Director Kimberley Joseph with a local leader in Eastern Kazakhstan during filming for The Polygon.
Director Kimberley Joseph with a local leader in Eastern Kazakhstan during filming for The Polygon.

Aussie actress makes directorial debut with doco The Polygon

THE Polygon sounds like the name of a sci-fi film, but it's actually the real-life nuclear nightmare at the centre of a documentary film.

Australian actress Kimberley Joseph has spent the past six years working on the film, which documents the effects of a former Soviet nuclear weapons test site on the local villagers in northeastern Kazakhstan.

A Gold Coast native, Joseph has chosen the Gold Coast Film Festival for the world premiere of the documentary, The Polygon, tonight.

Joseph began her career as an actress at the age of 19 while she was studying languages and international relations at Bond University.

She went on to star in the hit US sci-fi drama Lost as well as TV series including All Saints, Cold Feet, Tales of the South Seas, Hercules and Home and Away.

But the new mum put her career on hold to direct The Polygon after learning of the Kazaks' plight from Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson in 2008.

Director Kimberley Joseph filming in Kazakhstan.
Director Kimberley Joseph filming in Kazakhstan.

"It's taken me a lot longer than I ever imagined it would take," Joseph told APN.

"We've had a couple of different editors, so this film has had a few incarnations. It's at 53 minutes now and I think it plays well. I think it's going to have the impact I want it to have."

Shot over a period of three years, The Polygon documents the fallout of the Soviet tests that began in 1949 and continue to affect over 1.5 million people.

"They (the Kazaks) were so busy becoming independent they kind of just forgot about these people living in this remote area," Joseph said.

"They (the villagers) just don't have the funds to move. They've also lived on the land for generations; it's a part of them. Even though they're dealing with these issues, they do remain in the area."

Those issues include highly irradiated soil and drinking water, which has seen a population known for living into its 90s now struggling to make it to the pension age of 63 because of dramatically increase rates of cancers.

A proper clean-up would be a monumental effort. The Polygon is a quarter of the size of Tasmania and plutonium particles can still be found just 10 to 20cm below the soil surface.

Kimberley Joseph with children from the village affected by radiation in Kazakhstan.
Kimberley Joseph with children from the village affected by radiation in Kazakhstan.

"These people didn't know cancer prior to this happening," she said.

"Coming into contact with these villagers and hearing their stories for the first time was really confronting.

"The graveyards are bigger than the villages now."

It's Joseph's first time behind the camera, and a unique experience as far as filmmaking goes. It's not every day a Geiger counter is a required piece of equipment for a director.

"It's not something that I thought 'Oh I want to be a documentary filmmaker'. I happened up on this story and I felt compelled to tell it," she said.

"It's about respecting the villagers and their plight but also respecting that they're proud and don't want to be represented as desperate people."

The Polygon debuts tonight at 7pm at Pacific Fair as part of the Gold Coast Film Festival.


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