HBO's Devastating Aftermath of 'Tsunami'
While the memory of this disaster still remains fresh in the countries affected, the rest of the world has moved on. HBO Films, in association with BBC Two, intends to change that by revisiting the disaster in "Tsunami, the Aftermath," airing in two parts on consecutive Sundays, Dec. 10 and 17, on HBO.
"Tsunami" is a heart-wrenching, character-driven film void of the big-budget effects found in typical natural disaster films. It's a story of loss, survival and hope that ultimately explores the universal questions about how government, media, relief workers and survivors respond to such unimaginable devastation. The film was inspired by true accounts, with writer/executive producer Abi Morgan ("Sex Traffic") combining her extensive research and interviews to weave together a three-hour drama.
"I've tried to write something that captures the experience but also asks questions that you might not be able to ask if you did a straight re-enactment," Morgan says. "The film examines not only the aftermath of a devastating experience, but the relationship between the West and Thailand, in particular its people, united by both the practical and emotional fallout of this disaster. It explores a number of issues within the context of the characters' journeys."
The film follows a group of fictional characters in a multistrand story format. Toni Collette ("The Sixth Sense," "Muriel's Wedding") plays an Australian woman who runs an educational program for Thai children. Others in the cast include Tim Roth ("Rob Roy"), Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Inside Man"), Sophie Okonedo ("Hotel Rwanda"), Hugh Bonneville ("Notting Hill"), Gina McKee ("Notting Hill") and newcomer Samrit Machielsen.
"It's obviously such a harrowing, sobering story -- if you would call it a story, since it did happen -- but my character is very practical and accepting and strong, and there's only one crack in her veneer: when she starts to question her faith," Collette says.
How people and the world react to such a tragedy is what ties the various stories together. "When something like that happens, you do realize how small you are, and you do question your beliefs, and if you have such strong convictions, then there's a lot that can fall from a high place," Collette says.
The film was shot on location in Phuket and Khao Lak, Thailand, a region that lost more than 5,000 people to the tsunami. Out of a production crew of 180, 145 of them were Thai.
"Being in the place that it actually happened -- we were shooting in places where [it was] exactly as it was right after the tsunami hit and hadn't been reconstructed yet. It's just ever present; it just becomes more of a reality," Collette says. "It makes you realize how little control we really have. Some of the people who experienced it had [concerns] about this story being told. I think it will always be difficult [for them] to swallow because they experienced it, so perhaps it's too soon for them, but for people who weren't there it's not too soon."
Morgan hopes the film addresses any concerns people might have about whether it's too soon to revisit the event. "In my interviews with survivors, it was profoundly humbling for me to see how people had dealt with the impossible and survived with such dignity. Over time, people tend to forget that the tragic consequences continue. We hope that this film will bring continued awareness of the plight of all those involved."
Despite the destruction, Collette finds Thailand to be an amazingly beautiful place.
"The Thai people are so incredibly beautiful and generous and gentle and just wanted us to have a great time," she says. "Obviously, that area is quite dependent on tourism, and when a crew of 300 kind of stumble in, well, we were very welcomed. I was there for a total of about seven or eight weeks. I loved it. The place really is paradise. It's just so naturally awesome. I cried because of the beauty of it. It's like living in a fantasy of what tropical places would be like."