Griffith Film School alumnus Yolanda Ramke has written and co-directed Australia’s first Netflix original feature film, Cargo.
The post-apocalyptic zombie movie stars Martin Freeman and Susie Porter, and recently made its international debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
Netflix bought the global rights to the film – a multi-million deal that ensures the film will be seen by millions of movie fans around the world and puts the young filmmaker on the map.
“Our biggest goal has been for people to see the film,” Yolanda said.
“To screen it in New York and have it picked up by Netflix is a dream for us.
“We originally hoped it would have a theatrical release, but when Netflix made an offer, it was an easy yes – they have 125 million subscribers in 190 countries, so their reach is massive.”
Cargo is based on a short film that made the finals of Tropfest in 2013. The 7-minute genre film went viral on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 14 million times – attracting the notice of American agents and producers.
The film’s current incarnation has had a warm reception from critics, who have hailed it as “eerily effective” and “one of the best Australian films of the year”.
It was shot in South Australia on a tight schedule and modest budget – an experience Yolanda describes as a “baptism of fire”.
“The shoot was a huge learning curve,” she said.
“When I was writing it, I went hell for leather, not thinking about how I was going to execute it all on screen.
“We had the wettest winter in 70 years, a once in a 100 years storm that knocked out power to the whole state, we were shooting on water, working with a baby, dealing with prosthetics and stunts.
“We were lucky that we had a very experienced cast and crew – all of whom really responded to the script and were committed to getting this story up on the screen.”
Yolanda graduated from Griffith Film School in 2005, and worked in the industry for almost a decade before getting her first feature film off the ground.
“I came to Griffith Film School after growing up in small towns in regional Queensland, and it was amazing to come here and meet people who had the same aspirations as me,” she said.
“Griffith was the only film course I applied for – so thank goodness I got in!
“It was such an exciting time, and I got the chance to try my hand at lots of different things, from writing and directing to producing.
“I knew even back then that this is what I wanted to do.”
After graduating, Yolanda’s first job in the industry was in the wardrobe department of a local kids show, H20: Just Add Water – a job one of her lecturers at Griffith helped set up. From there, she learnt her craft from the ground up, working in a series of roles on various TV series and film sets.
“When I came out of uni, I knew that making it in this industry was going to be a slog,” she said.
“You have to drop the ego, and be prepared to work hard and learn, and continue to develop your own work on the side.
“My advice to film students is to watch a lot of films, read the scripts and break them down, and get out and make stuff with your classmates.”
Yolanda has been juggling several projects since wrapping Cargo – including a TV pilot, a screenplay adaptation and a short film, Cold Hearts, made with fellow Griffith Film School alumnus April Tafe.
Head of Griffith Film School Professor Herman Van Eyken said Yolanda was one of many remarkable GFS graduates making their mark in the global film industry.
“We are thrilled to see Yolanda enjoy such great success with her first feature film,” he said.
“Having Cargo in Australian cinemas and available on Netflix around the world will attract a huge audience for her work.
“The fact that many of our students have gone on to make films at this level speaks volumes about the calibre of our programs.”
Cargo will be released in cinemas around the country on May 17 and will be available to stream on Netflix later this year.