It doesn’t end with the film – how I add value to my filmmaking.

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Ever since I started my new career as a documentary filmmaker in 2007 making my first ever film which was a feature documentary that ended up on television and in international film festivals, I’ve always had a strong sense of commitment to whatever project I work on that doesn’t end with just the film or films I produce.

I’m passionate about raising awareness and sharing my experiences that can extend beyond the films I make.

Earlier this year I was in Bangladesh working for Relief International making a short documentary about a really great project they’re running called the Sundarbans Mangrove Ecotourism Project. The project is all about creating sustainability in an area that is the largest saltwater mangrove ecosystem on earth but also about providing sustainable alternative livelihoods for local communities who have traditionally depended on the surrounding natural resources.

I was also in Vietnam working on a short documentary for the Australian based charity Sight For All who are filling a void in specialised eye health care in developing countries. For both of these projects, I posted a series of Instagram photos and stories about the projects and the making of the documentaries, a series of blog articles that spanned my website, LinkedIn, Twitter,  Facebook and other places.

Telling the stories about the organisations and projects I work for are just as important to me as making their documentaries. It means I get to share my own unique personal experiences but also help to further demonstrate the impact they’re making. That’s why, for me, it never just ends with the films I make.

A Walk Off before Wave Hill – a new documentary in the making

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In August, 1966 Aboriginal stockman Vincent Lingiari led about 200 Gurindji, Mudburra and Warlpiri workers in their strike and walk-off from remote Wave Hill cattle station. They demanded rights to their own land.

It was and remains a significant part of Australia’s history.

But few people know that 17 years before this, a small group of Aboriginal stockmen in central Australia also walked off but this time from the Lake Nash Cattle Station located on the NT/Qld border over 1000 km from Alice Springs.

The small handful of men included Alywarr elder Banjo Morton who’s now around 83 years old. The event was documented in February, 1949 by Constable Jack Mahony in the Lake Nash Police Journal.

I first met Banjo out at his home at Honeymoon Bore in remote central Australia in 2010. I was so intrigued with Banjo’s story that I decided to turn it into a documentary.

In 2011, I received some development funding from the SA Film Corporation which meant I could travel to the Archives in Darwin and Alice Springs and find the Police Journal record, and other information.

The project then stalled because well as most people know, trying to find funding for a documentary isn’t easy.

But now in 2016, my documentary project is back up and running. Banjo’s story will be told by Karen Downs – the daughter of Banjo’s nephew Richard. It’s a story not only about history but about family and connections. It’s a story about the past and the present and a story about the contribution of Banjo and the other Aboriginal stockmen so that their contribution to history won’t ever be forgotten.

The next stage of production will involve trips to Alice Springs, Ampilatwatja and Lake Nash filming Karen on her journey to uncover Banjo’s story. I’m currently on a mission to raise funds for this stage of the project.

In Australia, donations to the project are 100% tax deductible and can be made via the Documentary Australia Foundation

The Day I Made an Accountant Cry

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Last weekend, I was invited to lunch. On Saturday I sat at a table in a room of 300 people at a fundraising event. Next to me was an accountant. We’d never met before but we were connected that day by one thing – our support for the work of Sight For All, a charity founded by Adelaide Ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke.

I first read about James and his work with Sight For All a few years ago in the national Australian newspaper “The Australian”. Being inspired by what I’d read, I emailed James to offer my help should the opportunity arise, to work for Sight For All using the skills I know best – documentary filmmaking. Earlier this year, I had that opportunity and travelled to Vietnam and Bangladesh documenting James and his work with Sight For All.

During the lunch, the accountant sitting next to me was asking me questions about my work. We both laughed at how our lives and our work were at polar opposites.  He was curious to know about where I’d been and what I’d done and he asked me the question: “what’s something that has made you cry?”. I thought about it for a while and then I told him:

“When I was in Hanoi working with James and filming his work with small children in the operating theatre at the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology, on my first day there I was filming parents with children who’d come in to have examinations under anaesthesia. This is a common screening process that’s undertaken. After the examinations were complete, and the children had recuperated in the small and crowded recovery room, a grandfather came in to talk with James and two other doctors there, Dr Chau and Dr Trang (who do amazing work). The grandfather was holding his small granddaughter. She was about two years old. There was an emotion so intense in that room as I stood behind the camera filming the doctors telling the grandfather that this small child would have to have her eye removed in order to survive. The grandfather looked down at the small child he was cradling in his arms and began crying. It wasn’t so much the sadness of the news he’d just learned that then made me cry, although that’s horrendous news to have to receive, but it was the immense love the grandfather had for his granddaughter which I could literally feel. That love and his reaction to the news made me turn away from my camera and cry silently.”

