Writer/director Su Goldfish searched for her lost family in Trinidad, North America and Germany for her film The Last Goldfish, which explores the impact of war and displacement, as she tells Julie Houghton.
What was your early life with your father like?
My father was an affectionate, warm, fun dad. He taught me to change spark plugs, to fix things, to grow tomatoes and he used to tell me fantastic stories of children who could fly to the moon.
What made you realise that he had a hidden story?
I discovered my father was married before and had two other children, and thought, “What else are you hiding from me?” I was very hurt. I think he was protecting himself from having to relive the sorrow of losing his first two children. My father said he didn’t know where his children were in Canada, so I rang the Canadian consulate to see if I could look through their telephone books, as I wanted to find my brother and sister.
I connected my father’s story to the broader history of World War and the Holocaust by finding the names of my family in the Jewish Museum in Sydney. Amongst the thousands of names in those books were the names of my grandparents and four of my great-aunts and great-uncles. Over the years I spent many days in Germany visiting museums trying to find documents that would piece back together the lives of my family and help me understand emotionally what had happened to my father. My great-uncle Julius Heumann went to jail for two years because he was in a relationship with a German Christian woman.
What did you find out?
I discovered my father was a refugee from Nazi Germany who had escaped to the tropical air of Trinidad in the West Indies, and then later we all came to Australia in the seventies. He loved his life in Trinidad, where he worked in the record industry.
Why was it important for you to be able to delve into this history your father tried to shield you from?
As a kid I thought Trinidad was my home but when the Black Power movement erupted there in the seventies I realised for the first time that I was white and not wanted on the island by some people. It was the beginning of my awareness of power relationships and that identity and belonging were important and could lead to inclusion or exclusion.
What was the family reaction to you unearthing the story?
Finding my sister and brother was deeply moving and important for my father. And as his children we were relieved and happy to have found each other. It’s been a profound experience for us all.
What drives you to share his story with the outside world?
Apart from being an excellent story, I wanted to remind people that many of us in Australia come from refugee and immigrant backgrounds. My father was lucky—much luckier than the families trapped on Manus and Nauru.
What do you hope people will be thinking when they walk out of the cinema after seeing The Last Goldfish?
I hope they will connect to the story in all different ways and that it has a message around acceptance and justice and human rights. Our hashtag is #WithRefugees.
What is your overriding satisfaction at having made The Last Goldfish?
The response to the film has been so positive. I have had the honour of being selected for the Sydney and Adelaide Film Festivals as well as the Jewish Film Festival. I have also been lucky enough to work with an extraordinary team of artists, sound designers, composers and editors. This film is very much a creative collaboration.
Visit thelastgoldfish.com for more info.