Director: Paul Ireland
Screenwriter: Damian Hill
Mark Coles Smith
Runtime: 89 mins.
Australian release date: 21 April, 2016
Previewed at: Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney, on 24 March 2016
It’s not surprising that Pawno, the directorial debut of actor Paul Ireland was nominated for The People’s Choice Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2015.
Set in the down-at-heel suburb of Footscray in Melbourne’s inner west, Damian Hill’s engaging script takes its audience on a wild and bumpy ride through a pocket of multicultural Australia that is rarely seen on screen. The title alone is a great bit of Aussie slang which may well bring in an audience expecting a different kind of ‘porn’, however even they won’t be disappointed with this hard-core slice of life in multicultural Australia.
Twelve stories cross paths in the film, all centering on a Barkly Street pawn shop run by hard-man-with-a-heart-of-gold Les Underwood (John Brumpton) and all taking place on the same day. His off-sider Danny (Damian Hill) is a quiet, shy character who’s smitten by local book-seller Kate (Maeve Dermody) and who tries to woo her, ineffectually for the most part. Providing a sort of Greek chorus to the events is a couple of smart-arse, homeless mates, Carlo (Malcolm Kennard) and Pauly (Mark Coles Smith), who spend their days annoying each other and chewing the fat about life, the universe and everything. Both are terrific as they comment on the comings and goings at the pawn shop and in the street.
The characters we meet combine some of the best and worst citizens of the area and include transgender parent Paige Turner (Daniel Frederiksen), restaurant owner and Les’s ‘friend with benefits’ Lai (Ngoc Phan), grieving mother Jennifer (Kerry Armstrong) and Les’s mate Harry (Tony Rickards), who appears to have it all but is harbouring a dark secret. In addition to the main characters there is a host of colourful Footscray locals providing a backdrop to the street scenes – look out for the little girl with the ukulele! For the sake of authenticity the production actually rented a shop in Barkly Street and set up its own pawn shop for six months, which was sufficiently believable to fool many of the passers-by.
The performances are uniformly excellent, especially our national treasure Brumpton, and the technical credits are solid, in particular the award-winning soundtrack by Tristan Dewey and Tai Jordan, which features music by Tom Waits (who agreed to the use of his music for the titles after personally viewing footage) and Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy, hip-hop outfit Astronomy Class and Chris Saray. Pawno is one of the better Australian scripts to reach the silver screen in a long while. It is a reminder of how diverse life in the inner city is and makes you realise how much will be lost when old areas like Footscray, akin to places like Kings Cross in Sydney, become as banal as the suburbs when the developers and the wowsers take over.
Actor turned director Paul Ireland says of his film, “Pawno is a little slice of life and love. I’ve always been drawn to the smaller stories in life. Our everyday struggles that fundamentally define us, the moments that make us the sum of our parts. I wanted to keep it very simple. Hopefully the audience [will] get as much enjoyment out of watching it as we all did making it.” Judging by the reaction of the audience I saw it with, I can confidently predict that it will.