National borders have a certain perversity to them. What actually defines them, and who really has the right to say what or who goes where? Before the rigours of imperialism, borders were usually defined by nature like a great big mountain, a winding river or a lake.
Just looking at the Aboriginal map of Australia compared to the white man’s configuration, the Aboriginal borders seem natural, whimsical even, compared to the obsessive straight lines carved out by the modern European mind. Adelaide based film-maker Anthony Maras’ new short film The Palace deals with one of the world’s perverse straight lines, the border created by the United Nations in Cyprus after the 1974 conflict. This line in the sand still has a sensitivity to it, as Maras and his crew discovered while making The Palace.
“Shooting over in Cyprus was like walking on a real tightrope, in a sense that the sores are still very much open,” said Maras, adding, “everyone is trying to tread very carefully, the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, because so much is at stake.” Maras says that although The Palace is dealing with a potent part of political history, it’s not so much about the political machinations of the two opposing forces, but looks at the human element of this conflict and “the on the ground confrontations and the horrors of war”.
The Palace focuses on one Cypriot family fleeing the advancing Turkish forces, who take refuge in an abandoned Ottoman-era palace. A young Turkish Cypriot conscript comes face-to-face with this family in hiding, and is forced to confront the reality of war and his role in it. The Palace is inspired by a story, amongst others, about, “a Cypriot mother faced with an impossible decision”.
“As soldiers closed in near her hiding spot – her young baby boy was restless. She had to either let him cry and risk the consequences, or try silencing him by forcing his mouth shut and risk suffocating her baby. I could never vanquish this scenario from my head and used it as one of the key story threads for The Palace,” said Maras.
Not only was The Palace filmed in Cyprus it was filmed, “literally within metres from the United Nations Green Line, and that got “pretty hairy at times” when having to recreate the more brutal parts of the conflict in front of ordinary Cyprus citizens passing by, Maras said. “It of course can bring back memories for these people and we had to be very sensitive about that,” he said.
Initially, as Maras explained, the original plan was to film somewhere outside Adelaide, in the country to try to recreate the surroundings of the Lefokesia. Luckily they had the opportunity to film on location where the war memories, unfortunately, are everywhere. Many parts of Lefokesia still remain untouched, so no CGI or expensive sets were required of the film-makers to simulate their war-reality. “For the actors in the film it was also very real because the bullet holes are still there and you can see, in many cases, where and how some of the conflicts occurred,” said Maras.
The Palace has already won the Audience Award at the Adelaide Film Festival and will be screened at the Sydney Film Festival Dendy Competition on June 6 and again on June 18 as part of the festival.