As I was talking I watched the tears welling in the accountants eyes.

It’s emotionally and physically draining work that the doctors of Sight For All do on a daily basis. Doctors Chau and Trang in Hanoi are two of the most compassionate and dedicated women I have ever met and Doctor Muecke continues the important work of Sight For All in a number of developing countries in his quest to ensure that all children receive the best ophthalmology services possible.

For more information on Sight For All visit

To find out more about me and my work visit

Photo:  a screen grab taken from some of my footage. The grandfather holds his small baby granddaughter in the waiting room pre surgery in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Keeping Migrant Workers Safe. Tearing Down the Human Trafficking Industry.

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Each year, around or more than 400,000 Bangladeshi’s migrate overseas for work. They fill employment demands in countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Malaysia and Liberia.

Imagine being a villager from Bangladesh, going away to a foreign country to work. It’s your first overseas trip, first time on a plane, first time in a totally foreign country, first time with a completely foreign language. If you were unfortunate to fall into the clutches of an unscrupulous migration agency or an unscrupulous employer because you were unable to distinguish between those that are safe and legal and those that aren’t, or even worse, into the clutches of the global human trafficking industry because you weren’t aware of how such a thing could be possible, where would you turn for support ? Then imagine having your passport taken from you. What could you do ?

Cases like this, I found out afterwards, are not unusual and unfortunately human trafficking (the trade of humans, most commonly for sexual exploitation or forced labour) is a concern in a country like Bangladesh where so many men and women migrate for work each year. Human trafficking is thought to be one of the fastest growing activities of trans-national criminal organisations. The UN estimates the total market value of illicit human trafficking in 2005 was around 32 billion US dollars per annum. The International Labor Organisation (ILO) estimates here are 2.4 million people globally who are lured into forced labour.

When I was in southern Bangladesh recently, on assignment for Relief International Bangladesh, I experienced first hand the story of what can happen to Bangladeshi migrant workers. A woman from a village I visited told us about her husband who had gone to work somewhere in either Liberia or Libya four years ago. She didn’t know exactly where he was, only that it had been four years since he had left and she felt she had absolutely no way of helping him to come home.

Relief International Bangladesh has implemented programs to promote safe migration – where migrant workers are educated about their rights, are assisted through the migration process, have an avenue for redress and communication, are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous migration agents and more.

Ri Bangladesh has collaborated with Bangladesh-Korea Technical Training Center  to set up a Migration Resource Centre. It’s also working with other training centres in Dhaka to educate migrant workers and promote safe migration.

Promoting safe migration, especially in a country like Bangladesh where so many men and women migrate for work each year, is critical. It’s a big task when you think about the numbers of Bangladeshi people migrating annually to work overseas but programs like those that are being implemented by Relief International certainly go a long way to making migration safer.

Photo: women at the Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Women’s Technical Training Centre in Dhaka in their daily Arabic language lesson. They are just a small group of Bangladeshi women who will work overseas.

How one NGO is shaping a new economy for local communities in Bangladesh (and creating an experience of a lifetime)

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Two weeks ago, I arrived home after an intense 24 days in Vietnam and Bangladesh shooting for 3 different projects for 2 NGO’s. One of these was Relief International Bangladesh’s Mangrove Ecotourism Project in the Sundarbans.

The Sundarbans is the larges saltwater mangrove forest on earth. It’s home to the Bengali tiger and a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s also home to many diverse local communities who have relied heavily on the natural resources of the surrounding forest and river for their livelihoods.

The Sundarban Mangrove Ecotourism Project has found a way to reduce the human impact on the forest and waterways – hence maintaining the biodiversity  of the unique Sundarbans environment- and at the same time, provide villagers and communities with a new and sustainable economy.

This new economy – ecotourism – offers visitors from Bangladesh and around the world an incredibly unique opportunity to experience the magnificence of the Sundarbans while developing real connections with local people. I sailed down the river with Paritosh, the boat man who was lucky enough to survive a tiger attack in 2010. I enjoyed the first ever Sundarbans barbecue cooked by the enigmatic eco-entrepreneur and cottage owner Shripathi at his house one night. I drank fresh honey collected from the Sundarbans by the famous honey collectors. I watched women cooking in their family homes with fresh, organic food creating smells that made my mouth water and nose tingle. I stood mesmerised one dark night as I watched trees laden with fireflies twinkling like christmas decorations. And this is only just a small taste of what I experienced.

