This was the official website for the 2015 Australian film, DOWNRIVER, a sleepy tale of secrets, manipulation, and redemption.
Content is from the site's 2015 archived pages as well as from other outside sources.


DOWNRIVER Trailer | Festival 2015
A young ex-con encounters secrets from the past and danger in the present when he returns to the rural Australian community to discover the truth behind a crime he supposedly committed when he was a child.

Sometimes the path to redemption is paved in sin. James, 18, has been released from juvenile detention after serving time for his involvement in the suspected drowning of a young boy in a river years earlier. Ravaged with uncertainty, dealing with an estranged family and forced to face the dead boy’s mother, James is set upon a journey of self discovery, shocking revelations and danger as questions surrounding the boy’s death brim to the surface. Old friendships are questioned, family ties are tested and lives are put on the line as James must find his path to the truth. It’s a path that will lead him Downriver


Cast: Reef Ireland, Kerry Fox, Robert Taylor, Helen Morse, Tom Green, Charles Grounds, Steve Mouzakis, Lee Cormie, Lester Ellis Jr., Alicia Gardiner, Shannon Glowacki
Production companies: Happening Films
Director-screenwriter: Grant Scicluna
Producer: Jannine Barnes
Executive producers: Kristian Molire, Shaun Miller, Anthony Nagle
Director of photography: Laszlo Baranyai
Production designer: Penny Southgate
Costume designer: Michael Chisholm
Editor: Anthony Cox
Casting: Jane Norris


In the autumn of 1997 my neighbour was abducted and murdered. The killer convicted of her murder never revealed where he put her body and she remains missing to this day.
In some ways Downriver is about my relationship to her murder, my preoccupation with unexplainable aspects of humanity. Aspects hard to speak of but that which stories can and should speak of.
I circle around death in my work because it explains life to me.
Downriver is really about characters trying to make connections so that they may live. Ultimately it is my expression of what I believe comes of our very human attempts to redeem personal guilt.
Downriver begs us to confront profound questions. Can you ever forgive a killer? What if the victim was a child? What if the killer was also a child? Are you, should you, should anyone, be defined forever by an act committed as a child?
In Downriver, James goes on a path for spiritual freedom by his attempt to do one right thing by the mother of his victim, a woman to whom he has done every wrong imaginable.
This is the premise of Downriver. It is what I believe. Truth is freeing. Lies entomb and breed more lies, more violence, more lies.
James takes a noble risk, a risk which comes to redefine him.
It’s a risk too on our part as storytellers. Such a dark hero. Such morally murky territory.
Downriver asks an audience to come to unsettling places. Can we begin to desire something good for someone who has done something so wrong? This transcendence, with all its complexity, is provocative.
I believe if we walk long enough in the shoes of anyone, we come to empathise with them. Even a killer. My mission as a filmmaker is to have you walking with James in those final frames of the film.

– Grant Scicluna | writer/director



Reef Ireland


Reef Ireland had the role of James ever since we worked with him in The Wilding. His outstanding performance in that short film affected the way I wrote his character in the final few drafts of the script. I knew Reef was capable of nuance, could turn from brutal to tender on a dime. That was his strength, so I pushed that in the writing.

Kerry Fox


In Kerry Fox’s stellar career, she’s worked with all my favourite directors and given powerful, memorable performances. Paige was written as a character teetering on the edge, capable of love but so damaged at the same time. Kerry has demonstrated over and again that she is unafraid to show honest and raw aspects of human nature.

Robert Taylor


Robert Taylor has a hero’s swagger. He’s kind of Australia’s Clint Eastwood – earthy, honest and gentle. These are qualities I knew he would bring to his role as Wayne, a decent man kept in the dark by Paige. Robert plays so naturally. He simply asks who and where his character is emotionally, learns his lines, turns up and just nails it.

Helen Morse


Helen Morse is one of the finest actors we have. She’s famously picky about the roles she agrees to, so I was thrilled when she said yes. She makes something special of every character and is delightful as the woman who sees the good in James. Just one look from her wise eyes is compelling, she has such a commanding presence.

