A Palace of Ashes
TYPE: Narrative Feature
Based on the true story of one courageous woman’s journey, which sets an epic love story against a backdrop of terror, espionage, revolution and the birth of a new nation: East Timor.
Based on the story behind the critically acclaimed, award-winning IFP documentary Alias: Ruby Blade: a Story of Love and Revolution, A Palace of Ashes is at its core, a love story. For Kirsty, a young Australian student, there was no turning back after joining a group of journalists to make a documentary film in East Timor. It was 1991 and after witnessing the horrific massacre of her friend at Santa Cruz, Kirsty moved to Indonesia to be closer to the struggle, immersing herself in the shadowy world of Timorese resistance fighters. It was then she was recruited by exiled foreign minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, José Ramos-Horta, to become a clandestine courier for the resistance.
Her code name: Ruby Blade. Her task: to be a conduit of information for Xanana Gusmão, who was serving life in prison after his capture in the jungles of East Timor. Through their written correspondence, they fall in love.
This is their incredible love story, from unlikely beginnings, against unimaginable adversity, to the ultimate triumph of freedom in East Timor; irrefutable proof of the astonishing power of ordinary individuals to change the course of history and of the human capacity for love.
When I was twelve years old growing up in Apple Valley, Minnesota, I showed up to fifth grade wearing a black and white fishnet patterned headscarf, a keffiyeh, identical to Yasir Arafat.
I defiantly announced to everyone in my class that I was Palestinian.
I wasn’t Palestinian. I was a whiter than white Minnesota kid in a white suburb growing up the Reagan era.
But my grandmother had just returned from the Middle East. She bought me the keffiyeh. She taught me about the world.
And she taught me to make films.
As a child in my grandparents basement in rural Iowa, I would sit in a kid sized canvas directors chair with my name inscribed on the back with a sharpie - “Alexander the Great” - and watch films and slide shows of my grandparents trips around the world: Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Kuwait, Ethiopia.
My grandmother had a 16mm camera, which I still have. Once on a safari in South Africa she filmed a sequence of lions mating. She asked me to help her edit it. I was nine or ten years old. In her office we sat together with a Moviola viewer, hand cranking through the film, marking the edit points with a grease pencil and making cuts with a sharp scissors, a razor blade and scotch tape. Start with selecting the take of the establishing shot, shot with a wide lens, and then look at the medium shots shot with the normal lens, then the close-ups shot with the telephoto lens (some graphic imagery which took some explaining to a nine year old). Assemble the selects together. Play through and refine.
From then I’ve always known that I would find a way in my life to travel and to make films. Ultimately I decided to go to film school in New York. I discovered documentaries and I started to shoot and edit.
But I didn’t truly understand why until in 2005 I traveled to East Timor. I was on contract with the United Nations to produce a film about the UN partnership with the Timorese. Everywhere I went with the camera people wanted to tell me their stories. They wanted the world to know what had happened to them – to their villages – to their families. They wanted us, Americans, people in the West, to understand that they are just like us. Human beings. That they have the right to be free just like everyone else in the world.
I travelled all around the territory by car, by helicopter, boat, on foot. I learned first hand of the incredible courage and resilience of the Timorese. How they struggled successfully through non-violence to shrug off the occupying Indonesians. Standing up to one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known. I started to understand that their story had to be told to the world, knowing that most Americans couldn’t point to East Timor on a map or are even aware that such a place even exists, much less the inspiring story of the triumph of freedom there.
The UN film turned out to be little more than propaganda. But it started me on a path. Since then I’ve had the privilege of working as a producer, cinematographer and editor on many successful documentaries. In 2012 I directed my first documentary feature, Alias Ruby Blade: A Story of Love and Revolution, which premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival to critical acclaim. Alias is the story of a young girl from Melbourne who finds herself caught up in the fomenting revolution in East Timor. It’s a stranger than fiction tale of intrigue, love and adventure.
This documentary is the basis for the screenplay I am now developing with my filmmaking partner Jason Dubin. We intend to raise only the development portion of our budget through our fiscal partnership with IFP in order to allow certain foundations and individuals who support the arts and East Timor to support our film. Our goal is to tell this story in a way that can reach a much wider audience than a documentary. To tell a tale that can inspire the audience to believe they can stand up against hypocrisy in all forms. Because real people really can change the course of history and this story is undeniable proof.
ALEX MEILLIER, 2015
Alex MEILLIER - Writer, Producer, Editor
Alex is an American film director and editor. An honors Graduate in Film from NYU’s Tisch School for The Arts, his credits include: Alias Ruby Blade (2012, Director), Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (2009, Editor), the HBO documentary Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman (2014, Editor), Obscene (2007, cinematographer, producer and co-editor) and numerous commercial credits.
Milena CANONERO - Producer, Visual Consultant
Born in Turin Italy, Canonero studied art, design history and costume design in Genoa. She then moved to England, where she began working in small theatre and film productions. While designing for commercials in London, she met many film directors.
Her first major film work as a costume designer was in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. She worked with Kubrick again on Barry Lyndon (1975), for which she won her first Oscar, and The Shining (1980). Her second Oscar win was for Chariots of Fire (1981), directed by Hugh Hudson.
Canonero has also designed the costumes for several stagings directed by Otto Schenk, such as Il trittico (Puccini Vienna State Opera 1979), As You Like It (Shakespeare, Salzburg Festival 1980), Die Fledermaus (Strauss, Vienna State Opera 1980), Andrea Chénier (Giordano, Vienna State Opera 1981), and Arabella (Strauss, Metropolitan Opera 1983). For director Luc Bondy she created the costumes for new productions of Puccini's Tosca (Metropolitan Opera, 2009), and of Euripides' Helena.
In 2001, Canonero received the Career Achievement Award in Film from the Costume Designers Guild. In 2005, Canonero won the guild's award for excellence in contemporary film for her work on Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. She won her third Oscar for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.
Canonero reteamed with Anderson in 2014 on The Grand Budapest Hotel, for which she received her ninth nomination and fourth win at the 87th Academy Awards. She also won a BAFTA award for her work on the film.
Jason DUBIN - Producer
Originally from Miami, Jason graduated with honors and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre. After spending his first few years out of school on the stage in New York, off-Broadway and then in London on the West End, he moved into filmmaking. First in casting with Mali Finn (TITANIC, THE MATRIX) and then in New York with Billy Hopkins (MONSTERS BALL, GOOD WILL HUNTING). In 2003 Jason co- founded O.D.D. Entertainment and produced THE BABYSITTERS, which premeired at Toronto International Film Festival and starred John Leguizamo and Cynthia Nixon. It opened theatrically in New York, Los Angeles, and several other U.S. cities, and is available in several territories around the world. Most recently, Jason developed and produced, THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE, witten by Bret Easton Ellis (AMERICAN PSYCHO, LESS TAHN ZERO) which premiered in the U.S. August of 2015.
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