Alice Springs/Mparntwe Film Under Streetlights to Make Its World Premiere at Byron Bay Film Festival


Byron Bay Film Festival 2023 is proud to have a wholly Australian-made drama in the line-up, a World Premiere made in the nation’s heart, Alice Springs (Mparntwe), and one that, following the national division of recent months, will act as a clarion call for harmony and hope.

Under Streetlights is a story about achieving unity, about the things that people have in common – music is one of them, family another. It is also about courage in the face of adversity, self-belief, and looking after each other across gender and race lines.

Based on true events, Under Streetlights tells the story of two young adults from very different backgrounds who are brought together by their common love of making music and the challenge they both face of having an alcoholic parent. The film explores the issues within the context of a moving story of friendship and the drive to create that motivates young people across cultures.

The project is the first all-locally crewed and cast feature film to be shot in Alice Springs. The filmmakers’ initial aim was to offer training to young people at a grassroots level in song-writing, acting, public speaking, singing and story writing.  

The result was the group significantly added to their skill set and experience in filmmaking and media, including developing the heart-warming story that became the film script.

The stars of the film are Izak, an Indigenous rapper played by Amatjere man Jacob Japaljarri Harvey, and Ella, a young American-Australian played by Madison Hull. It is written, directed and produced by Danielle Loy, a Northern Territory resident, with Cultural Advisors Leighton Mason and Lynette Ellis also playing roles as Izak’s dad and auntie. 

Real musicians were cast in the lead roles and wrote and performed many of the songs in the film. Jacob, aka Kng Jay, is a star on the rise, with several singles released and a growing fanbase. Co-lead Madison is also a songwriter and performer and it is music that brings them together.

Jacob had never acted before shooting Under Streetlights and saysit took him a few days to decide if he was a good fit to play Izak.

“Izak is someone who carries other people’s problems on his shoulders and I do the same,” he says. “I’m like Dr Phil, the person in the middle balancing everyone else’s needs.

“When Dani told me this was who the character was, I knew I was the right person for the part,” he says.

Both Jacob and his character also write and record on an iPhone app in a bedroom studio, and both struggle to get it played through mainstream channels.

Jacob’s acting hero is Al Pacino, he says, especially his ability to show a range of intense emotions within a few seconds.

He is coming to Byron Bay for the two screenings of the film and so is Leighton Mason, his uncle in real life.

Like Jacob, Leighton had never acted before, and the experience was an eye-opener, he says. Despite it being new to them, the two men’s performances are extraordinarily realistic and well-judged.

Leighton is a Nanagantjarra Pitjantjatjara man whose family moved to Alice Springs in 1983 where he danced in Aboriginal dance groups that travelled the world. Like Jacob, his on-screen character echoes aspects of his own life, from giving up the grog to traditional dancing – a scene he wanted included in order to show Aboriginal culture to the outside world.

“Story-telling is part of our culture, and dancing can be like a book, teaching people through story. We worked hard to make that part come alive.

“Even though my knees gave up I kept dancing, because I was doing something I love,” Leighton says. “That’s one of the film’s themes: keeping going even when the going gets tough.”

While the film shows that good things can happen in Alice Springs, it also shows some of the harsh realities the local people have to deal with, says Leighton, including interactions with the police.

“We see it every day,” he says, “and I tried to get some of that tension into the film, to show authentic experience. There’s a lot of truth in this movie.”

And a lot of love. Making “this beautiful film” helps us understand each other, Leighton says, and Under Streetlights is ultimately a heart-warming ode to hope and connection, guaranteed to uplift and inspire audiences.

Producer Steve Kearney says the film is a great crowd-pleaser. He is keen to find outlets for it following the Byron festival.

Danielle Loy says that during filming, “we learned that people are very different, and while it is wonderful for that difference to define us, it no longer needs to divide us”.

The two young people’s belief in each other and the music they make and perform together provides the beating heart of the film, and is the catalyst for change in the lives of those around them.

Their harmonies linger long after the film ends.

Under Streetlights screens as part of the Byron Bay Film Festival on October 21 at 7.30pm, and at Lennox Cultural Centre on Sunday October 22 at 3:30pm. Some cast and crew members will attend for a Q&A.

For ticket info, visit

Press Release

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