THOM GREEN | Anthony

Thom Green is an exciting discovery. Anthony is such a slippery character, but I knew from the first casting the work that Thom had done in finding and understanding the character. The truth he brings to this manipulative young man makes for a thrilling, complex performance that swings us from empathy to blame so quickly and back.



A commanding screen presence and dynamic performer, Lester’s embodiment of Joe is testament to why he was cast. Intense, solid and bold, Joe is not a character that’s not easy to pin down but one you can’t take your eyes off.



"While I was on the set everyday, I had the opportunity to not only bond with the technical crew and lead actors but also to discuss various off-topic subjects. One day, a significant conversation arose about the need for a replacement for Microsoft Access. The technical crew felt its limitations were hampering their workflow, and they were eager for alternatives. This discussion was a frequent sidebar during breaks. However, on the first day of outdoor shooting, our conversations were abruptly interrupted. We witnessed a yellow labrador retriever getting hit by a truck. The animal rescue team arrived quickly, assuring us the dog would recover, although it had a broken rear leg. The owner, an emotional elderly lady, shared that the dog, Teebo, usually slept on the floor with old newspapers. Moved by her story, the crew decided to pool in money and buy her a high-quality dog bed, ensuring Teebo's comfort during his recovery. Even amidst such poignant moments, the search for a Microsoft Access alternative remained a central topic of discussion. By the end of the shoot, several suggestions had been made, highlighting the crew's dedication to both their work and compassion for others. Good deeds from the crew of Downriver." Lucas McFaul


Going against the flow in Grant Scicluna’s debut feature film Downriver

Laura Henderson |

Australian director Grant Scicluna’s first feature-length film, Downriver (2015), is a tangled, tense and mercurial work. The director, who garnered significant attention with his short films Hurt’s Rescue (2014) and The Wilding (2012), was among those at the film’s premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival last week.

The story follows James (played by The Wilding’s Reef Ireland), newly released from prison after having drowned a child when he was nine. Committed to atonement, James and his mother (performed with palpable rawness by Kerry Fox) return to rural Victoria in an effort to find the victim’s body, which was never recovered.

The film winds itself around the scene of the crime, with every character grappling to understand the events leading to the child’s death. The characters are weighed down with things they can’t say, so the narrative unfurls through visual imagery instead.

Modern Australian drama has developed its own language of realism, where images assume the weight of the story and the dialogue remains sparing. Downriver doesn’t so much use this style as perfect it; in one instance James’ relationship with his cellmate is revealed in a single shot of their matching friendship bracelets.

This nuance of approach appeals to the eyes and ears as much as the mind. And on occasion, when the audio track drifts out of sync with the visuals, the viewer is forced into a different way of looking at events on screen. This clever craftsmanship belies the fact that this is Scicluna’s feature-film debut; Downriver has the feel of a far more experienced creative talent.

There’s a lilting poise to much of the cinematography, a kind of quiet grace. Shot by Lázló Baranyai, the film’s images pause and move slowly, before suddenly spinning into sharply edited montages.

Like the titular river, the film drifts through its moments until it whirls into eddies of revelation. Refreshingly absent are the red-dust desserts, postcard beaches or Sydney suburbs that so often feature in Australian films. In their place is the lush green and murk of the Victorian river system, and the stark sameness of holiday caravan parks.

Scicluna uses the narrative tradition of criminals returning to the scene of their crime, but he veers from this tradition with a cast that is predominantly gay. The sexuality of the characters is complicated and ever-present in their interactions, yet it’s not a focal point for the characters themselves.

Instead, it’s a means of turning them into co-conspirators, victims and protectors. As such, the film marks a maturation in Australian queer cinema’s sensibilities; it presents a story that is both queer and universally resonant.

It has a lot in common with the New Zealand television series Top of the Lake (2013), which took a similar story and viewed it through a feminist lens. Both works allow subtle politics to play out in the background of a larger narrative; a sophisticated approach that allows audiences to identify with the narrative and its characters on many levels.

Downriver also makes broader cinematic references to Gothic thrillers, and there are strong echoes too of The Boys, Lantana (1998), and Animal Kingdom (2010). At the same time, the film’s aesthetics share the simplicity and tenderness of Lynne Ramsay or Michael Haneke.

