All Silent Dogs – Filmmaker Natalia Stawyskyj On How She Hopes To Empower Her Audience

'All Silent Dogs'
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

‘All Silent Dogs’ is a disability-led film starring Julia Savage, funded by Screen NSW, and written, directed and produced by Natalia Stawyskyj.

Natalia is an award-winning writer, director and producer, and ‘All Silent Dogs’ originally premiered at Sydney Film Festival in 2022.

The film is a magical-realist film following a teenage girl, Ylva, faced with a choice: she can give up her ability to transform into a dog, or face the stigma and societal consequences of keeping the ability. Ylva has been ostracised by her peers and family, and her mother sees a glimpse of a life of ‘normalcy’ in an operation that would take Ylva’s powers away.

Ylva is skipping school when she meets a young man born with a similar ability. Her decision is made even harder when she learns there’s a community of those born just like her.

To learn more about the film, we speak to its creator Natalia Stawyskyj.

What inspired you to write this film?
‘All Silent Dogs’ is a marriage of my lifelong love of genre fiction and my experience of developing a severe chronic illness as a teenager. What I love about genre fiction, such as sci-fi, is its ability to make the personal universal. Through transforming events from their original context, a broad audience can not only relate to the story but also come to understand experiences different from their own. Throughout my illness, I’ve found that some of the most difficult experiences did not result from the illness itself but from prejudice, ostracisation, and abuse from those around me. Those sufferings are not inherent in disability, but they fill the lives of so many people with disabilities and are often grossly misunderstood. I hope that through highlighting these experiences in a novel way, ’All Silent Dogs’ will create a greater understanding, so that the next chronically ill teenager is seen, supported, and validated in their experiences.

Talk a bit about why you decided to address your experiences as someone with a disability through this story.
Those who are tapped into the zeitgeist of the current film industry will tell you there is a growing push for diverse stories. Now, more than ever, we must reinforce the idea that diverse stories receive their power from whom they come, not solely their contents. People with disabilities lead rich lives and hold perspectives of weight and value. We deserve the dignity of telling our own stories in the way that is meaningful to us. We have so much to offer with our full potency and humanity.

All Silent Dogs credit Henry Hu
Behind-the-scenes of 'All Silent Dogs'. Image © Henry Hu

What was the biggest challenge in the film’s creation?
I wish I could tell you that this disability-led film about discrimination was created in the absence of discrimination, but I can’t. Disappointingly, despite clearly outlining my access needs on numerous occasions, they were not met. This ongoing issue, together with other discriminatory behaviour, made creating the film extraordinarily challenging. While I hoped to be delivering a more celebratory message when I embarked upon this project, it is important to be honest about these experiences because they speak to the pervasiveness of disability discrimination and how far we still have to go before society is accessible to and inclusive of all.

It’ll be screening as part of The Other Film Festival. What is this festival all about?
The Other Film Festival, founded in 2004, is Australia’s first international disability film festival. It is a groundbreaking disability-led initiative to put people with a disability at the centre of the Australian film industry and give us the space to share our own stories.

And what does it mean for you to be involved in the programme?
I feel incredibly honoured for my work to be featured in the slate alongside the other gifted artists. On top of that, this year's theme of ‘Resistance’ aligns with my film. ‘All Silent Dogs’ was created not only through resisting discrimination but also as an act of resistance against the tired disability tropes and the conventional idea of a disability story. For me, the most important question to ponder from this year’s theme is, 'What would filmmakers with a disability be capable of if they could solely focus on their work without having to devote half their being to resisting inhumane conditions?'

All Silent Dogs 2

What has the experience been like so far of showing this film and having people react to it?
It has been exceptionally rewarding for ‘All Silent Dogs’ to be received as positively as it has been by the industry and the general public alike, commencing from its first screening at Sydney Film Festival. My favourite experience was sharing the film with Bob Morgan, the Academy Award-nominated costume designer of ‘Dune’. I religiously watched ‘Dune’ as inspiration and motivation throughout the creation of ‘All Silent Dogs’, so to hear how much he loved my work was a beautiful, full-circle moment.

How are you hoping audiences continue to respond to the film? What’s the main message within it that you hope to convey?
My wish is that the audience is left feeling empowered to define themselves and their lives. Particularly when a person is young, it is easy to get swept up in the idea of who one is 'supposed' to be. That mould serves no one and can be particularly taxing on people who have no choice but to be different. Being oneself can be abrasive and technicoloured or quiet and delicate, like it is for my film’s protagonist. Regardless of how it presents itself, it is a truth by which we all deserve to live.

What’s next for you?
My next major project is a feature film called ‘Dust In Our Eyes’ which tells the story of a mother and daughter, each at the age of eighteen, as they seek to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the abuse they found there. The film delves into the themes of trauma, survival, and intergenerational legacies, and I hope to shoot a proof-of-concept short film for it next year. This project has ignited my soul, and I cannot wait to share it with you all!

‘All Silent Dogs’ screens at The Other Film Festival (on demand on ACMI Cinema 3) from 23 November. It’s also screening at Canberra Short Film Festival 26 November.

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