New film builds bridges across stories of Melbourne’s west 


    By Anne Marie Angebrandt

    A Footscray-based film-maker will pay tribute to his own family’s migrant story through his upcoming feature film, Westgate, scheduled for filming around Melbourne’s west in July. 

    Westgate, the second feature film for 32-year-old Adrian Ortega, is a window into the film-maker’s own experiences growing up as the son of an Italian single mother in Melbourne’s west, and the challenges they navigate between traditions, culture, and life in Australia. 

    The film depicts the story of single mother, Netta (played by Sarah Nicolazzo) and her 14-year-old-son, Julian (Max Nappo) during a 24-hour-period in September 1999 as they struggle to cope with mounting debts, imminent eviction, and Julian’s unstable health. 

    Westgate is set three decades after Australia’s worst industrial accident: the collapse of the West Gate Bridge on 15 October 1970, which killed 35 construction workers and injured many more. Most of the workers killed were on their lunch break in workers’ huts under the bridge. 

    Westgate is not only the film’s title, but is also a nod to the symbolic role that the West Gate Bridge plays in the life of the film’s main character, Netta, Adrian says. 

    “Everyone who grew up here during those years remembers the collapse, even if they didn’t know anyone directly involved, so it has a very significant meaning to many children of European migrants in the 60s and 70s – the generation of my mother.” 

    “For me, the West Gate has always been this daunting, yet beautiful piece of engineering, looming over me throughout my life.” 

    He says a major aim of the film is for people outside of Melbourne to learn about the tragedy. 

    Filmmaker Adrian Ortega at Melbourne International Film Festival

    “Growing up here I knew so much about it, but I was astonished at how many people even in Melbourne don’t know the story. I want to honour those people who have passed, especially the European migrants, by infusing real history into this narrative piece.” 

    While the film celebrates the assimilation struggles of the diverse, working-class communities that shaped Melbourne’s post-war west, the stories woven through the film are timeless, Adrian says. 

    “The film is set in the late 1990s but there are families here who are still living these experiences today. This film is important for them to know their stories matter and they are not alone.” 

    Adrian recently turned 32 – the same age that his mother was when she had him, which prompted him to write and direct the movie. 

    “I had a wonderful childhood but there was always drama and turmoil lingering in the background – something I was naïve to and something mum hid very well.” 

    “As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve started to see things differently and have sympathised with her struggles.” 

    Adrian says his mother, Nina, was thrilled when he surprised her by showing her the script once he finished it. 

    “She was quite honoured and taken aback by it, not knowing I was writing something so personal to both of us.” 

    Westgate will be produced completely independently following a recent successful crowdfunding campaign through the Australian Cultural Fund. 

    Adrian aims to debut Westgate at a major international festival, then for it to play at the Melbourne International Film Festival (where his first feature film Cerulean Blue had its world premiere) before an eventual cinema release, and then on to streaming. 

    Adrian is aiming for Stan for streaming, as Cerulean Blue is currently available there. 

    The film will begin principal photography in July at various locations around Melbourne’s west including Footscray’s Victoria Hotel, St John’s Anglican Church, and the Footscray Hotel; Sunshine’s J R Parsons Reserve; and the Yarraville Oval. 

    Its cinema release is scheduled for 2025. 

    Readers interested in being involved in Westgate as extras or seeing the film’s progress can follow @ Westgate_film on Instagram. 

    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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