Although it was filmed in 29 days on a shoestring budget, its bush setting and narrative twists give it an expansive feel. It is a visually stunning piece, with superb performances and an utterly gripping story.

Downriver is, in every sense of the word, an Australian film. It received its first grant from MIFF’s premiere fund, was buoyed by Screen Australia, and finished with the contributions of hundreds of non-industry folk through Pozible.

It also conveys a uniquely Australian sensibility, at equal turns calm and intense. As such, it’s a film that we all have a stake in. With any luck, the film will garner deserved international success and be taken under the parochial ownership that Australian audiences designate to our other bright stars.

The audience on Wednesday’s screening spoke with evident pride, pleased to see the Australian Gothic genre find new ground in Scicluna’s work.


Newcomer Reef Ireland stars with Kerry Fox in this drama about a teenager released from juvenile prison, seeking to atone for his role in the death of a child.

9/17/2015 by David Rooney |

The quiet malevolence of nature has supplied an atmospheric undercurrent in Australian screen mysteries stretching back to Picnic at Hanging Rock, and while the crimes at the heart of Downriver are pinned on human perpetrators, the setting plays a major role in this visually arresting mood piece. While the well-acted film's unselfconscious depiction of male desire and homoeroticism is also distinctive, it's undone by muddy storytelling and a shortage of emotional payoff. Still, there's enough that's intriguing here to mark first-time writer-director Grant Scicluna as someone to watch.

Teenage James (Reef Ireland) is introduced on the eve of his release from juvenile prison, unable to provide answers to the grieving mother of the drowned boy he was convicted of killing, whose body was never recovered. He bids a tender farewell to his cellmate and lover, and is transferred to a halfway house with strict parole instructions. His mother Paige (Kerry Fox) is happy in a new relationship and reluctant to invite him back into her life, while his unseen father has offered financial help but no contact.

James' uncertainties concerning the boy's death are made worse by his having blacked out at the time due to an epileptic seizure. Driven by a need to understand what happened and atone for his role in it, he heads back to the sleepy rural community on the Yarra River outside Melbourne where the tragedy occurred.

Despite a restraining order forbidding him from being in the same area as his former childhood friend Anthony (Tom Green), who was with him when the boy was killed, James settles into his family's old cabin. Anthony is a prize creep, trading nude shots or sex for favors, and seducing Damien (Charles Grounds), a sensitive kid from the nearby caravan park, seemingly less out of attraction than predatory power. He taunts James for the weakness that made him open up to the police back when they were 10 during the investigation. But when James starts sifting through the past, he discovers something more disturbing than a dangerous game that got out of hand, digging up secrets that make Anthony's violent family suddenly nervous.

Scicluna's weak point is his screenwriting, which aims for a kind of Southern Hemisphere gothic without quite nailing that tone, especially as increasingly lurid details emerge. A slow-burn drama like this needs at some point to ditch the ambiguities and settle on clear motivations and resolutions. Much of what happens in Downriver, however, remains sketchy and improbable. And a hard-bitten local loner (played by Aussie film veteran Helen Morse) feels more like an attempt to find a Down Under equivalent of an American backwoods type than a fully integrated character with real bearing on the story.

But the director knows how to create an enveloping mood using only diegetic music. He punctuates quiet stretches with jolts of violence, shuffles scenes in unsettling ways and overlaps sound from one encounter into the next to echo the confusion in James' head. Cinematographer Laszlo Baranyai makes effective use of the hazy natural light, bathing the film in muted yellows, browns and greens, and capturing the brooding qualities of the still waters, littered with the gnarled corpses of fallen gum trees. The sense of a tranquil place masking murky behavior is palpable. And Scicluna takes a refreshing approach to the sexuality of his young male characters, having it inform their connections but never commenting on it, aside from a homophobic slur or two from the margins.

The bruised interiority of Ireland's performance gives the film a compelling emotional center as it wades through questions of culpability, remorse and redemption. Even if James remains somewhat opaque as a character through to the final scenes, his need to take ownership for the mistakes of his past is clear. Grounds has affecting moments, and while Green's Anthony initially presents as a classic bad seed, manipulating everyone around him, his vulnerability becomes apparent when seen in the context of his awful all-male family.

