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Central Queensland News - - SCREENLIFE - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN The Merger is in cin­e­mas now.

The Merger may look like a footy film at first glance, but sport is sim­ply the medium for this heart-warm­ing tale of ac­cep­tance and re­demp­tion.

Damian Callinan is touch­ing hearts and tick­ling funny bones in the ‘dram­edy’, which is based on his stage com­edy show about the fic­tional Bodgy Creek Foot­ball Club.

The film cen­tres on for­mer Aussie rules player Troy Car­ring­ton, who re­turns to his coun­try town af­ter an abrupt end to his sport­ing ca­reer and is per­suaded to coach the hap­less lo­cal footy team.

“Once I started do­ing the live show peo­ple said ‘You should make a film out of that’,” Callinan said.

“I started talk­ing about the film at the end of 2012 and I knocked around a first draft for a while. I met Mark (Grentell, the di­rec­tor) af­ter be­ing in his de­but film (Back­yard Ashes) and he said ‘I want to be in­volved too’. It was in­ter­est­ing go­ing from a one-man show to lit­er­ally hun­dreds of peo­ple in­volved. There was a sense of com­mu­nity, which is art im­i­tat­ing life.”

In The Merger, Bodgy Creek’s footy club is in dan­ger of be­ing forced to merge with a nearby town when Troy sug­gests they reach out to the refugees set­tling in the area as part of a gov­ern­ment re­set­tle­ment pro­gram.

While the move is em­braced by some, it’s re­jected by oth­ers in­clud­ing for­mer footy coach Bull (John Howard).

“When I first wrote the play there was some stuff hap­pen­ing (with refugee re­set­tle­ment in re­gional ar­eas) in places like Biloela and Toowoomba, but now it’s not just a fancy. The re­gions are ahead of the game in a lot of ways. These small com­mu­ni­ties are the ones mak­ing a dif­fer­ence,” he said.

“What we’ve tried to do with the film is al­low the au­di­ence to be Bull and for those who don’t agree with it to see that change as he gets to know them and their sto­ries. I’ve al­ways been very cau­tious that I’m not some cru­sader who’s go­ing to change the world’s mind.

“John Howard said to me the other day that some­one said to him ‘Thank you, I ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered how I think about it now’. I’m hop­ing we shift a few peo­ple to be more hu­mane in their re­sponse.”

The film stars new and ris­ing ac­tors with im­mi­grant and refugee back­grounds in­clud­ing Fayssal Bazzi, who plays star footy player Sayyid, Fran­cis Ka­mara as Bu­rundi chemist Di­dier and Sahil Saluja as con­struc­tion man­ager Suresh. Other refugees also had non-speak­ing roles as ex­tras and Manus Is­land de­tainee Farhad Rah­mati con­trib­uted to the sound­track.

“Fayssal is half Syr­ian. He ar­rived here as a small child and he speaks flu­ent Ara­bic. We’re so lucky we got him,” Callinan said.

“This has been so life-chang­ing for me, not just to be sit­ting in a room writ­ing about it but meet­ing the peo­ple whose sto­ries we’re por­tray­ing. Fran­cis, who’s from Sierra Leone, is study­ing act­ing and this has changed his ca­reer. This film landed in his town and he’s been trav­el­ling the coun­try with us on the me­dia jun­ket. He’s go­ing to go places.

“Tony, our grip (tech­ni­cian), has worked on more than 50 films. He doesn’t say much but when he does you lis­ten and he said ‘This is the hap­pi­est film I’ve ever been in­volved in’.”

The Merger is ded­i­cated to Callinan’s fa­ther Adrian, who passed away dur­ing pre-pro­duc­tion.

“Dad was a school prin­ci­pal and he was an am­a­teur ac­tor, so he was my great in­spi­ra­tion re­ally,” he said.

“He used to read lit­er­a­ture to me at night as a kid. There’s a lot of him in the film.”

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