Shifting sands

Garang John Deng plays a character inspired by Kook Manuer’s childhood in ‘Two Sands’. Photo by Drew Kendell

A LOCAL short film that’s won global acclaim for its portrayal of a young African refugee screens in both Uganda and Perth this week.

Two Sands tells the story of local writer and actor Kook Manuer fleeing war-torn Sudan, spending years of his childhood in a refugee camp in Uganda before finally making it to Australia. “The Sudan story in Two Sands came from my childhood, my roots,” Manuer says. 

Fourteen-year-old actor Garang John Deng, whose parents were refugees from South Sudan, portrays the lead character attending his first day of high school and struggling with memories of being lost in Sudan.

“I’m excited to have the vision of what I went through in front of me on screen, so it will make me and other people from Sudan feel truly welcome in Australia,” Manuer says. “It’s something I survived and learnt from and I want to share with people.”

Shortly after arriving in Australia as a teenager, Manuer met Leederville-based filmmaker Poppy van Oorde-Grainger at Aranmore Catholic College where she taught at the Intensive English Centre. He shared his story of being lost in the wilderness as a child. 

Years later when van Oorde-Grainger was living in France and unable to speak French, she thought back to Manuer’s story, and the film was born of melding ideas of being lost in the wilderness with the feeling of being lost in a new country. 

Audition

They brought on board producer David Kucha, who grew up in South Sudan, and searched at cultural events and churches seeking a lead actor. Garang did his audition on the grass at a huge community event with many other kids watching, and won them over. 

Van Oorde-Grainger says: “I hope Two Sands gives some audiences a deeper understanding of the experience of refugees from South Sudan and migrants more generally and makes those who’ve moved countries themselves think ‘ah, this character is like me!’.”

It was tricky to film some parts: 

“Finding somewhere in WA that looked like South Sudan, even for quick flashbacks, was challenging,” she says.

“We spent ages looking for a field with long grass and eventually we secured the perfect location but the day before filming, someone mowed it. 

“Fortunately they left about 10 square meters so from one angle we managed to still give the impression of being in the grasslands in South Sudan.”

Two Sands recently won best film at Port Shorts in Queensland and is spreading out to other global festivals. As it screens in Perth, it’ll also be shown in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where Manuer was in a refugee camp.

Two Sands screens at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium as part of LotteryWest Films December 6 to 12 alongside Lingui, The Sacred Bonds, the story of a single mother in Chad. Tickets via perthfestival.com.au

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