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BME featuring in documentary destined for Cannes Film Festival

24 Jan, 2019

Renowned contemporary artist Charles Billich is putting Bonegilla Migrant Experience on the map after filming part of a documentary at the site.

The feature documentary highlights Billich's colourful lifestyle and is set to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival later this year.

And an extraordinary life it is - creating portraiture of royalty and the Pope, spending time in prison for writing satirical articles - his life is nothing short of remarkable.

Born in Lovran, Croatia, Billich migrated to Australia as a 21-year-old in 1956.

It was by chance that Billich landed a job as an employment officer at the Bonegilla camp after working as a co-teacher on a ship bound for Melbourne. Billich said it helped that he was multilingual, making him perfect for the role.

"I came off the boat and got the train and came here, so it was my first Australian home," he said.

"I was very happy to assess these guys and send them to various jobs according to their skills and aspirations."

Memories of his time spent at Bonegilla came flooding back as Billich and the film crew walked the site - one of his strongest memories was playing chess which was a big pass-time for residents.

While there were chess boards at the Bonegilla camp, it was a far cry from his time spent in prison where inmates would hide bread rolls and use breadcrumbs for chess pieces.

Billich spent several months at the Bonegilla camp back in 1956 before "heading to the big smoke" (Melbourne) where he furthered his art study at RMIT School of Art, meeting three of his biggest influences in his career.

As a prolific painter, drawer and sculptor for the past 35 years, Billich draws from a wealth of experiences that includes official art for everything from the Olympics, AFL, Rugby World Cup, to the Vatican and the Playboy Mansion. His cityscape of Washington, featuring all the major monuments in the city, hangs proudly in The White House.

Billich's work is admired by a range of high profile collectors, including political leaders, celebrities and prolific personalities making him an icon of the contemporary surrealist art world.

Much of his subject matter has been shaped by his fascinating personal history but he is modest when speaking about his celebrated career.

"I am very proud of my career but I can't see how it would be cinematographically interesting ... so we will see," he said.

He has joined forces with Croatian-born friend and director/producer Steve Ravic, who is taking viewers behind the scenes in a never seen before tell-all documentary called Billich: Beyond The Canvas.

The film will premiere at the official Cannes Film Festival market in May 2019 and will be followed up by a feature film in the coming years to be called ‘My Way’ based on the true story of Billich, which is currently in development with Ravic and Majestic Film.

Ravic has been filming the documentary for a year and is almost finished.

"I always had an intention to capture his life on camera but I always thought it was a really big project to be doing," he said.

Ravic describes directing and producing the film as an honour and can't wait to see it premier at the Cannes Film Festival.

"The intention of the documentary is the development for the feature film because a film needs development, especially something like this, there needs to be a lot of research ... we need to go back to all the places where he was and there's always something new that I learn," he said.

"We have been basically travelling together for the past year, all over the world.

"We have to gather as much information as possible to make the actual feature film as true to the story as possible to get a proper reflection."

Ravic noticed a change in Billich upon arriving at Bonegilla.

"He turned up here not really remembering anything but then, as he was walking through the site, he started having flashbacks," Ravic said.

"When he went to the recreation room, he said it felt like they were going to where they used to eat, and he was very close because the building over was the eatery... it's that trail that he remembers walking.

"He had completely forgotten what the bedrooms looked like, but after walking in it all came back to him and he was teary-eyed and emotional, which is what I was trying to bring out."