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News15 - Dec - 2022

Behind the scenes with The Overthrow writer and director Phoebe Wolfe

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Screen NSW spoke with The Overthrow writer and director Phoebe Wolfe ahead of its World Premiere at Flickerfest. With a background in international relations, Phoebe aspires to create films that meditate on political ideas in contradictory and relatable ways.

The Overthrow - Best of Australian Shorts 5 - Monday 23rd Jan, 9pm https://flickerfest.com.au/film/the-overthrow/


Congratulations on having your debut short film The Overthrow selected to screen at the 31st Flickerfest International Short Film Festival. How does it feel to be part of the program?

It honestly feels surreal. Flickerfest is one of the first film festivals I started supporting as a teenager and I look up to so many directors who have screened films there in the past. It feels truly bizarre in the best way possible.


The Overthrow looks at two teenage girls who want to make a difference in the global climate change movement. It explores themes through their relationship with the parallel pressures facing young people today including global activism and conservatism. Can you tell us about why you wanted to explore this idea in the film and where did you get the idea from?

The future of our climate makes me deeply anxious, which is a feeling shared widely across my generation. For a while, I wanted to make a film about this anxiety and how palpable and debilitating it can become. But with time I grew more cynical and began to see the activism I was engaging with through a darker lens.

It's wild how quickly the modern climate movement has been able to globalise so rapidly with the use of social media.  At first, I thought it was incredible, but then I began to fear how quickly such activism could become a mode of self-aggrandisement as opposed to an impactful endeavour.

Perhaps social media wasn’t as accessible as we’d thought but rather only emphasising this binary between right and wrong or just and unjust. How was a phenomenon as horrifying as global warming being denigrated to a feud between radical progressives” and unethical conservatives”? If there’s no consideration of their natural paradoxes, inconsistencies, and overlaps, it seems impossible for this conversation to ever escape a tautology.

This is your writing and directing debut – firstly can you tell us how you approached writing the film?

Writing makes sense to me if I begin with a question in mind. Obviously, with a topic as all-encompassing as climate change, a narrowing of objective was particularly helpful – I wanted to focus on performative activism, childhood hope, and female friendship. The two protagonists represent my own idealism as a young person, a perspective I wanted to challenge by placing obstacles against them as they leave their city. Even within their own dynamic lies a conflict that epitomised my own internal dissonance regarding climate activism.

The talented writer/director George-Alex Nagle really guided this process of self-awareness and its translation to the screen. I was also aware that my decision to construct two young female characters came with preconceptions. I felt that this was something to utilise rather than fight against. At first, to underestimate these characters is comedic. But as these layers are undone throughout the film, a despondent mood remains, revealing the true message of the film.


And tell us about your approach to directing.

I like to prioritise politics and subjective truth, which I think is an interesting juxtaposition. The film is overtly political, which I didn’t want to shy away from, yet also discloses deep emotional reactions.

In retrospect I’m reminded of the twentieth century line, “the personal is political”, and though it has origins in feminist activism, I find this intertwining of experience and politics particularly relevant to my directing approach.

When rehearsing with our lead actors, Annabel and Miah, I prioritised an understanding of the characters’ ideologies over scripted text. I think this helps to define the characters’ choices as politically meaningful and allows room for the actors to find compelling moments of truth.

Casting local non-actors was also important to this process, as their natural instincts were incredibly formative to the representation of the rural characters. For a story that approaches a sensitive political subject, I felt it was important to find truth in rehearsal and on set to encourage the audience to connect with, and be influenced by, emotion.


The Overthrow features some incredible Australian talent with Annabel Wolfe and Miah Madden. Can you tell us a bit about your stars?

If you didn’t notice the familiar last name, Annabel is my younger sister and longtime collaborator. Working with her was truly organic as I’ve been directing her since we were about six and seven years old. I am fortunate that she grew up to become such a successful Australian actress with work coming out next year like Stan’s highly anticipated Black Snow and Home and Away. As my sister, Annabel’s duties extended beyond her role as an actor, to providing me with incredible emotional support during the entire filmmaking process for which I’m eternally grateful.

I met the talented co-star Miah through Annabel as the two became best friends after meeting on a Netflix show called The Unlisted many years ago. Miah is a Gadigal and Bundjalung woman who I had first seen as the younger version of Jessica Mauboys character in The Sapphires. She has gone on to become one of Australias most successful young actresses with credits ranging from Australia Day to Gracie Ottos upcoming show The Clearing. Having admired Miah’s work for many years, it was really special to work with her on a character and story that she connected with on an intellectual and emotional level.

Annabel and Miah’s real-life friendship was special to harness. I felt their history and chemistry naturally communicated a love between their characters that isn’t often seen on screen and makes the film’s climax more powerful.


And tell us a bit about your crew including Cinematographer Darwin Schulze with Producers Lilly Bader and Ben Wastie-Pero.

Darwin, our cinematographer, was one of the earliest crew members to come on board and the film could not have been made without his talent. He is self-taught with skills and experience well beyond his years. I had been watching his work for a while, as he amassed accolades from Tropfest as an independent filmmaker and was particularly impressed by his recent mini-series Space Rats releasing in 2023. We were incredibly collaborative on set; I was lucky to work with someone whose creative instincts gelled so well with my own.

I’m grateful that Lilly and Ben were able to come onto this project. Their support was so important in this incredibly laborious and mentally testing process. Lilly comes from a household of filmmakers so was a beautiful wealth of knowledge when it came to figuring out how, for example, to shoot a film on a highway with local non-actors in rural New South Wales.

Meanwhile Ben was a less likely collaborator, as a project coordinator in finance. Yet his skills in financial management translated perfectly and were essential in bringing this micro-budget film into production and beyond.


The score in the film is important in forming the story and its impact – can you tell us about the composer?

Music is extremely important to me, especially when first visualising the film. I had developed an extensive playlist with a specific tone, and one of my greatest fears was not being able to bring that to life. I cannot express how fortunate I was to find our composer, Aksuna. After listening to her self-produced album Love Child and discovering that she was a music therapist, I knew she had the skills and empathy to transpose from my head into the score. Aksuna is a ridiculously amazing talent.


What do you hope the audience will gain from watching The Overthrow?

The film rings a somber and unsettling final note. How does the weight of this enormous global dilemma lie on the shoulders of our youngest generations? I hope this feeling stays with audiences long enough for a reimagining of climate justice to breed with space for imperfection and empathy.

Learn more about Phoebe here: https://filmfreeway.com/PhoebeWolfe and connect on Instagram @ https://www.instagram.com/theoverthrowfilm/

The Overthrow: One sweaty Australian summer, two girls, played by Miah Madden (Bali 2002, The Bureau of Magical Things) and Annabel Wolfe (The Unlisted) skate from Sydney to Parliament House in an emission-less climate change protest that tests more than their friendship.

The Overthrow - Best of Australian Shorts 5 - Monday 23rd Jan, 9pm https://flickerfest.com.au/film/the-overthrow/

Image: Still from The Overthrow. L-R Miah Madden and Annabel Wolfe. Cinematographer Darwin Schulze