Ali is not a citizen, he drives a taxi on another man’s license and relies on the GPS to negotiate a city he doesn’t know. Esther, an old woman gets into the back seat of the taxi and forgets where she is going. She becomes hostile because she is lost but Ali is fed up with being a scapegoat. Their journey starts with the bitter animosity reflected in the outside world; suspicion, fear and hatred. But despite everything that keeps them apart, destiny holds them together and takes them on a journey through memory and survival, confronting the dramas of the road at night together. In the outside world surveillance cameras chart their course, making them black and white, good and bad, right and wrong without ever really knowing who they are.


Ali Al Jenabi is an asylum seeker from Iraq. His life story is the subject of Robin de Crespigny’s award winning book “The People Smuggler – The true story of Ali Al Jenabi, the Oskar Schindler of Asia”.

It has been published twice by Penguin and has had a very wide readership. It won the Queensland Literary Award and the Human Rights Book Award in 2012


I approached Ali to play the role in the film after seeing him on stage at the launch of this book in 2012. The use of non-actors is central to the concept of the film, as if it could have been a documentary but is an experiment in fiction.

The characters are loosely based on the two actors but the story is completely fictitious and created as a simple metaphor to express the importance of humanity and hope in a world where war is becoming the norm and fear of the refugee a symptom.

The passenger is played by Imelda Bourke who was born in 1928 and was a well-known jazz singer in her home town of Adelaide where she raised her five children – I was one of them. We are a mother/daughter team in the making of DAMAGE.


The music is almost a third character in the film. It comes in through the car radio and is a key point of connection for the characters. The radio brings them music but it is also a reminder of the outside world – the bad news, the attitudes and catastrophes that have uprooted Ali in the first place. The score has a significant presence as it often starts within the car radio and then opens out to full cinematic sound.

The score comprises compositions by Peter Knight, Jem Savage and Mohammad Nafttachi.

Peter Knight is a Melbourne based musician, composer and director of the Australian Art Orchestra. Jem Savage is a musician, producer and sound engineer who collaborates with the Australian Art Orchestra among other projects.

Mohammad Nafttachi, an Iraqi cellist, composer and arranger living in Sydney.


I am really interested in the states of being that are revealed in a face. The past, the present, the future can be found in a single moment of observation if you look carefully.

This film is carried by two expressive faces, full of depth and experience; two faces that seem made for “reading the soul” inside. This film is a portrait of two people. It is also a portrait of us, now, we Australians.