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Elissa Down to direct new SBS series 'While the Men Are Away'

Director Elissa Down will helm a new series coming to SBS in 2023. While The Men Are Away is described as an eight-part queer revisionist comedy.

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The broadcaster announced the director’s involvement and details of the cast ahead of filming commenting.

Elissa Down became internationally known in 2008 with her semi-autobiographical film The Black Balloon. The West Australian director was already well-known in the Western Australian screen industry for a series of highly praised short films that the Curtin University graduate had created.

Down’s most recent work includes the American feature film Feel the Beat and the Netflix children series Ivy + Bean.  Down will lead the eight-part series with director Monica Zanetti (Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), Iggy & Ace) joining to direct an episode.

The upcoming World War II dramedy, currently in pre-production in Sydney, introduces a mix of fresh talent including Shaka Cook who starred in the Australian production of Hamilton, Max McKenna best known for their theatrical roles in Jagged Little Pill and Muriel’s Wedding the Musical, as well as major Australian actor Benedict Hardie and Gemma Ward who starred in The Black Balloon.

Elissa Down said she was excited to back in Australia to work on the new project.

“I’m thrilled to be back home in Australia to direct While The Men Are Away. The scripts are like nothing I’ve read before – irreverent, absurd, funny and also incredibly heartfelt and moving. Our team, like the characters in the show, are a beautiful band of misfits. Huge kudos to SBS for commissioning the series.”

While The Men Are Away is a queer revisionist historical dramedy for SBS set in 1940s rural Australia. While the men are off fighting in WWII, the people who have been excluded from power suddenly find themselves running the show. Two Women’s Land Army recruits from Sydney arrive in the country and undergo a heady course in race relations, rural politics, spirituality, sex, and personal growth – oh, and farming.

SBS Head of Scripted, Julie Eckersley is enthused about the new series.

While the Men Are Away is a series that delivers on our vision to tell exciting and authored work that is uniquely Australian while having global appeal. This queer, sexy, warm-hearted series is our first foray into half hour dramas and we think our audiences will love it. It is another great example of the fresh and distinct content that SBS brings to Australia.”

The series is producer Lisa Shaunessy’s first scripted series under her production company Arcadia. Her previous work includes the film Sissy – which opened this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

Shaunessy said SBS had taken a brave step in commissioning the series.

“Bringing a show as cheeky, full of love and sex in all its colours, with a wink to the past and a foot firmly in today is a brave step for our partners, that we wholeheartedly applaud. Their foresight to see the world and the characters that we know audiences will love and crave more of, is a credit to the great commissioning team at SBS. We’re excited to light up screens with this fabulous cast, telling a part of the real home story of WWII”.

While The Men Are Away is created by acclaimed writer Kim Wilson (Wentworth, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart), Alexandra Burke (Sissy) and Monica Zanetti (Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)). The series is written and developed by Kim, Alexandra and Monica, alongside Magda Wozniak, Enoch Mailangi, Jada Alberts and Sam Icklow.

Look out for the show in 2023. 

OIP Staff, image shows clockwise Elissa Down, Monica Zanetti, Max McKenna, Benedict Hardie, Shaka Cook and Gemma Ward. 


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