I developed friendships that were authentic and wholehearted. I saw a part of the world that is magnificent. I met people who opened up their homes and their hearts to me and I walked away with an experience that I’ll never forget.

This was one of the most memorable assignments I’ve had. Thank you Relief International Bangladesh. If you’re in Bangladesh, and you’re into unique lifetime experiences, do yourself a favour and spend some time at one, or more, of the ecotourism sites. You’ll not regret it !

You can find out more about the Sundarbans Mangrove Ecotourism project here:

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Image:  I wanted a photo with the women and children who were around on this day  when we were filming at one of the ecotourism sites in the Sundarbans. Just after our group pic was taken, this older lady looked at me and I at her and we couldn’t resist the urge to hug each other. This is the heartfelt experience you get when you live with the locals in the ecotourism sites scattered along the amazing Sundarbans in Bangladesh. Photo by Reema Islam.

Girls Fly Drones Too

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There’s a bit of discussion about drone cameras. Some people love them. Some people don’t.

But like most things, the results of using a drone camera can be good or bad — depending on the intention of the operator.

I bought a DJI Phantom 3 some months ago. I’ve since used it in the Solomon Islands, Malaysia and the Philippines. Each time, it was used to capture visual evidence for a documentary story. In the Solomon Islands, for example, I was able to capture what rising sea levels look like and the immediate impact they can have on people. In Malaysia, I was able to capture what 30km of oil palm plantation looks like in 3 seconds.

I find the drone camera to be an invaluable tool in my documentary filmmaking. It can make a statement in the most impactful way in a few short seconds. A visual memory is quite often the most long lasting. I think drones are also an incredible tool that can demonstrate the impact of humanitarian, development and aid work.

Drones can also show us what’s really going on in places most of us would never get to. Footage of the extensive devastation of Homs in Syria taken from a drone camera if making it’s way around social media platforms. This footage provides an instant understanding, to the viewer on the other side of the world, of just how much destruction has been caused in that city alone.

So yes, I like drones. I like them for what they can do for my visual storytelling. I also like the fact that they are an immense point of interest and fun for the villages and communities I can use them in. Many of those villages and communities have never seen a drone before and to watch the faces of children light up as the drone takes video of where they live, is precious.

And yes. Girls fly drones too.

(Images: recording video in Malaysia with the Batek people who have been forced to live on a tiny sliver of land on the edge of the rainforest and with the Agta people in northern Philippines who have also experienced destruction of traditional lifestyle due to deforestation).

Lessons of the black t-shirt

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It’s interesting just how much one simple, black, cotton t-shirt can teach you.

In 2008, I released my first ever feature documentary. It was a project that came with a number of challenges. The most significant challenge was that I had never made a film before. Ever. Another challenge was that I had to find the funding myself. And, as a first time filmmaker, I shot, produced, directed and distributed the film and travelled to India, China and Tibet for my footage. There were a number of other challenges too, but these sound the most exciting.

The project was a complete immersion of passion, determination and, some might say, an insane commitment. But one thing I was certain about was I wanted to make a film that could shine a spotlight on something that for me, was significant – the contemporary history of Tibet since the Chinese occupation.

The film was screened at 14 international film festivals, in organised screenings across Australia and in places like Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Finland, France, the USA, New Zealand and more. I managed to sell it to two international broadcasters and screened for 4 and 3 years consecutively. I produced and distributed my own DVDs that I tried to get into school and educational institutions as well as private homes, created an online presence (back in 2008 social media was still a relatively new phenomena and really only just beginning) and I even managed to give a final copy to the Dalai Lama (who, on one of my previous trips to India, was kind enough to spend an hour with me for an exclusive interview which somehow I managed to organise).

In short, it was a mammoth journey and the start of my new journey as a documentary filmmaker.

That mammoth journey resulted in an incredible de-cluttering in my life – of possessions like furniture, clothing, jewellery, but also of thoughts and attitude. I think a lot of that was the result of dabbling a little with the wonderful insights of buddhist philosophy. It’s true I reached a point where I had to sell furniture, clothing and jewellery to continue the project but that was also the most sensational part of that entire journey. Being made to get rid of things. And realising just how many things I had. It was around that time that I began wearing jeans and black t-shirts – something simple and easy. The black t-shirt became my symbol of simplicity. And that simplicity became the fundamental underlying principle of my life.

It’s amazing what a black t-shirt can teach you.

