• Interviews

Aron Attiwell – “Fading Numbers” Shows Firsthand Experiences

Perth-born writer-director Aron Attiwell, 22, has taken on the formidable task of educating young Australians about the Holocaust through his film Fading Numbers. As the number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing, Attiwell understands the importance of younger generations’ hearing firsthand from those who experienced the horrors of genocide about both the experience itself and the lessons that can be learned from it.

The film has already received a number of accolades, including Best Director at the New York Awards, Best Picture and Best Director at the Los Angeles Film Awards and Best Australian Director at the London Director Awards.

Shot over a nine-day period in Western Australia, Attiwell’s film is inspired by real-life accounts from survivors who have shared their experiences, witnessed through the protagonist Irene, portrayed by actresses Chloe-Jean Vincent and Jenny Davis.  It tells a compelling story that follows an independent journalist, Anna, (Stefanie Buma) researching her grandfather’s involvement in the war. While interviewing the Holocaust survivor, Anna learns that Irene had, in fact, known her grandfather, which leads to an unexpected discovery.


During a telephone interview, Attiwell talks about how his project came about.

Without any personal connection to the Holocaust, what connected you to this subject matter?

Graduating high school in 2018, I had this passion for Holocaust stories through my interest with history.  It came about that there wasn’t a lot of education in the school system in Australia, so it was my goal and my drive to implement a further study and education of Holocaust material in the curriculum. So, I then went on to make this film in collaboration with Sean Ryan, a UK-based writer, and now have successfully put the film into schools starting in Western Australia and hopefully, a national curriculum will follow.

How did you find the real-life stories for the film?  Was there anyone in particular you could go to for research?

In collaboration with Sean, a lot of inspiration came from Holocaust survivor testimonies from online sources which we incorporated into the story. I also had early discussions with the Holocaust Institute and was privileged to hear a testimony from a Perth-based Holocaust survivor.

Was the idea met with a lot of resistance?  Getting it into schools couldn’t have been easy.

It’s a sensitive topic to talk about, so a lot of the time schools were saying that they’ve already got the education and they don’t really want to dive deep into it. And then another factor when putting it into schools is that in terms of COVID and the budget cuts, not a lot of schools were looking for new material. And I don’t know if that’s really an excuse for them to say, “That’s a no,” or “I’m really not too sure,” but we’ve seen this decline of interest, whether or not it’s the sensitive material or the budget cuts in 2022.

How did you come up with the funding to actually make the film?

A huge supporter was the Holocaust Institute, who offered generous support by way of access to Holocaust survivor testimonies and consultation in the early stages of the film. And obviously, we wanted to keep everything accurate, and especially with historical pieces, any faults, you just lose complete engagement of it.  We also gathered a lot of community support through institutions and organizations that put money towards it, and we also spread awareness of the project through the social network. A lot of it was through community support and also families of Holocaust survivors that put money into the film. And a lot of it came onto the production for expenses like costumes, armory, set design to really give it justice. Living in Australia, there isn’t a lot of Holocaust and World War II memorabilia compared to Europe, in places like Poland, and Austria.

What were the unexpected challenges?

I think people weren’t aware of the Nazi iconography challenges because they’re trying to ban it in Australia. So, it was hard to gather the props. We managed to find a supplier but really a huge challenge was filming during COVID.  And also filming in Australian summer is definitely not great, and that was another challenge, trying to keep the cast and crew hydrated and healthy.

Did you have your friends come on board and help?

Yeah, a lot of it was university and TAFE graduates. I’d had this idea since high school, so I collectively brought together a passionate team made up of film students to make this film. And they’re also passionate about the project and the topic. That really helped keep the crew energetic, and it was such an amazing collaboration with those people. And also, the cast as well, so passionate about the film and the project. We also were grateful to have on board Jordan Anthony, a young talented music artist based in Perth, who wrote and performed an original track for the film in collaboration with Five Seven Audio.

Did watching a movie like Schindler’s List inspire you?

Yeah, Schindler’s List was such a huge inspiration for the film. And I’ve watched it about three times now with a running time of three hours, so it’s a journey in itself. But a lot of it came from my history teacher who I had a really good connection with after graduating school, and we spoke about it and it was really motivating to make the project, to put it into schools.

I imagine it must have been difficult to get the right tone and not coming across like a documentary but also not coming across as too preachy.

Totally. And a huge thing was trying to find a story that people would relate to and because our audience was students, we obviously had to have a teenage or a young adult protagonist that the audience could follow. So we really looked at the market in our target audience and had that influence the plot and the story and the screenwriting process.

Do you think your film gets something right that other films on the same subject don’t?

In terms of contemporary society, I don’t think there are a lot of films that have this end note and this resolution and discussion about how we can change in terms of nowadays. A lot of the films really just state the facts and what happened. So, it was really my ambition to have this end note of the film, to tie it up and have open discussions about what we can do [in the future] and being aware of things nowadays that relate to it. 

Is your family in the arts? Are they supportive of your career choice?

My family don’t have an arts background. But again, and it comes with a lot of families whose relatives or children are in the arts, they are very supportive, and they really want to make sure that I’m following my dreams and ambitions. And there’s a safety net there that if all fails, there’s a way to come back and fall safely.

What was it like the first time you saw the movie with an audience?

It’s very surreal. In your head you are thinking, you’re critiquing it in a different way and a lot of the time when you’re in the editing room, you’ve only got yourself and an assistant. But getting an audience’s perspective and hearing the reactions live is really such a surreal moment. And then obviously when you finish the film and see people with teary eyes and having it really hit them is such a grateful and appreciative moment as a filmmaker that your point has come across.

Given the dark material, did you have nightmares while you were shooting?

Yes. During the preparation and the development phase, I admit I did have a few nightmares because you play it out in your head as if you were there. And I was very open with my cast and crew that during the research phase, you have to research it during the day and have a stopping point in the afternoon so it doesn’t affect you later on. So, there were times where my actors would be open and vulnerable, and it was really just encouraging a healthy collaboration that we had to abide by and support one another through it.

What other subjects would you like to tackle?

I’m currently doing a prison drama. I really think in the media recently, we’ve seen a lot of controversy through the prison system, and I think it’s quite an important thing to be aware of and talk about.

So, no fluffy romcoms for you?

Not yet. Yeah, not yet. But I would love to diversify my portfolio. So, I think in the future, it’s no doubt there’ll be some kind of comedic story out there.

What would you like audiences to walk away with after watching this film?

It’s really being aware that there’s mainstream media who’ll outline events comparing to the Holocaust that really isn’t accurate. I think it’s for an audience to be aware of the hatred and beliefs of other people and trying to come to a mutual understanding. It’s really hard, actually. I think in terms of the Holocaust topic, it’s more of an open discussion and being aware of the hatred in Australia and internationally and just trying to bring peace and having a mutual healthy relationship with one another.

Link to the film:  https://www.fadingnumbersfilm.com/