27 Oct 2018 | BY Sarah Thomas - @SarahTtheWriter
Fighting Season is not just a war drama, it’s a family drama.
It’s about Australian soldiers returning from Afghanistan in 2010 and takes the horror and losses of Australia’s longest war and drops it right back into suburban family settings and the adjustment and conflict that it brings for everyone.
It’s also about post-traumatic stress disorder, the often unspoken toll of overseas duty. And it’s a suspenseful thriller, too, about a cover-up and a search for the truth.
It’s a story that tempted director Kate Woods back to Australia after 10 years in the US, directing TV shows such as Castle, Nashville and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She says the post-war world is often the least told part of the story for many soldiers.
“To get those kind of experiences out of your system would be very hard,” she says. “And for some it’s almost impossible. To tell that story I thought was very important.”
From Goalpost Pictures producers Kylie du Fresne and Rosemary Blight (Cleverman, The Sapphires, Holding the Man), and written by Barracuda’s Blake Ayshford, it was filmed over 12 weeks earlier this year in Sydney and Broken Hill.
Says Woods: “Goalpost reached out to me to do it and it was a no-brainer. I just loved the project. The writing was beautiful. I always admired Blake Ayshford and loved his work and was thrilled to work with him. It was a wonderful opportunity that I was very happy to come home to do.”
It boasts a stellar ensemble of established and emerging talent. Lead actor Jay Ryan (Top of the Lake) excels as the haunted, tormented Sergeant Sean Collins, back home on leave after the death of fellow soldier, Captain Ted Nordenfelt (Ewen Leslie, also Top of the Lake). Ryan pulls off a truly powerful performance as Collins, an incendiary wrecking ball swinging between his own withdrawn, tormented state and the rage and hallucinations which impact his wife, Vanessa (Sarah Armanious), and their family.
“I don’t think anybody would disagree that there’s a long way to go in helping them,” says Woods of returning soldiers and PTSD. “It’s something that’s not very well understood and I think the hardest thing is to get over the shame of it. So they hide it and even though the rhetoric is there, ‘please, we’re here to help’, and all that, it’s sometimes that these more psychological wounds are way more difficult to confront and admit to, and so they suffer in silence.”
She says shame is possibly the crux of the problem in getting people to seek help.
“It is a hard thing to admit that because they see it as weakness. They see it as not able to cope. You should be able to deal with this if you haven’t been hurt. You should be able to come home and get on with life,” she says.
“They feel guilty. They’re not the ones… I mean there’s guys coming home with no legs and arms and awful injuries, and they are also needing an enormous amount of help, physically as well as mentally. Obviously my heart goes out to those people, but it also goes out to the people where it’s not so clearly seen. They feel they carry this guilt and shame that they’re a survivor but they’re still not coping as well. That was the big eye-opener for me.”
Another standout is Kate Mulvany as Kim, a grieving widow brimming with shock and anger and the drive to seek the truth. The cast also includes young talents Marco Alosio, George Pullar and Julian Maroun as returned privates also struggling with internal battles.
Woods says the most important thing about Fighting Season is its emotional authenticity in portraying the life that the soldiers experienced in Afghanistan, as well as what happened at home.
“If a single soldier that watches this says, ‘yes, that’s what I went through’, or ‘yes, I understand’, or ‘yes, they got that right’, then we’ll have done our job. That’s more important than anything.”
Next up for Woods is Netflix series Messiah, about a man purporting to be just that, which she is jointly directing with Australian James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) and created by another Aussie Michael Petroni, who adapted The Book Thief.
“It’s about what you would imagine how the world would react if someone came back and said, ‘OK, here I am again’,” she says. “There is a very wide range of reactions to that and it’s a very, very smart, clever, intelligent series, quite deep thinking and has a pretty big scope to it.
“So it was great because, in a way, Fighting Season also has a huge scope. I feel very privileged to be telling these big stories. This is the kind of storytelling I love to be involved in.”
After 30 years as a director, it’s interesting to learn Woods’ perspective as a woman in the industry amid the current landscape.
“The MeToo movement has exposed some situations that have been, quite honestly, known about but covered up for a long time. And I think that that is coming out is great,” she says.
“However, my caution for all this is that I really hope it doesn’t become combative. That it doesn’t become us against them. And that’s what I fear. We should work together and work on what is great as a mix rather than going to our corners, so to speak.”
There is also another Australian project on the horizon for Woods in feature Seriously Red, from the Dollhouse Collective, a production company whose all-female founders include Rose Byrne. It’s written by and stars another member of the collective, Krew Boylan, in a comedy about a wayward, redheaded misfit who finds her voice by becoming a Dolly Parton impersonator.
There’s always one thing at the heart of storytelling for Woods, she says.
“It’s always about the emotional journey. It’s always about how people relate to each other on the most intimate level. And I don’t mean that in a sexual way, I just mean that how we really, really do connect with each other. What pulls us together. What makes us different.
“I’m trying not to say the human condition, because it’s such an overused word, but it’s all what makes us who we are and what our needs and wants are within each other. And each and every story in the world has that in it, and it’s always what I’m drawn to. The heart, basically. What’s happening in the heart.”
Fighting Season premieres on Fox Showcase on Foxtel Sunday, October 28, at 8.30pm.