FILMMAKER STORIES

Brendon McDonall, Director of The Dam, winner of the 2018 Audience Award at Australian Short Film Today in London

I grew up without any role models, emblems or icons of love between two men. It’s hard to express the pain of growing up gay in a world that validates—constantly—the opposite of what you are. I consider myself a very resilient person, and I have found my own pathway towards loving relationships. But it is an insidious message to receive every day of your life—that you should hide out of view because you don’t deserve to be loved.

Recently it occurred to me that mature gay men, particularly those in loving relationships, are almost completely invisible in screen culture, and indeed in society itself. Like many gay men, I have struggled to visualize my future and have wrestled with a fear of being alone. 

My family is steeped in the history of the building of Warragamba Dam. My grandfather was one of the civil engineers on the building of Sydney’s primary water source during the 1940’s and 1950’s. My father and his siblings spent their childhood in the purpose built village of Warragamba, nestled at the foot of the Blue Mountains in NSW, while this massive monolithic development took shape. My family has always been immensely proud of this, and I have spent countless hours listening to stories of the people who built the dam. 

One story stuck out to me: a concrete pourer who came out as transgender three decades later. It struck me how oppressive that must have been at the time. Sydney in the 1950’s was a very socially conservative society. Warragamba township still stands today, representing a version of Australian society that is diminishing; trapped in a time warp. It is a comforting place for my father—an emblem of a simpler time... 

I wondered how it might have been—with such a strong culture of masculinity—to grow up transgender or gay in such an environment. Would it lead to a life of shame and romantic poverty? 

In 2014, while studying for my Master in Screen Arts, we were given an assignment to design a story around a cinematic metaphor. I immediately thought of the dam as a powerful symbol for the human-made barriers we build within ourselves that obstruct the natural flow of things. I fused this with a story about two lifelong friends who had never expressed their love to each other. When one falls gravely ill, the other returns home to Sydney. On a visit to the monolith that defined their young lives, an admission from one of the men cracks open a reservoir of feelings that were impounded long ago but cannot be contained any longer. Eventually, the dams we build in ourselves are going to overflow.

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