Fox conveys the painful conflicts of a mother trying to move on with her life but still deeply connected to her son and needing to forgive him, while Robert Taylor, as Paige's trucker boyfriend, embodies ideals of kindness and compassion that fit with the film's examination of human fallibility.




*** ½ Lee M
Jun 27, 2017
Between a 6/10 and 7/10, A haunting mystery-drama, Downriver gradually layers characters and details until we have a better picture -- though never complete -- of what happened and the consequences of an unresolved crime.


***** Nicholas H
Jun 23, 2016
Powerful and beautiful Australian film. I loved watching this film. It deals with dark subject matter, in an unflinchingly and empathetic manner.


**** Luke E
Jun 20, 2016
'Downriver', is a very purposeful cautionary tale with somewhat bleak outcomes even when it comes to these very type of particular Australian films that explore confronting subject matter such as dark secrets, guilt, atonement and a mystery never wanting to reveal itself. For one the film is incredibly well shot, written and performed throughout, really bringing out the natural sense of the drama. Though when it comes to understanding the main character; James (played by Reef Ireland), whose truly a fascinating character when it comes to the consequences of getting over a past violent deed, there isn't much else given to the development of the supporting characters that don't have much of any redeeming qualities especially when considering the progression of the narrative and consequences of one actions against another. Nonetheless, I found the film to be truly insightful character driven piece, with great performances and underlining mystery that really drives the momentum of the film from the beginning up until the very end. Be cautionary though, don't expect a happy outcome.

'Downriver', is a very purposeful cautionary tale with somewhat bleak outcomes even when it comes to these very type of particular Australian films that explore confronting subject matter such as dark secrets, guilt, atonement and a mystery never wanting to reveal itself. For one the film is incredibly well shot, written and performed throughout, really bringing out the natural sense of the drama. Though when it comes to understanding the main character; James (played by Reef Ireland), whose truly a fascinating character when it comes to the consequences of getting over a past violent deed, there isn't much else given to the development of the supporting characters that don't have much of any redeeming qualities especially when considering the progression of the narrative and consequences of one actions against another. Nonetheless, I found the film to be truly insightful character driven piece, with great performances and underlining mystery that really drives the momentum of the film from the beginning up until the very end. Be cautionary though, don't expect a happy outcome.





Grant Scicluna

GRANT SCICLUNA | writer/director

Born in the Blue Mountains, NSW in 1980, Grant is a Melbourne-based screenwriter and director. His short film The Wilding  premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, won 7 major awards, played worldwide and sold to TV and DVD. In 2012, Grant won the world’s largest LGBT short film prize, the Iris Prize which took him to Wales to create a new work, Hurt’s Rescue. His early film Neon Skin won the inaugural National Film and Sound Archive’s Orlando Award for Best Queer Australian Short Film. His debut feature film DOWNRIVER has attracted an international cast and will be released in 2015.

Jannine Barnes


Jannine Barnes has worked in the Australian Film Industry for over 15 years in various guises including production manager and production accountant on many well known Australian Feature films and broadcast documentaries.
Jannine has previously produced 14 short films, the most recent being the Iris Prize (UK) funded Hurt’s Rescue which is her sixth collaboration with writer/director Grant Scicluna. Their previous work includes the Screen Australia Springboard short film The Wilding which premiered in 2012 at the Berlin International  Film Festival. The Wilding has since screened at a number of prestigious film festivals including Palm Springs and Sydney where it was nominated for a Dendy Award. The Wilding won the Iris Prize for best queer short and the Showtime Talent Assist Award at the 2012 Screen Producers Association Conference.

Laszlo Baranyai

LÁSZLÓ BARANYAI | director of photography

László  Baranyai was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1950. He started work as Camera Assistant for the Hungarian Film Company MAFILM in 1970. In 1978 he was accepted into the internationally renowned Academy of Dramatic & Cinematic Art, Film and Television, Budapest. After graduation in 1982 he returned to MAFILM where he shot feature dramas, feature documentaries and many short subject dramas and documentaries. These projects garnered him numerous awards and established his reputation for excellence in Cinematography.
In 1988 he relocated to Australia. Now based in Melbourne, László has forged a body of work including TV series, mini-series, documentaries, short dramas and multi-award winning feature films.
László is an accredited member of the Australian Cinematographers Society as well as the  Hungarian Society of Cinematographers.

