KVIFF 2018: 23-year-old director Luke Sullivan on ‘Reflections in the Dust’

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

Australian director Luke Sullivan is at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this weekend promoting his groundbreaking post-apocalyptic / documentary feature film Reflections in the Dust, which just had its world premiere.

Nestled neatly into the festival’s ‘Imagina’ section, Reflections in the Dust is a refreshing addition to the festival this year, mainly because of Sullivan’s ability to combine documentary with harrowing post-apocalyptic fiction – a genre-bending feat that is sure to spark attention on the international film scene.

The project is composed of a series of real-life interviews, conducted by Sullivan himself, and an unsettling fictional tale involving a young disabled woman, and her father, a schizophrenic clown. “We really describe it as a renegade film. It’s very rebellious and there’s not much coming out of Australia that pushes the boundaries like this,” says Sullivan.

Director Luke Sullivan at the world premiere yesterday

The filmmaker’s work thrives off his gift to generate extreme claustrophobia through unsettling imagery and an unnerving soundtrack. Reflections is a visually stunning film, shot in New South Wales and set on the edge of a mysterious swamp utilising both black and white and colour sequences, and extreme close-ups that really immerse the audience in the characters, who are little more than isolated ‘specks of dust’. Similar themes are explored in the director’s previous films You’re Not Thinking Straight (2016) and Bad Luck, Patty (2014).

You may recognise the young disabled woman as prominent circus and theatre performer, and ex-Paralympian, Sarah Houbolt, who is not only blind in real life but also suffers from the rare Hallermein-Streiff syndrome, a condition which affects the skull and facial bones. These disabilities have never held the performer back however, and she has since become a famous advocate for disabled inclusion and disabled women’s rights. She was even invited to the United Nations recently. Houbolt, who along with her father is consumed by fear and paranoia, brings great depth and colour to the film in her debut lead role.

The director did however, receive some controversial feedback for the way the film portrays the disabled, but believes that this kind of subject matter shouldn’t always be approached in a fairy-tale manner. “It’s a very confronting experience, but I think it’s important that it’s also represented in a serious way. Sarah fell in love with the idea. She thought that this was the type of film that needed to be made for disabled artists,” says Sullivan.

The film had a sold-out world premiere at the festival this weekend – an incredible achievement for the 23-year-old director. “It was incredible. An incredible crowd with very intelligent questions. It was just amazing to see the film with an audience for the first time” says Sullivan.

The young director is eternally grateful for the KVIFF selection of his film and is looking forward to more screenings over the next few days, as well as meeting some of the other distinguished guests, “I’m a huge fan of Richard Linklater. I’d love to meet him! I saw him speak at the opening ceremony and was like four rows away from him! So yeah, if he wants to come and see the film then by all means…”

Reflections in the Dust will also screen on Monday 02/07 and Wednesday 03/07. For tickets and more details, visit the Karlovy Vary Film Festival website.

Photos: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

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