UNDP, Women and Climate Change Adaptation in the Solomon Islands

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Towards the end of last year, I was fortunate to be able to produce a series of documentary films demonstrating the impact of the UNDP’s SWoCK Project in the Solomon Islands.  Climate change and rising sea levels are having visible effects on the low lying Solomon Islands which spans a large number of islands in Oceania lying to the east of Papua New Guine and northwest of Vanuatu and covers a land area of 28,400 square kilometres.

The UNDP’s SWoCK Project, SWoCK stands for Strongem Waka lo Community of Kaikai – or Developing Resilience in Agriculture and Food Security, aims to support communities to better manage and adapt to climate change pressures and increase food security through community based adaptation.

One of the areas of the project’s focus was on Women and Climate Change Adaptation. On our visit to Tirotonna village (best known around the world by international bird watchers who come here) which was a 2 hour uphill hike but totally worth it once we reached the top, we spoke to some women who have been involved in this project and who shared their stories on camera.

By involving women, and giving them an important and clear role in the project, SWoCK will be able to strengthen ability of communities in Solomon Islands to make informed decisions and manage likely climate change driven pressures on food production and management systems, particularly as women play such a major role in food production, preparation and resourcing for families.

The SWoCK Project team were an absolute pleasure to work with and I was impressed to see their dedication to the project, as they would often work (including extensive travel across various provinces of the Solomon Islands) far in excess of ordinary working hours.

It was great to be a part of, and see, the impact that a community based project like SWoCK has had. Photo: Freda Po’oti from Tirotonna Village and women’s advocate from Tirotonna Community.

How Drones can Help NGOs and Development Organisations

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In the middle of last year, I bought a drone – an incredible flying, manoeuvrable camera that can record exciting visual footage as well as provide historical records and visual data.  I used it in the Solomon Islands for an assignment I was working on for UNDP as well as in Malaysia and the Philippines for an independent documentary I’m currently developing with US photojournalist James Whitlow-Delano.

Aerial footage can not only provide exciting visual opportunities in documentary film-making but also a before and after record of the impacts of climate change, environment and location changes and much more.

The drone has become a must in all of my work for NGOs and Development/Humanitarian and Aid Organisations around the world and offers a very cost effective and lightweight option to record aerial footage that not only adds an exciting dimension to my filmmaking but also an essential visual record for organisations who measure their impact.

The drone I’ve flown and used to film with most recently has also provided a great point of connection with the local people, an exciting opportunity for people to see something new and unusual and I love showing the results of the footage as children and adults scramble around to catch a view on the monitor. It also provides them with a unique chance to see their homes and surrounds from a perspective they’ve not yet seen before.

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The above image was taken in Malaysia where James Whitlow-Delano and myself spent some time with the Indigenous Batek people who are now living on the fringes of the rainforest.

Film, MDGs and SDGs go hand in hand but it’s time to plan.

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With the UN member states pondering on the set of proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the UN Summit in September, there’s never been a better time for organisations to consider the importance of using film to demonstrate the impact they plan to and will make in the future in reaching these goals. It’s even more important for organisations to begin planning how it can best be done.

Of course, film can also be used to effectively demonstrate the achievements of the Millenium Development Goals and can provide a lasting legacy to an organisations successes and impacts.

In the Rio+20 outcome document, member States agreed that sustainable development goals (SDGs) must be (amongst other goals) easy to communicate.

Using film to communicate how your organization has achieved MDGs or how it plans to achieve the new SDGs can be an incredibly powerful medium that allows you to reach wide audiences. There are many ways this can be done via social media, Video On Demand, film festivals, broadcast, community screenings and more.

With September fast approaching, it’s the perfect time now for organisations to start thinking about how they can best demonstrate their past achievement of MDG’s and how they can demonstrate the new SDGs incorporating documentary film production in this process. It’s also important to think about how to make this cost effective.

One of the most important components in filmmaking is the pre-production process. For organisations considering demonstrating their impact through film, early planning and development, particularly now as we end the MDG phase and begin a new phase with the proposed SDGs, is important both in the overall communications planning process and in the more micro-level filmmaking process.

Films (and other visual media such as photography) can work as stand alone components or as part of a larger platform (such as an interactive documentary) that builds upon demonstrating impacts and successes in a chronological (or other) format. So planning how this should look, where it can be seen and how it can best achieve your needs, is critical.

At Think Films, we’re committed to working with NGOs, Aid and Development Organisations helping them to demonstrate their impact through quality and cost effective film and photography and in exploring ways in which audiences can be reached.