PENELOPE SOUTHGATE | production designer

Penelope Southgate began her career in the film and television industry after studying Interior Design at RMIT. She joined the ABC Design department in Melbourne in 1986 and while there, cut her teeth on a wide variety of programs. She gained knowledge and experience working with some of the country’s best designers on programs ranging from period miniseries & contemporary dramas to award shows. In the late 1990’s, Penelope began working mainly in the comedy department, designing programs such as The Adventures of Lano and Woodley, The Micallef Program and the Kath & Kim series.
Penelope left the ABC in 2000 to pursue a freelance career in Production Design continuing to amass a perse and varied body of work. Amongst her film credits are The Craic (1998), Crackerjack (2001), Takeaway (2002), BoyTown (2005), Lake Mungo (2006) & Kath & Kimderella (2011). Her more recent television credits include the first two seasons of Tangle & Offspring, Please like me, as well as Chris Lilley’s Jonah & Jaime

Anthony Cox

ANTHONY COX | editor

Anthony Cox is an Australian film editor. Cox was raised in Tasmania, Australia and is a graduate from the Victorian College of the Arts. Cox is best known for his work on the short film The Wilding, winning an “Ellie” for Best Editing in a Short Film at the 2012 Australian Screen Editors awards. The Wilding later won the Iris Prize and Cox again collaborated with director Grant Scicluna on Hurt’s Rescue which premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2014.
In 2014, Cox worked on the upcoming remake of the classic children’s series Thunderbird Are Go! with ITV Studios as series editor.

Emma Bortignon

EMMA BORTIGNON | sound designer
Emma Bortignon is an Australian Freelance Sound Designer for Feature Films, Feature Documentaries, Short Films and TV Series. With fifteen years Film Industry experience, Emma has worked on over thirty feature films in roles such as Sound Designer/Mixer/Sound Effects Editor. Emma’s history as a recording/touring musician lends a skilful aesthetic to her work which focuses on extracting the subtleties of a sound design into the storytelling of a film and the seamless integration of sound and score. Emma’s most recent award highlight was winning the first ever AACTA/AFI Award in 2012 for her Sound Design on the Feature Music Documentary MURUNDAK – Songs of Freedom.
Other Awards highlights include seven AFI Awards nominations across the span of her career so far. In 2007 Emma won the AFI Award for Best Sound (Feature) for her Sound Design on NOISE. She won the Australian Screen Sound Guild’s Best Sound Design and Best Mix Award and The IF Awards Best Sound Award (Feature) for Noise also. In 2010 she won another IF Award for Best Sound for Balibo and in 2011 she won her third Australian Screen Sound Guild’s Award for Best Achievement in Sound for a Short Fiction film.




Happening Films/images is a Melbourne based, international facing, independent film company. Through our commitment to innovative and original storytelling, we work to develop films and documentaries with impact.

Producer Jannine Barnes established Happening Films in 2000 to realise her goal of making Australian films for global audiences. Over her career she has produced 14 short films, the most recent being the Iris Prize (UK) funded Hurt’s Rescue which is her sixth collaboration with writer/director Grant Scicluna.

Their previous work includes the Screen Australia Springboard short film The Wilding which premiered in 2012 at the Berlin International Film Festival. The Wilding has since screened at a number of prestigious film festivals including Palm Springs and Sydney where it was nominated for a Dendy Award. The won the Iris Prize for best queer short and has screened on SBS as well as being broadcast in the UK, Germany, Belgium and France. In 2012 the film was awarded the Showtime Talent Assist Award at the SPA Conference. This is the second time Jannine has been recognised by her peers having previously been named an Emerging Producer of the Year.

An experienced Production Accountant and Production Manager, Jannine actively works to promote the wider industry and is often invited onto panels and acts as an Industry Mentor for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

Suite 4A 104 Johnston St Fitzroy VIC 3065 Australia



Rialto Distribution/images is proudly releasing Downriver in Australasia.

