me … something about him on screen was so compelling that I’d be crazy not to make a [feature] film with him.”

Rising star

The young actor didn’t think his initial audition was successful, he told SBS News, but it earned the Scott family a ticket to the Cannes red carpet.

“The paparazzi everywhere and the amount of security was insane,” Yared said. “To watch the film and how big the screen was, was kind of overwhelming.”

Yared and his family at Cannes 2018.
Source: Supplied

What’s more, acting has enabled him to break stereotypes, he says.

“Being African myself and some of the stereotypes being in place, there not a lot of people expect me to do acting.”

His father, David Scott, couldn’t be more proud.

“I think he sets an example for everyone,” he said.

“I don’t think the colour of your skin matters that much. If you’ve got some passion and you want to achieve something, go and achieve it.” 

Published 1 June 2018 at 9:09pm
By Luke Waters