Born in Russia and based in Australia, Alena Lodkina has started her filmmaking odyssey by directing documentaries and short productions which were screened at festivals around the globe, including at Melbourne International Film Festival, Antenna Documentary Festival and Belo Horizonte International Short Film Festival. Her feature debut project Strange Colours, alongside with Mazen Khaled’s Martyr, premiered in Biennale College – Cinema section at the VIFF. Her auspicious film about a frayed relationship between an ill father and his daughter wowed not only the critics, but the audience as well.
How can one fix a broken connection with a parent? Can the relationship be mended in the face of a serious illness? This is what Milena (Kate Cheel) concerns herself with when she gets the message that her estranged father Max (Daniel P Jones) has been hospitalized. Milena travels for miles on the bus, to the opal-mining township of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales. The first meeting, after years of no contact, is awkward and unpleasant as Milena and Max do not know how to tackle their communication issues. The girl is a stubborn, brave and cannot stay in one place for too long; because of that, she decides to stay in Lightning Ridge until she can patch up the relationship with her father. While he might not welcome her with open arms, Max’s closest friends treat her like she is one of their own. At this stage, Alena Lodkina draws a subtle story of ordinary people living ordinary lives. In her film, people are real; there are drifters, tipplers and lone wolves – none of them is afraid to admit who they are, and even though the life in their town is difficult, they find it hard to leave since opal mining is all they know. Even in such an isolated community, the men’s way of looking at their lives is unique.
The title itself refers to the opals found in the aforementioned town; opals contain all colours of the spectrum and are like no other gemstones – an opal changes colour as an observer turns the stone. The relationships in Strange Colours are much like opals, of different colours, some of them dark like the father’ and daughter’s relationship and some of them bright, like the relationships of the community – their lives might not be easy, they might be lonely, yet their way of living might be seen as somewhat ‘happy’, especially when compared to the relationship between Max and Milena. Lodkina shows that the communication isn’t easy, but anything can be achieved with enough effort.
As the story went on, Alena Lodkina moved freely from one frame to another, giving the audience a feeling of a deep understanding of the lives and of the loneliness of those living in Lightning Ridge. In cooperation with cinematographer Michael Latham, she created a highly realistic portrait of an ordinary community, with an emphasis on the characters of Max and his daughter. With great camera work – and clean usage of dark and bright colours – and with unpretentious dialogue, the production blends documentary elements with fiction. Most performers in the film are non-professional actors and they are great in their roles. Strange Colours took nine months to make, but with this first feature, Alena Lodkina has shown that she has a clear directorial vision for making more than just short and documentary projects.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Strange Colours