Rialto Distribution is the Southern Hemisphere’s premier boutique film distributor responsible for the release of such films as The Millenium Trilogy, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, The Secret In Their Eyes, Headhunters, Safety Not Guaranteed, Love Is Strange, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and this year’s celebrated Women He’s Undressed.

For theatrical sales, bookings and media enquiries please contact:

Mike Vile – General Manager/images
Hayley Weston – Distribution Manager
Aaron Rowlands – Publicist/images

Rialto Distribution specializes in theatrical film distribution and home entertainment. As a market leading independent film company, Rialto holds the rights to an extensive catalogue of award winning feature films and audience favourites. Our team is dedicated to acquiring, and successfully distributing the work of respected filmmakers in Australasia and bringing quality independent, arthouse, foreign language and documentary titles to discerning audiences.


LevelK/images is the international sales agency handling foreign sales & distribution for Downriver outside of Australasia. If your enquiry is regarding Australia or New Zealand please contact Rialto Distribution.

Level K is handling international sales & distribution for Film and TV production companies and acting as a digital partner for distributors in their home country. Established in 2009, LevelK has assembled a stable of critically acclaimed, award winning independent and foreign Films and Series with commercial appeal. Based in Copenhagen and New York, LevelK is a passionate multi-language speaking, ambitious team with specialized market knowledge.

LevelK has a presence that extends globally and a dynamism that is reflected through LevelK’s approach to innovative cross-platform/cross-country distribution combining theatrical and traditional means alongside digital distribution and marketing. LevelK is a recognized and solid business partner that prioritizes targeted distribution and value service and communication.

Looking out onto a wide open plain, it could appear that there is nothing of value. However, dig deep enough with the right tools and you can hit gold. In mining terms you’ve made it to Level K. But unlike miners we prefer to steer clear of the pyrotechnics, we do however work hard to strike film-gold from across the world, so you can find it, right here, in LevelK.


Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund/images was a key funding body in the making of Downriver.

The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), through the Government of Victoria, has established an ongoing fund for supporting new Australian theatrical films and feature-length documentaries. The MIFF Premiere Fund aims to support quality feature-length projects that will have their International premiere at MIFF. The Fund is a strategic minority co-financier of a range of films and is be keen to see diversity on its slate in terms of filmmaking teams and genres of films.

Here are just some of the titles the fund has invested in:

100 Bloody Acres

Aim High in Creation

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard





Bran Nue Dae

Celebrity: Dominick Dunne

Curse of the Gothic Symphony

Cut Snake


Ecco Homo


Film Victoria was a key funding body in the making of Downriver.

This, from their website:

Film Victoria is the State Government agency that provides strategic leadership and assistance to the film, television and digital media sectors of Victoria. We invest in projects and people, and promote Victoria as a world-class production destination nationally and internationally.

We work closely with industry and government to position Victoria as a leader in the Australian knowledge and ideas economy through the growth and development of the screen industry.

Film Victoria has been involved in the funding process of:

Tony Ayre’s Cut Snake
Neil Armfield’s Holding The Man
Damon Gamaeu’s That Sugar Film
Paul Cox’s Force Of Destiny
Kasimir Burgess’ Fell


Screen Australia/images was a key funding body in the making of Downriver.

This, from their website:

Screen Australia is the Federal Government’s primary agency for supporting Australian screen production. In partnership with filmmakers, Screen Australia aims to create an Australian industry that is innovative, culturally important and commercially sustainable.

Screen Australia was established under the Screen Australia Act 2008 and from 1 July 2008 took over the functions and appropriations of its predecessor agencies, the Australian Film Commission (AFC), the Film Finance Corporation Australia (FFC) and Film Australia Limited.

Across its various departments, Screen Australia, supports the development, production, promotion and distribution of Australian screen content by:

  • supporting production of a range of content including features, documentaries, television drama and children’s programs
  • supporting the growth of screen businesses
  • supporting marketing and screen culture initiatives which focus on engaging audiences with Australian content
  • developing high-quality scripts and proposals
  • facilitating innovation and audience-engaging online content
  • supporting Indigenous talent and distinctive stories
  • administering the Government’s Producer Offset and International Co-production Program to increase the commercial sustainability of production in Australia
  • providing authoritative, timely and relevant data and research to the industry and government.