When a dancer is the victim of a hate attack, her boyfriend must confront his unconscious racism to regain her trust.
Written and Directed by Beverley Callow
Produced by Eero Heinonen
With Renee Lim and Taylor Wiese
Official Selection Demakijaż- Women’s Film Festival, Poland, 2020
Official Selection Cyprus International Film Festival November, 2019
Gold Winner Australian Cinematographers Society Awards 2018, NSW & ACT Student category
Distributed by the Australian Film Television & Radio School
Hate Dance was made in Sydney as my graduation film for my final year at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). The Cast and Crew screening was held at AFTRS in 2018. The final edit, sound design and grade were completed at the start of 2019 and the world premiere was at Cyprus International Film Festival, November, 2019.
First conceived in 2010 while participating in a screenwriting class taught by Anne Brooksbank, the story was inspired by the racism I witnessed in the classroom. Just over half of our class consisted of young Caucasians and the other half were from a variety of cultures – Korean, Samoan, Indonesian and East Timorese. As someone slightly outside the box, being older and having experienced more than the kids, I gravitated to the others. I didn’t think about it at the time, they just seemed more authentic and fun and they extended their friendship to me in a way the others didn’t. I thought I saw an unconscious bias dividing the class, was it based on race?
This film was conceived. I didn’t make it immediately because I went on a journey with another film, perhaps I wasn’t ready to make it. But in 2017, I knew it was time to make a film about everyday Australian racism and even though someone asked if was scared of offending people, I wondered who it would offend and if that mattered to me, I decided I would not be deterred from telling this story because it might offend people.
Gender Parity and Diversity
The producer, Eero Heinonen was in the Masters of Producing program. I requested the Head of BA if he could produce the film, even though he was not in our class, which was a requirement of the school. The other Heads of Departments were all women and we had an equal ratio of male / female in the cast and crew. Though the supporting actors had to be Caucasian for the racism to be accentuated, the cast and crew were reasonably diverse with lead actress Australian-born Renee Lim, from a Chinese-Malaysian background and other cultural backgrounds of the crew included Chinese, Scandinavian, Indian, Lebanese, Chinese Malaysian and Greek, as well as Australians of British background.
Making this film led to a series of conversations about racism. Making this film led to a series of conversations about racism. I had to confront my own unconscious racism. For a long time the lead character, Li Po was Korean but I invited Renee Lim to play the character and Renee’s cultural background is Chinese Malaysian and Thai. I discussed it with her and though I was attached we decided to change the character’s background to the character being Korean, I wanted Renee to play the role and there was a divide I could not reconcile. I discussed it with her and we decided to change the character’s background to match that of Renee’s. I felt this was more authentic and respectful which I felt was more respectful. This opened to doors to the Hokkien language and led to finding the story about Princess Hang Li Po, which led to the character’s name becoming Li Po. I worked with Australian born Chinese Malaysian writer and Script Consultant Melissa Lee-Speyers to develop this part of the script and character and as I confronted my own ignorance, and became more specific with culture, language and story, the themes of post-colonial arrogance and cultural dissonance were clearer.
Many of the men I auditioned for the part of the Guys in the alleyway were repulsed by what they had to say to Li Po. The actors improvised the scene in the casting and rehearsals, based on their own experience of what they had witnessed through their own lives. Cast and crew from non-white Australian backgrounds relayed stories of the racism they frequently experienced here. Cast and crew members in cross-cultural relationships seemed to be affected more deeply by the story. At the cast and crew screening, one person said that though he had seen it at least a hundred times while working on the film, he cried every time he watched it.
I spent a long time contemplating and collaborating on what happened to Li Po. Should I include the rape? Should it be off screen? If a story is about racism, does that include sexual violence? After much thought, I came to the realisation that Asian women are often sexualised by white men, and this is also a form of racism. The reason why I decided not to have the violence on screen is that we see so many women abused on screen and I do not want to see anymore, even in a fictional sense.
The budget for Hate Dance was $250. We were allocated $250 AUD per student to make the film and were strictly not permitted to go over this amount, leading to many knock-backs with involvement and locations. But in the end, after much work from the talented and generous cast and crew, everything came together.
The Film Class Rules
1. We must use the Sony FS5 or FS7 (if we could book one). There were a couple of these available, but to obtain one, the filming dates could not clash with other students’ or lecturer’s shoots.
2. We must use only the equipment we were able to hire from the school’s tech store, and those we had “wings” for. In first year we were able to do training sessions for various items of equipment, or, if we had elected to study specific subjects, we had access to specific equipment.
3. We must have Head of Departments (HODs) from our class only. Apart from the producer and myself, the HODs who worked on this film with me were aged between 19 – 21 and their commitment and work was exceptional.
4. We must not shoot for more than 5 days.
5. We must not go over the allocated budget of $250 per student budget.
The film’s style was a continuation of my exploration of Dogme 95 that year, and though we didn’t follow the Dogme Vows of Chastity, my prior experimentation and subsequent approach made the lack of equipment and resources less of a drama and in way, provided a structure for the actors and cinematographer to engage more deeply with the themes, story and characters. Out of this spontaneous fluidity, cinematographer, Emma Elias, 21, won the student Gold Award at the Australian Cinematographers Society Awards for her work on Hate Dance.
There were many rehearsals for this short film. They were attack scene rehearsals, tango rehearsals, solo dance rehearsals and actor’s rehearsals.
We worked with award-winning fight choreographer, Scott Witt to prepare for the attack scene. Starting at AFTRS we blocked out the moves in a safe space, then went to the location to adjust for the layout of the alleyway and time the entrance of the man who walks past.
The tango was choreographed by Matt Thomson a tango dancer, actor and musician. We are very grateful for the support of Focus Talent Management and Brent Street Studios in allowing us to rehearse in their studios.
The solo dance was choreographed by Cassandra Merwood at Brent St Studios.
TEST SHOOT and MOOD REEL
In the process of preparing for the attack scenee, I filmed this test shoot with student actors from Screenwise including Rellim Simpson, who went on to play the role in Hate Dance. The test shoot helped me predict how my audience would experience the attack in the film and gave me ideas for the dancing feet and how far I wanted to go with what was on camera. The cultural background of the female character in the test shoot was changed for the test shoot, due to the actress’s own cultural background.
I edited the following tonal real to develop and convey the style for crew working on the film. I found this experience instrumental in developing and clarifying the direction I personally wanted Hate Dance to go.
In reflection, I wish we had been able to use more of the dance footage we filmmed during production, but in a 15-minute film, there isn’t much time and to go more deeply into the dance might have taken away the momentum of the whole story. The attack scene and the dance scenes were choreographed to contain the same movement and I edited the film to have an overall flow, like a dance.
Ultimately however, Hate Dance is not so much a film about dance though, but a film about a universal metaphor of racism as a dance. Hate towards those from backgrounds other than our own start at the top, with governments’ policies on migrants, refugees and First Nations people. Then there are are those in our community, ignorant and dangerous through the stereotypical racial profiling, fear and anger toward “the other”. And then, there are those in a loving relationship who reinforce the idea that their partner must become just like them. Because they love them, they make them speak their language, forget their culture and even forget their name, and all this is not a fun dance, a cool dance or a love dance – it’s a hate dance.