Alice Springs locals star in world premiere at Byron Bay Film Festival

Under Streetlights tells the story of two young adults from different backgrounds brought together by their common love of making music.

Byron Bay Film Festival (BBFF) has added a new Australian-made drama in its line-up for this month, a world premiere made in Alice Springs that it says ‘will act as a clarion call for harmony and hope’.

Under Streetlights is a story about achieving unity,’ said a BBFF spokesperson, ‘about the things that people have in common – music is one of them, family another. It is also about courage in the face of adversity, self-belief, and looking after each other across gender and race lines.’

Based on true events, the film tells the story of two young adults from different backgrounds who are brought together by their common love of making music and the challenge they both face of having an alcoholic parent. The film explores the issues within the context of a story of friendship and the drive to create that motivates young people across cultures.

The project is the first all-locally crewed and cast feature film to be shot in Alice Springs. The filmmakers’ initial aim was to offer training to young people at a grassroots level in song-writing, acting, public speaking, singing and story-writing.  

The result was the group added to their skills and experience in filmmaking and media, including developing the story that became the finished script.

The film stars Izak, an Indigenous rapper played by Amatjere man Jacob Japaljarri Harvey, and Ella, a young American-Australian played by Madison Hull. It is written, directed and produced by Danielle Loy, a Northern Territory resident, with Cultural Advisors Leighton Mason and Lynette Ellis also playing roles as Izak’s dad and auntie. 

Real musicians were cast in the lead roles and wrote and performed many of the songs in the film. Jacob, aka Kng Jay, is one of those. Co-lead Madison is also a songwriter and performer and it is music that brings them together.

Jacob had never acted before shooting Under Streetlights and says it took him a few days to decide if he was a good fit to play Izak. ‘Izak is someone who carries other people’s problems on his shoulders and I do the same,’ he said. ‘I’m like Dr Phil, the person in the middle balancing everyone else’s needs. When Dani told me this was who the character was, I knew I was the right person for the part.’

Both Jacob and his character also write and record on an iPhone app in a bedroom studio, and both struggle to get it played through mainstream channels.

Jacob will be at Byron Bay for the two screenings of the film, as will Leighton Mason, his uncle in real life – a Nanagantjarra Pitjantjatjara man whose family moved to Alice Springs in 1983 where he danced in Aboriginal dance groups that travelled the world. Like Jacob, his on-screen character echoes aspects of his own life, from giving up alcohol to traditional dancing, a scene he wanted included in order to show Aboriginal culture to the outside world.

‘Storytelling is part of our culture, and dancing can be like a book, teaching people through story,’ he said. ‘We worked hard to make that part come alive. Even though my knees gave up I kept dancing, because I was doing something I love. That’s one of the film’s themes: keeping going even when the going gets tough.’

The film also shows some of the harsh realities the local people have to deal with, said Leighton, including interactions with the police.

‘We see it every day, and I tried to get some of that tension into the film, to show authentic experience. There’s a lot of truth in this movie.’

Under Streetlights will screens as part of the Byron Bay Film Festival on 21 October. Some cast and crew members will attend for a Q&A. Find out more.

Paul Dalgarno is author of the novels A Country of Eternal Light (2023) and Poly (2020); the memoir And You May Find Yourself (2015); and the creative non-fiction book Prudish Nation (2023). He was formerly Deputy Editor of The Conversation and joined ScreenHub as Managing Editor in 2022. X: @pauldalgarno. Insta: @dalgarnowrites