Opal Dream (directed by Peter Cattaneo, 2005), the premiere film in the Berlinale Kinderfilmfest, is set in an opal mine town in southern Australia. The movie establishes that a girl named Kellyanne Williamson (Sapphire Boyce) is completely persuaded of the existence of her imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan. Her opal obsessed father Rex (Vince Colosimo) disapproves of her childish imagination and humours her into letting him take Polly and Dingan along to his opal mine. At the opal mine he plans to blast farther in, but the tunnel collapses and so he completely forgets that he “brought” Pobby and Dingan with him.
When he gets home, Kellyanne becomes extremely upset and begs him to take her to the mine to look. Eventually he gives in and takes her to the mining grounds. After searching Rex’s grounds she insists that she looks on Sid’s (A fellow miner, who has actually found opals) grounds and there they get caught by Sid. Sid thinks Rex is “ratting” (mining in someone else’s tunnel) and the two men get in a scuffle. Rex is then charged with assault and illegal prospecting. The entire town is consequently incredibly nasty to Kellyanne’s entire family.
This, and the fact that she believes Pobby and Dingan are dead, drives Kellyanne into an illness the doctor says is psychologically caused. She then persuades her brother, Ashmol, to go into the collapsed mine to look for them, or at least their bodies. Ashmol, who does not believe in Pobby and Dingan, is skeptical but wants to help his sister. He goes out to the mine and searches for the imaginary friends. While in the mine he discovers lollipop wrappers (lollipops are Pobby and Dingan’s favorite food) and an already cut opal (Dingan has an opal in her bellybutton). He digs and digs through the rubble, and eventually the reaction shots of his face imply that he has found their bodies. He takes the opal and uses it to pay for a funeral for Pobby and Dingan.
Soon after, Rex is put on trial and found innocent. The doctor is called to the stand and says that the town’s nastiness to Kellyanne’s family probably caused her deteriorating medical condition. Ashmol says that he thinks that if everybody came to the funeral of Pobby and Dingan, Kellyanne might get better. Everybody comes to the funeral and it is assumed that Kellyanne returns to her normal state of lively-hood.
The film was good, a bit too sentimental, but not completely original. There were some plot holes; like when Ashmol goes into the tunnel, how does he see the bodies? Although, the time of day and general stress of what he was doing could have put him into a dreamlike state and made him think he found the wrappers, and it’s not particularly strange to find an opal in an opal mine. The cinematography was good, but not especially innovative. A few times in the movie the boom was in the shot, but that is not that big a deal.
By the way, if you want to watch (and hear) a film in its original language, I recommend that you pick up a headset at the counter. Otherwise you’ll be really distracted by the simultaneous translation of the dialogue into German over the PA system, which is louder than the original film.
After the film, a Q&A session with the actors (Christian Byers and Sapphire Boyce) and director Cattaneo was held. Christian said that all the opals in the movie were real, that he found them hypnotically beautiful, and in order to get him to put one down you would have to “either snatch it out of my hand or hit me over the head with a clock!”. When asked how he liked Berlin, he said it was a big change to go from Sydney, where it is 30° each day, to Berlin , “where you have to put on six layers of clothing and you’re still freezing”. Also the two 12-year-old actors, who shared a trailor on the set, say they sometimes got into fights because Sapphire wanted to blast her “girly” music at full volume and Christian wanted to play football. According to the director the film was shot in a town called Coober Pedy, which is aboriginal for “white man stuck in a hole”. Sapphire actually found it quite easy to act with the nonexistent characters, because she really had an imaginary friend when she was younger. Sapphire was cast in the film when she saw an advert in the school newspaper and her teacher suggested she try out. According to her, auditioning is great fun.
After the Q&A there was a queue to get the autographs of Christian and Sapphire. I stuck it out and after a time I got a substantial amount of time with them. As it turns out, Sapphire has never seen snow before. They’ll have to enjoy it before they leave on Tuesday. Christian wants to go see Hansel und Gretel and his favourite classes are P.E. and German (“No joke” he said). During the shooting of Opal Dream, he and Sapphire didn’t get away from school. They had to fit lessons with a tutor into their busy schedule. Christian said the scene in the mine was “A phenomenal experience” and he was in there alone all day long. “What about the crew?” I asked. “Well they were there too but it seemed like they weren’t. Since Opal Dream he has been in a movie with Daniel Radcliffe called “December Boys” about four orphans in the 60’s at a strict Catholic orphanage who go on a summer holiday and “get up to all sort’s of mischief”.