Then the Wind Changed

A terrifying glimpse into the heart of the inferno

Then the Wind Changed An Australian family cowers in terror as a devastating firestorm sweeps across their land, engulfing their home, killing their neighbours and destroying their town. For those who survived, the years that followed would test them in ways they couldn't have imagined. This observation of ordinary people responding to an extraordinary event offers a tender insight into mankind's amazing potential to manage adversity and rise up from despair.

Strathewen: a lush green paradise where families built their homes to raise their children, close to nature. But at 3am one summer morning residents are woken by the trees thrashing in the hot northerly wind. "It felt like we were in a tinderbox". The lucky ones drive out before the firestorm spreads across the darkened countryside and the trucks start to explode...

Dom works with the fire service and stays behind to look for survivors. Miraculously, the fire has skipped over his house. But fate struck his neighbour Denis a crueller blow. A falling tree blocked his family's escape and they perished in the bath, where they were sheltering from the inferno. Dini's husband and son couldn't get home and died on the road. "To lose your family is such an incomprehensible thing".

Amid the awful silence and blackened trees the clean-up is loud and jarring. Heavy rains gouge furrows on the blackened hillsides. The landscape feels like a cemetery. People decamp to vans. Australia's Eucalyptus forests have been burning and renewing for thousands of years. Native grasses now flourish within the burnt forest. So life goes on with that awful feeling: it could have been me.

Denis was building a new house for two families: his and his son's. He can't bring himself to move in yet, now all the others are gone. Bron's children are angry. Her daughter Lola lashes out: "You're doing everything wrong". Olee is a farmer who lost his crop, his house and his dogs. He's gripped by "constant panic". Strathewen tries to function as a community. But there's anger. No official warning came on Black Saturday. Bodies of loved ones were left to rot in cars. The women form groups and grieve together. The men "get busy" alone.

But months and years pass and people begin to move on, to lose the adrenaline that gripped them that day. Denis finds love again in relief worker Susie, though not everyone in this tight-knit community approves. Dina finds solace in a uniquely Australian fashion: nursing orphaned wombats. Lola can at last play out those "scary things" with her toys. Bron laughs: "We take our children to psychologists instead of ballet!" The school is rebuilt with the names of those who died etched into the bricks. The children's writing shows how fragile they feel and the tears still flow easily.

Two-and-a-half years on, Olee's house is at last being rebuilt and Bron's new house is ready. Olee remains unsure he can cope, but for others, a future seems possible. At times intensely moving, this film makes us all wonder how we and our children would cope if death struck all around.



Laurel NOMINATED - Best Stand Alone Documentary Film, Australian Director's Guild 2012

Laurel NOMINATED - Best Stand Alone Documentary Film, Australian Director's Guild 2012

Laurel WINNER - Walkley Award for Best Documentary, Australia, 2012

Laurel OFFICIAL SELECTION - GZ Docs, China, 2012

Laurel WINNER - Best Documentary Under One Hour, AACTA 2013

The Producers

Celeste Geer is an independent filmmaker based in a small bush town just outside of Melbourne Australia. Throughout incarnations as a commercial lawyer, academic, gardener and mother the one constant in Celeste's working life has been her desire to tell powerful stories. Her documentaries are intimate, character based films that explore the complexities, humor and frailties of the human condition. Recent films written and directed by Celeste include Mick's Gift (ABC TV), which inspired the ABC series Family Foibles and Veiled Ambition (SBS TV), winner Human Rights Award at the 2006 Melbourne International Film Festival.
A graduate of the VCA, School of Film and TV (1999), Celeste has also worked at AFTRS developing curricular for the Centre for Screen Business. Then The Wind Changed (IDFA 2011) is the first documentary feature that Celeste has written, directed and co-produced.

Producer Jeni McMahon has established a reputation for creating a highly successful, entertaining and award winning documentaries with a uniquely Australian focus. She has a passion for telling stories from remote indigenous Australia including the iconic and hugely popular Bush Mechanics Series and Going Bush with Olympic gold medalist Cathy Freeman and AFI award winning actor Deborah Mailman.

Making The Film

Within weeks of the Black Saturday fires, director Celeste Geer picked up a camera and started shooting her immediate environment. Fellow filmmaking friends and colleagues assisted her in these early days by recording some key events, the landscape's rapid changes and the raw emotions of neighbours and friends in the community. Initially it was an instinctive response to try and make sense of her drastically altered reality. As time progressed, the strength of the material became apparent. It was more than just a therapeutic exercise: there was a film in the making.

Producer Jeni McMahon of Melbourne company Rebel Films came on board in September 2009 and the project was one of only four films to receive funding from Screen Australia's Special Documentary Fund in 2009. Up to this point Celeste was financing the filming, so the Screen Australia investment allowed her to employ camera people in a more regular capacity and she conducted many interviews and filmed many community events over an 18 month period until she started to see particular themes emerge and her focus started to narrow on certain individuals / families within the community.

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