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With Cedar Boys, debuting filmmaker Serhat Caradee wants to show how easily Middle Eastern boys fall into crime: how they are constantly exposed to it, how they are presented with attractive criminal roles models, and how crime can appear to offer the only path to fulfilment and success, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

Serhat Caradee exudes energy in a calm sort of way as we take our seats at a table in a suburban café – a Northern Beaches suburb far from the Western suburbs of his youth, where he absorbed the elements that make his first feature, Cedar Boys, such a truthful movie. Serhat orders a soup and turns off his mobile phone, as he prepares to give his first media interview for the film. “I’m having today off,” he says. “It all starts tomorrow… media from morning till night.”

As he waits for his soup to cool, we talk about the authenticity of the dialogue. Serhat has heard how young Lebanese men talk for years; he played on the Concord United soccer team with nine of them and he mixed with them in the West’s car culture as well as at bars and nightclubs, hanging out with his friends. Even though he’s of Turkish origin (here since the age of 2, with his poor migrant family), Serhat is embraced by the Middle Eastern community.

"to paint a picture of what it’s like to be Lebanese in Australia"

"What I always wanted to do with this film is to paint a picture of what it’s like to be Lebanese in Australia during these sensitive times. I wanted to show how easily Middle Eastern boys fall into crime: how they are constantly exposed to it, how they are presented with attractive criminal roles models, and how crime can appear to offer the only path to fulfilment and success."

It was to show the rest of the Australian community an insider’s view of the culture that is rarely given any real attention, where the stereotype is displayed without context. Cedar Boys delivers that context in spades, a gripping drama full of humour and humanity. It’s the second Australian film released in 2009 to deal with the cultural issues of young Lebanese men in Australia; the first was George Basha’s The Combination, released in February. And both films will become milestones in Australian cinema.

Serhat praises his cast, many of whom took advantage of the lengthy process of financing and developing the film by unofficial rehearsals at Serhat’s home. “Usually on films in Australia you get maybe two weeks rehearsals … I did much more. We fine tuned the characters and we practiced by doing scenes where I limited them first to a single word, then to a single line of dialogue, to find the focal point ….”

Although Cedar Boys is Caradee’s feature debut, he is anything but an overnight success. He won the Australian Screen Directors Association (now ADG) - Directing Award upon graduating from the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) in 2000. His short films have screened at over 45 local and international film festivals, whilst his AFTRS graduating short film, Bound, won Best Short Film at the Sydney International Film Festival - Dendy Award - and the Audience Award at the New York University International Student Film Festival. Serhat was accepted into the Berlinale Talent Campus (Berlin International Film Festival) as one of the world’s rising talents of 2003. And Cedar Boys won his second Sydney Film Festival Audience Award, this time for a feature in a satellite venue.

"to explore the segregation and ostracism"

Cedar Boys was originally conceived while Caradee was in New York attending the New York University International short film festival with his award-winning short film Bound. Watching films like Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Goodfellas, Caradee got to wondering why the characters he grew up with in Sydney’s South West weren’t being represented on our screens. As Caradee started writing he also found himself wanting to explore the segregation and ostracism that many non-Anglo Australians were feeling in the wake of the 9/11 bombings in 2001. His screenplay takes audiences behind the headlines and shows why so many of young Lebanese-Australian men end up choosing a life of crime.

Matthew Dabner, who produced the film along with Jeff Purser and Ranko Markovic says, “One of the early pieces of advice we got about this film was to be really clear about where we wanted to focus our resources and we pretty much uniformly agreed – this kind of film would live or die based on the level of the performances from our three leads. Luckily we were able to pull together this fantastic ensemble of actors who were able to bring these characters to life on screen.”

After some years in theatre, Serhat made the transition to cinema; he graduated from film school in 2000 and was at first disappointed that he couldn’t make his debut feature by 2003. But as he says now, it was just as well. “I thought I was ready but I wasn’t. My classmate Cate Shortland took four years … Peter Duncan took six. You need that much time to develop the script. You shouldn’t try and rush your drafts … you can’t fix scripts in production.”

And even at the end, after all that development, Serhat (with help from a team of talented filmmakers and mentors) was able to cut 17 scenes from the film – partly for dramatic and partly for money reasons.

"tireless networking"

While most of the cast were sourced by Serhat Caradee’s tireless networking during the long years of development, the production team were determined to make sure they had looked under every nook and cranny to find the right leads. Auditions were organised in Sydney’s southwest with the assistance of Casting Director Marianne Jade from Maura Fay Casting, just to make sure no stone had been unturned. Ironically, when all was said and done Serthat found himself back with the man he had first started with – Chantery – and his two original choices for his best friends, Dannoun and Sari. “They just clicked.” he says. “You just believe they’d be friends.”

One person that Caradee hadn’t counted on casting, however, was international Australian star, Rachael Taylor (Transformers, Bottle Shock), in the role of the female lead. Chantery, who had become friends with Taylor when they met in L.A., asked Caradee if he could show her the script. Caradee, of course, said yes. It was also another case of just the right fit. Says Taylor, “I think it (Cedar Boys) addresses pretty sharply the issue of prejudice in the city of Sydney and I think it’s important to pop the lid off that.”

"She was very proud of me"

For many young Lebanese men, the fact that they can see themselves represented as lead characters in a feature, not a grotty rapist or other minor support, will be something to savour, and perhaps to take something home for consideration. But while Serhat has no idea whether Cedar Boys will make a difference, he knows his mother loved it. She was at the cast and crew screening in December 2008, just 19 days before she died of cancer. (His father had returned to Turkey before the screening.) “She was very proud of me,” he says.

Published July 30, 2009

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Writer/Director Serhat Caradee (centre, wearing a cap) and his Cedar Boys: Buddy Dannoun (Nabil) Les Chantery (Tarek) and Waddah Sari (Sam). (Mark Rogers photo)


Tarek (Les Chantery), a young panel beater, lives at home with his parents and little sister. His close friend Nabill (Buddy Dannoun) works in his family contract cleaning business. Sam (Waddah Sari), his hot-headed mate, tries to make a name for himself on the street. Nabil offers his friend “in” on a heist that could set them up for life. Tarek is intrigued but he’s not a criminal and his family already has one son in jail, his older brother, Jamal (Bren Foster). Then temptation starts to get the better of him. Tarek dreams of owning his own workshop and living in a better area. His brother’s appeal has also stalled for lack of funds. And then there’s Amie (Rachael Taylor), the hot eastern suburbs girl he’s just met. She’s part of another world; exclusive, privileged and out of reach. It’s where he wants to be. Tarek and Nabil decide to take a chance.

Australian release: July 30, 2009

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