When Ziva happens upon an invitation to a Tea Party for Sad People, she is drawn into a surreal Purgatory where sadness is sought for all the wrong reasons. Tears are a source of pride, no matter how minor the trigger, and status is about how sad your story is.

The mysterious Joy fetishises sorrow, and eschews all solids. The amiable Lavender isn’t particularly sad that’s why she carries an onion in her hankie. Jill is the alpha of the pack, policing the etiquette of sadness.

How will the ladies react to Ziva’s sob story?


Cathy Friend’s original screenplay zinged with Lewis Carroll madness, depicting a tea party with four memorable characters: Ziva, Joy, Lavender and Jill. Building a film around these four, and their distinctive features, was the driving force behind so many choices.

The structure of the current film emerged from the auditions: a collision between Ziva’s sincerity and Jill’s dominance plays. Lavender – desperate to fit in and Joy – hungry for true sadness – sway in the balance. The Party’s miserable charade would crumble on hearing Ziva’s story, collapsing into laughter.



An instagram influencer using motifs that shouldn't be borrowed, to gain social credit. She doesn't understand sorrow. Her painted tears and designer self-harm chic are a means to win the game. But she's ultimately humourless, as the ending shows. Julia pivots between hostess and dictator on a dime.


Her desire to belong clashes with a natural cheer-fulness. She constantly forgets to adopt a dour visage. She feels she's a disappointment to the others, and this offers her a flicker of melancholy that makes her... happy. Ash's onion agony, stolen nibbles, accidental cupcakes, flicks and dabs, ups and down and laughter were a delight to watch.


The wildcard. The artist. The explorer. She wallows in a gothic aspect, hungry for true sorrow. The discovery that tear-smeared mascara might give a more honest beauty delights her. She puts her finger on a wound that Ziva herself isn't prepared to display. Her laughter in response to Ziva's story might seem cruel, but there's such honesty to the way Tihana does it that it manages to both right the world, and upend it.


Orana Keen

Only one character truly is sad, and for good reason. Seeing her alone in the city was one of the first images that came. Almost in every shot, Orana is the audience's surrogate for how to feel about this absurd world and the people in it. She also carries a wound that mustn't read as a deus ex machina when unveiled. The film hangs on her tonal shift at the end. If she can do it, so can we.


Direction, Adaptation and Production // Michael McLennan 

Director of Photography // Rasmus Callmer

Production Design // Emily Kemp

Assistant Director // Holly Fraser

Makeup // Elizabeth Lewis

Music // Luna Pan & Sandrine Rudaz

Editors // Viktor Jonsson & Michael McLennan

Production Crew // Bree Spaccavento, Amy Lawler & Jacqueline Walsh

Sound Recordists // Jacob Hafner Keelan & Cliff McBride

Sound Mix // John Hresc

Violin // Jordan Ann Martone

Grade // Brad Crawford

Script Editor // Cat Sole

Titles / VFX / EPK // Reuben Tirkey

Executive Producer // Mark Seton

Production Notes

The Tea Party For Sad People was written by Cathy Friend for the graduating performance students of Excelsia College. Excelsia recruits a team of emerging filmmakers to make short films around their performance students, with on-set support by production students.



Michael McLennan came on board as a producer and director of the project, screen testing the actresses, identifying crew and locations, and re-working the script. The film was shot in late September 2019 over two days in the Grand Dining Room of Sydney’s Castlereagh Boutique Hotel, with a day of pickups in October. Shooting days tended towards large coverage blocks, with the actors freely interacting for up to seven minutes each setup. The film was shot on Panasonic GH5 and the Sony A7SII using Cooke lenses, equipment secured with the support of Camera Hire and Sydney Film School.



The editors tag-teamed with the editing of the film between Sweden and Australia. Composers Luna Pan and Sandrine Rudaz created the film’s distinctive musical palette, united by a recurring solo violin part, with Luna providing the film’s waltz for violin, marimba and flute; and Sandrine interpolating Mozart and Boccherini with style. The original script by Cathy Friend was presented as a short play as part of Short’n’Sweet In March 2020 in Sydney, with Julia Pennisi and Tihanna Vulcik reprising their roles.



Based on ‘The Tea Party for Sad People’ by Cathy Friend, the film is directed, adapted and produced by Michael McLennan.


An Excelsia College Production
in Association with Wavelength Films





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