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Grim Racial Tensions Probed in New Australian Comedy

FILE - A man argues with police before being detained for an alcohol-related incident on North Cronulla Beach in Sydney, December 18, 2005.

A provocative dark comedy about Australia’s race riots in the beachside suburb of Cronulla makes its premiere at the Sydney Film Festival June 15. The disturbances in December 2005 were fueled by tensions between Lebanese and white communities. The movie Down Under tells the story of two opposing groups of young men from both sides of the cultural divide.

The movie takes a comical look at one of the darkest chapters in modern race relations in Australia. In December 2005, a series of disturbances erupted in Cronulla, a seaside suburb in Sydney. The violence stemmed from tensions between young men from migrant Middle Eastern families and others from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds. The trouble spread to other parts of the city, and prompted a huge response by the police.

Down Under is set during the aftermath of the Cronulla riots and is the story of two carloads of young men from both sides of the conflict.

Writer-director Abe Forsythe said that moments of tension are often fertile ground for comedians.

“One of the great things about comedy is conflict. Conflict kind of naturally brings sort of comedy out of you. If you have got two people in opposition then it is a great territory to be able to kind of get drama and then, hence, get comedy from that too. So there is just a lot of stuff there that you can just kind of amp it up a little bit and suddenly it becomes funny,” said Forsythe.

Commentators said the unrest at Cronulla was an inflammatory mix of racism, revenge and alcohol-fueled aggression. The violence was a blow to Australia’s multiculturalism.

Today a quarter of Australia's population was born overseas, and increasing numbers of new migrants are arriving from China and India, as well as New Zealand and the United Kingdom.