Growing up in Uranquinity, Mark Grentell never imagined he would return years later to direct a film.
Known for his previous movie Backyard Ashes, Mr Grentell said he wanted to show there was more depth to regional Australia than what is often portrayed in cinemas.
“I never see regional farmland like canola fields and silos and footy fields,” he said.
Mr Grentell shared some of the stories behind the locations chosen for the film and it was a definite trip down memory lane with many of the locations tied to childhood memories.
One location was the Uranquinty Primary School where Mr Grentell revisited his Year Six classroom.
“We need a really cool classroom and we wanted a really country-looking classroom,” he said.
“Ironically, all the classes now have whiteboards, but Uranquinty retains that rustic charm.”
Mr Grentell joked one of his best achievements, was officially opening a toilet block in front of the silos.
“Instead of a sash you had toilet paper across the front and you had to tear it in half,” he said.
“They raffled off the first ticket and some nine-year-old kid won and I interviewed him as he was coming out of the toilet.”
Mr Grentell put regional life front and centre in the movie filming at other Riverina locations including Yerong Creek football field, North Wagga’s East Street, Robertson Oval, Downside Hall and parts of Ganmain.
Mr Grentell spent months working with children who know all too well the realities of having to flee their homeland.
“In Sydney, I worked for a company called Life Without Barriers as a youth worker,” he said.
“One of the boys was the oldest male in his family and one day the Taliban bombed the school and the windows imploded.
“The family was so scared they put him on a boat with strangers with $15 and a packet of noodles and sent him over here.”
With stories like this in the back of his mind, Mr Grentell knew he had to adapt Damian Callinan’s stage show for the screen.
“When I saw his show I knew it was the next film I had to make because it has such an important story to tell,” he said.
“It’s not about politics. It’s not about right-wing, left-wing.”
Mr Grentell said being able to cast such diverse roles was exciting and he cannot wait for the people of the Riverina to see the final product.
The Merger premieres in Wagga on Tuesday at Forum 6 Cinemas. Go into the draw to win a double pass.