On 7 February 2009, Australia suffered its worst natural disaster in recorded history. A firestorm of cyclonic fury swept across Victoria and 173 lives were lost. Nowhere was the destruction more terrible than in the tiny hamlet of Strathewen, only 40 km’s from Melbourne. Survivors were linked by trauma, unimaginable grief and the weighty task of trying to understand what had happened to their worlds. Then after the shock of survival, just as the adrenalin finally runs out, the real work begins. In THEN THE WIND CHANGED local resident and filmmaker Celeste Geer interweaves her own family’s story with those of her neighbours and friends as they struggle to rebuild their shattered lives in the two and a half years following the fires. The film is a mélange of compelling home footage, delicate observation and thoughtful meditation that documents the extraordinary spectrum of human responses to the firestorm that swept through one valley. It is a story of heartbreak and love, redemption and resilience. Each of the central characters has been challenged to find new ways of living in a radically altered physical and emotional landscape. Whether they have lost loved ones, homes, their beloved natural environment or their children’s innocence, each is being tested in ways they could never have imagined. The physical tasks of rebuilding houses, the local school and a market garden are set against a complex psychological backdrop: raw and fragile moments are captured as parents try to hold their family together in a tiny caravan during winter; while down the road love blossoms unexpectedly, and unlikely creative projects bring people together. And all the time, these ordinary people who found themselves in the centre of an extraordinary event, offer generous insights into their struggles as they rebuild their lives and their community. Through this intimate observation of ordinary people responding to an extraordinary event THEN THE WIND CHANGED offers a tender insight into humans’ amazing potential to manage adversity and rise from despair.
Director: Celeste Geer
Producer: Jeni McMahon
Tags: Strathewen bushfire trauma Library Disaster movie survival firestorm fire black Saturday
I was still gripped by post disaster shock when I started filming. Amidst total chaos the camera gave me purpose, a slight distance and a reason to really look closely for the first signs of new life. Seeing the extreme situation I was experiencing as a story was initially a coping mechanism that enabled me to keep functioning.A bushfire exposes everything. Just as the bush is robbed of its complex undergrowth, people too are left unmasked. Watching the people of Strathewen come together and try to fathom a future together continues to be a fascinating and deeply moving experience. Living in this extreme landscape and bearing witness to regeneration is a privilege. As a member of the Strathewen community and a filmmaker, I am both an observer and a participant in the difficult task of recovery. This dual role has brought with it a great sense of responsibility to tell this story in a way that will honor its complexity.
Celeste Geer - Director