BUSAN – A film focusing on Britain’s policy of sending thousands of children abroad made its world premiere in South Korea with its director saying it tells a story that "refuses to be ignored".
British director Jim Loach’s "Oranges and Sunshine" is based on a book by social worker Margaret Humphreys, the woman who in the 1980s uncovered the plight of around 150,000 children sent from care homes to Australia and other Commonwealth countries, where many suffered years of abuse.
Speaking after his production had premiered at the 15th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) — Asia’s most prestigious cinema event — Loach said he had immediately been drawn to the "incredible and shameful story".
"Once I read Margaret’s book ("Empty Candles"), I knew it was a film I wanted to make," said the 41-year-old Loach.
"It’s been quite a long road to get to where we are now. But we are still as shocked and amazed by the story as we were in the beginning.
"And that’s why we made the film. It is something that refuses to be ignored."
Humphreys stumbled upon the British’s government’s secret policy of child migration — which was in place until 1970 — while a social worker in Nottingham, England.
Many of the children involved were told their parents had died and were sent overseas into church-run or other institutions, where many faced abuse or even forced labour.
"There were apparently all sorts of reasons given as to why this was a policy," explained Loach at Saturday’s debut screening.
"And one of them was it simply cost less to send a child on a boat to Australia than it did to keep them in care for one month."
Starring Oscar-nominee Emily Watson ("Breaking the Waves") as Humphreys and noted Australian actors Hugo Weaving ("The Matrix") and David Wenham ("The Lord Of the Rings" franchise), Loach’s grippingly emotive film looks at how the scandal was uncovered.
It then focuses on the first cases to come forward out of Australia — and Humphrey’s relationships with the people she then helped try to trace their families.
The title of the film comes from the promise one man says he was given as a child that in Australia life would be full of "oranges and sunshine".
It took Loach and his screenwriter Rona Munro years to get Humphreys to agree to sign over rights from the book and the director said they had screened the finished production to her and her family, who had been happy with the end result.
"She said we had remained faithful to the story and that meant a lot to us," said Loach.
Over the past 12 months, while the film was still being made, both the British and Australian governments finally apologised for the scandal.
"Margaret said ironically one of the reasons she wanted to get this film made was to get these governments to apologise," said Loach.
After its premiere at PIFF, the film will screen at the Rome Film Festival before being scheduled for general release in Australia and Britain next spring.
"This is the first time we have ever shown this film to an audience," said Munro. "And to show it in Korea, to what seems to be a very young audience and to get the response we did tonight gives us great faith in the film and that it has a resonance for people everywhere."
"Oranges and Sunshine" is the first feature film for Loach, previously best known as a director on British TV dramas such as "Shameless" — and as the son of acclaimed British director Ken Loach.
The film is one of 103 world premiere’s being screened at this year’s PIFF, held in the South Korean port city of Busan. The festival is showcasing 308 films in total and continues until October 15.