Country Always

Country Always

Caring for Country

A Corner of the Empire

A Corner of the Empire

The Garden Palace

The Holding Pen

The Holding Pen

The Agricultural Hall

Regional Networks

Regional Networks

Across New South Wales

A Museum of Doing

A Museum of Doing

Technological Museum

Transforming the Tramsheds

Transforming the Tramsheds

Powerhouse Stage 1 and the Harwood Building

A Symbol in Time

A Symbol in Time

Sydney Observatory

Ongoing Transformations

Ongoing Transformations

Powerhouse Ultimo

Applied Arts and Sciences

Applied Arts and Sciences

Defining the terms in the 21st century

Powerhouse Renewal

Powerhouse Renewal

Sowing Seeds of Gold

Sowing Seeds of Gold

In the Room, a Co-Curious x Powerhouse Initiative

Sydney Science Festival

Sydney Science Festival

Across Sydney10—17 Aug
Exoskeleton

Exoskeleton

Powerhouse Parramatta

Blak Powerhouse

Blak Powerhouse

Powerhouse x We Are Warriors

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Stories

Sowing Seeds of Gold

In the Room, a Co-Curious x Powerhouse Initiative
Interview with James Elazzi by Michael Fitzgerald. Photography by Magnolia Minton Sparke

One of five Western Sydney creatives selected for In the Room, Lebanese Australian playwright and filmmaker James Elazzibrings family drama and filmic freedom to a cinematic collaboration between Co-Curious and Powerhouse.

Telling really beautiful, rich, incredible untold Australian stories – that’s what I think it means to be a Western Sydney writer.
James Elazzi

In his most recent short, Seeds of Gold (2023), Lebanese Australian playwright and filmmaker James Elazzi scatters hopes and dreams as a group of migrants from the Lebanese Civil War toil as farm labourers under the hot Australian sun. What sustains them in the haze of heat is the tantalising prospect of gold and also the memory of life back in Lebanon: the wind off the Mediterranean and the taste of salt on their lips. ‘I don’t want us to get used to it here on this farm,’ Marta tells her grown-up daughter Salifa in the tin shed that serves as their home, filled with candles and Christian icons. ‘Today would’ve been my last day at university in Beirut.’ Such shifts of time and culture bring a bittersweet quality to Seeds of Gold, which was based on the migration experience of Elazzi’s mother in the 1970s. It also echoes his own upbringing on a cucumber farm south-west of Sydney. ‘Imagination can grow wild living out there,’ he says.

Now based in Western Sydney, and honed by an MFA in Dramatic Writing at the National Institute of Dramatic Art and participation in the Sydney Theatre Company’s Emerging Writers Group, Elazzi’s writerly imagination has grown spectacularly since his first opportunity six years ago: a five-minute play reading at the National Theatre of Parramatta. ‘I took that opportunity and ran with it,’ he says. ‘It was like someone had passed me a piece of gold.’ The diasporic experiences of his parent’s generation and the cultural conflicts of forging a new identity in an urban environment of differing idols have proved fertile fields for the writer, with an outpouring of plays staged in recent years, including Lady Tabouli (2019) at Griffin Theatre Company and Son of Byblos (2022) at Belvoir, accompanied by a wave of major award nominations.

From young men coming out or cloistered within the family structures of Lebanese Maronite life, to the freedoms offered by transgression and the witty flaunting of social convention, ‘I’m driven by creating characters that we don’t normally see,’ says Elazzi, who premieres two new plays, Karim and Saints of Damour, on Sydney stages this year. ‘I’m inspired by people around me, whether it be powerful women in my family, to men who have broken the cycle of their place in the world. So, I’m inspired by experiences that I’ve been through and people in my life.’

Person leans on an outdoor bench, hands together in front of them.

Elazzi has found further freedom in film. First drawn to the classics of the golden age of Arab cinema that he and his family watched on VHS tapes during his childhood – ‘really beautiful stuff I would obsess over’ – Elazzi has been inspired by film’s ability to be both culturally specific and universal in appeal. His first short, Yannis (2022), about a Greek–Lebanese Australian teenage sex worker living rough on the city fringe, won Will Bartolo best actor at the LGBTQ+ Los Angeles Film Festival. And while Seeds of Gold is more epic in scope, Elazzi is attracted by the medium’s modest DIY possibilities. ‘If you are driven and you want to tell your story, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you,’ he says. ‘Write that script, get a stand for your phone and attach a microphone to the actors and just shoot it.’

More recently, Elazzi has been thinking specifically and writing universally as a participant of In the Room, a collaboration with four other Western Sydney screenwriters to fashion a feature film for Co-Curious that will launch at Powerhouse Parramatta in 2025. ‘They’ve created a lovely atmosphere in the room where you feel like you can say and speak your mind in a really safe and inclusive environment,’ he says. ‘And that’s the key. I think the quietest person in the room usually has the best ideas.’ His have already taken hold and are beginning to sow across stage and screen – from seeds of gold.

Person leans on the corner of a building.

About

In the Room is a project partnership between Powerhouse and Co-Curious, inviting five Western Sydney creatives to collaborate on a major feature film commission to premiere at Powerhouse Parramatta and to be acquired into the Powerhouse Collection. The participants of In the Room are James Elazzi, Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu, Andrew Undi Lee, Randa Sayed and Danielle Stamoulos.

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The Powerhouse acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands upon which our museums are situated. We respect their Elders, past, present and future and recognise their continuous connection to Country.

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