In Midland and Moscow
Factory 293. Picture: Supplied

It's become a journalistic cliche to describe a young filmmaker as the next Steven Spielberg, James Cameron or Peter Jackson in reference to the wide-screen epic that he or she will make years into the future, after they've made their acclaimed low-budget debut feature, before being snapped up by an American studio.

Como writer-director Roderick MacKay couldn't wait that long. Instead of waiting for Hollywood to knock on his door he's made his own grandiose period piece, a wrenching wartime story set in a snow-swept Soviet munitions factory that was shot almost entirely in the abandoned Midland Railway Workshops.

The result is an eye-opener - a mini-epic in which Myles Pollard plays a despairing, guilt-ridden Soviet officer struggling to keep the production line rolling in the face of the nazi threat and who has a date with destiny with an embittered stranger who walks out of the blizzard.

Factory 293 is just under 25 minutes long but MacKay and his fellow producer Justin McArdle have conjured something miraculous, mixing live action and CGI to convincingly create Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, an authoritarian nightmare soaked in vodka, passionless sex and fear.

"Factory 293 grew out of a very general idea to create a world and tell a story that didn't exist here in Perth," explains the 27-year-old Curtin University graduate, whose first short film Trigger was a Coppola/Leone-inspired mobster drama set in 1970s southern Italy.

"As an Australian filmmaker I can genuinely say I love Australian stories but variety is the spice of life. So we wanted to broaden our narrative palette and try telling global stories for the world. We thought: why not Russia?

"We also wanted to demonstrate that West Australian filmmakers could make films for an international audience. Our films haven't travelled well in the past but we believe with imagination and ingenuity our movies can appeal to overseas audiences."

Factory 293 was made under ScreenWest's three-to-one crowdfunding program, in which the State's film agency would contribute $3 for every dollar filmmakers raised through the Pozible website

(Miranda and Khrob Edmonds' Tango Underpants was also financed in this innovative scheme).

Their movie was initially intended to be released online with a sponsorship deal that McArdle was pursuing with Russian Standard Vodka, via the UK brand agency London Collective, with the intent to use Factory 293 as branded content, which would have opened it up to a huge international audience. "Unfortunately, when the Ukraine crises exploded Russian Standard suspended all marketing activity while assessing the fallout." explains McArdle, a British-trained specialist in digital media whose overseas experience is proving invaluable for MacKay and other local filmmakers.

The loss of the online arrangement has freed up MacKay and McArdle to screen Factory 293 at festivals, beginning with a series of showings at the Revelation Film Festival as part of a shorts package dubbed Slipstream Quartet.

MacKay, McArdle and leading man Pollard will also take part in a panel discussion during Rev called World Building, in which the trio will reveal the secrets of how they managed to transform the sprawling Midland Railway Workshops into a startling facsimile of Soviet Russia on a shoestring budget of $100,000.

MacKay describes the experience of creating wartime Russian in the suburbs of Perth as "a sheer joy and the most terrifying things I have ever done".

"In part, the project was designed to give our supremely talented DOP (director of photography) and digital visual effects artist Andy Gordon a big canvas to demonstrate his capabilities but the same could be said for all our department heads," MacKay explains.

"To my knowledge nothing like this has ever been done in Western Australia, so it was an experiment. Everyone rose to the challenge and I can't wait to tackle another project with the team."

MacKay and McArdle are now using Factory 293 to leverage their first feature- length film, The Interior, an action/ adventure set in the 1890s WA gold rush.

Co-written by the Factory 293 team of MacKay and Stephen Lloyd with support from ScreenWest, The Interior is about a secret gold-finding expedition led by the Goldfields' most famous resident, future US president Herbert Hoover, that sheds light on the little-known story of the Afghan cameleers, the unsung pioneers of Australia's inland development.

The film's website (theinteriormovie.com) features a video narrated by Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Bolton in which the esteemed WA academic summarises the key historic elements that MacKay and Lloyd have woven into the story, along with the imagery of stunning Goldfields landscape that will be the film's setting.

McArdle is currently in talks with British actors Jude Law and Paul Kaye (of Game of Thrones fame) as well as their Factory 293 star Pollard (Drift) and are hopeful of forming an alliance with veteran producer Charles Steel (The Last King of Scotland).

MacKay and McArdle believe that The Interior's mix of a tightly focused story - they say it is almost a genre film - set against an enthralling period of our history and the harshly beautiful landscape make it an attractive investment for those who've made their millions during the recent mining boom.

"This is their (the miners') legacy story. It is the whole reason why Perth exists. The last mining film, if you exclude Red Dog, which only used mining as a backdrop, was The Nickel Queen, which was made in 1971. It is high time for another movie that tells WA's most significant story," McArdle says.

The West Australian

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