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Kairos is a bold Australian film that looks to shatter our assumptions, featuring an actor with down syndrome as the lead. We sat down with both actor and director to explain their project.
Kairos is an Australian independent film that looks to shake our assumptions of who a protagonist can be. It tells the story of Danny, a man with Down syndrome, beset by ambition and crisis. Kairos steps where many productions have decided not to tread, looking to start a seismic shift in how we view disability portrayed on our screens.
We sat down with the star of the piece, Chris Bunton, and his Director, Paul Barakat, about the existing landscape they’ve built on and the concentric circles of change their rippling narrative hopes to enable.
TBS: Chris, this film is extremely introspective, what started you on the path to becoming an actor?
At six years of age, I saw ‘Back to the Future’ and became obsessed with it. I started to develop an interest in how it was made, and began to avidly watch all the behind the scenes footage of the trilogy. I also discovered that Michael J Fox had Parkinson’s disease and since then, I’ve wanted to find a cure. I can live with Down Syndrome, because I was born with it.
I have been involved in gymnastics since the age of 5, and I am currently the National Champion in Special Olympics Men’s artistic. In my early teens, I studied at NIDA for five years. I started to learn stagecraft and overcame my stage fright. Also, my gymnastics background served me well. It made me aware of what my body could do and I could imitate what others could do.
As an actor with Down Syndrome, how do you see the industry?
Casting actors with a disability on screen has always been limited, but in the last few years, I am starting to see some change.
I was cast in a significant role as Evan in the feature film ‘Down Under’, by Abe Forsyth. The reviews of my performance were favourable and gave me a lot more confidence to pursue feature film and TV roles. A major turning point for me was working with Paul Barakat on ‘Kairos’. He is a director who has the courage to cast a person with Down Syndrome as the lead character in a film. I was ecstatic to land the lead role in a feature. It was refreshing to finally have a disabled actor playing a disabled character on screen. The rest of the cast is also very inclusive. Paul gave the cast the freedom to develop their characters and collaborate in the creative process. My voice was always heard during the process and we had numerous rehearsals before the production. It was great to be part of a powerful story. There is still a lot of progress to be made for inclusive casting, but with stories like ‘Kairos’ being made, I can see the changes happening.
Paul, what inspired you to tell this story, and why do you think it is such an important project?
I’ve been drawn toward exploring themes of identity and disability on screen for a long time, but have never quite found the right project. In many ways, Kairos is the culmination of about 15 years of experimental and narrative work that share similar thematic concerns. I started developing the script in 2015, and after I met Chris Bunton and the amazing Ruckus crew (a disability-led performance group in Sydney), all the elements of the story fell into place.
This is a community that deserves to have their stories told. Too often in cinema, characters with disabilities are relegated to minor roles, and even more often, portrayed by performers without a disability. There seems to be a general misconception about what actors and filmmakers with disabilities are capable of, and often this has meant the community is marginalised and/or misrepresented.
What do you hope to achieve, and do you expect your film to be a catalyst of sorts?
My ultimate aim with ‘Kairos’ is for audiences to see past disability and go on a powerful journey with compelling characters with whom we all share the same hopes and fears.
This is by no means a ‘message’ movie. We have not patronised the characters, and this is what I think attracted cast and crew to the film. ‘Kairos’ challenges the characters regardless of their abilities and I hope the audience sees this film for what it truly is – a dark coming of age tale anchored by a powerful lead actor who just happens to have Down syndrome.
I sincerely hope our film can inspire other filmmakers to be more inclusive in casting. One thing I’m keen on doing as a result of this experience is making the behind the scenes aspects of my future films more inclusive as well.
I believe the time has come for more diverse stories to be brought to our screens and stages and hopefully ‘Kairos’ can play a small part in that process.