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Using Film to Shine the Light

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Our short documentary “Little Bang’s New Eye” recently won two international awards and will be screening shortly at the Indy Film Festival in Indiana, USA.

Yesterday evening, Channel 7 broadcast a story on the film and the organisation our film is helping to shine a light on – Sight For All. Sight For All is an Adelaide based non-profit providing specialised eye care in developing countries around the world. By training local doctors to undertake specialised procedures, their philosophy of collaboration is one we really get behind.

This is why we do what we do and why we love it !

What Drives Me and How It Helps You

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I love stories. Stories that can inspire and educate and motivate.

When I made my first feature documentary I chose a subject that wasn’t the easiest – but, for me, it was a subject I wanted to shine an international spotlight on. The subject was Tibet. Not from the point of view of the splendour and beauty of its countryside and landscape, nor from the point of view of it’s national religion and the depth of the principles of Buddhism or the colour and richness of the visual narrative. My story was about the debate between the Dalai Lama’s political Middle Way Approach and those of the Independence activists. Who is right. Who can win. What does the future hold ? An interesting and cyclical complex debate.

Since making and releasing that documentary on international television, the one thing that has driven me forward is my belief in the power of visual stories to communicate and educate, to motivate and inspire, to create debate and change.

Since then, I look for stories that can help organisations demonstrate their impact but that also have a social message. Most recently, my short film “Little Bang’s New Eye” – about a young girl from Vietnam and her journey with retinoblastoma, a form of childhood eye cancer, made for Sight For All, demonstrates the work and impact that organisation is having in eye health care in developing countries. (The film has recently won two awards and will be screened at it’s first international film festival later this month). And more than that – it also allows those of us in the developed world a unique insight into life for those who are faced with the sorts of challenges that many of us are not exposed to. I think it’s a great reminder about appreciating what we have and understanding what others go through.

I’m driven to tell these types of stories and it’s this drive that I bring to my work which I believe creates a unique opportunity to help you tell your stories in the a way that multiplies your impact and helps you reach your audiences in a genuine and heartfelt way.

This is why I do what I do

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Image above: Little Bang from northern Vietnam – whose journey with eye cancer I follow in my short documentary “Little Bang’s New Eye”.

I realised a few years ago I’m lucky I discovered I have a passion. It may have been realised a little later in life but when it happened, it happened with a bang! (no pun intended in relation to the title of my film:)

I remember the day I decided I would give up my corporate career to become a documentary filmmaker. It was the end of 2006 and I wanted to make a documentary about Tibet for release just before the upcoming Beijing Olympics. I wanted to (and I did) use that documentary to help shed light on the Tibetan struggle since Chinese occupation in 1949.

That passion has continued and has been a solid part of my filmmaking work since.

Last week, I had the first public screening of my short documentary “Little Bang’s New Eye” to a packed theatre as part of a film fundraiser to help raise funds for essential equipment for Sight For All who work in developing countries delivering eye health care. My short film follows the story of a little Hmong girl from Northern Vietnam and her journey with retinoblastoma – a deadly form of eye cancer. Within that story, is another story of how the life of Bang and her older sister Vang, were likely saved because of the work of Sight For All.

This film was a labour of love. I offered my time and resources over two filming trips in 2016 and 2017. Those trips were made possible with the support of Sight For All. A week after returning home having completed the first filming trip in 2016, I was diagnosed with a back injury and was unable to work for a couple of months. Fortunately, this improved and in 2017 I was able to return for a second filming trip.

After a screening last Sunday to a packed theatre as part of a film fundraiser, “Little Bang’s New Eye” is now being entered into a number of international film festivals. The hope is that audiences around the world will have a chance to learn about life for some children (and their families) in developing countries, the work of organisations like Sight For All and the chance to be grateful for the health care we have.

This is why I love documentary films. They can educate and inspire and motivate. They give us the opportunity to learn and discover and sometimes just to appreciate what we have.

This is why I do what I do.

If you’d like to support the work of Sight For all, you can donate to their 2017 Christmas Appeal here https://sightforall.org/donate

Impact and Evaluation Videos – how decision makers and stakeholders can see what’s happening on the ground.

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I was recently in Cambodia on assignment for CUFA. CUFA is an international development agency whose aim is to combat poverty across the Asia-Pacific region. Their core programs have a focus on “economic, education, enterprise and employment activities, all of which enable people to lift themselves out of poverty and strengthen communities”.

It wasn’t the first time I’d worked with CUFA and again, I saw firsthand the real results they’re achieving with their excellent approach.

The assignment involved interviewing a number of Cambodians from Poipet and Phnom Penh who had been resettled as part of an ADB resettlement program. People spoke to us openly about their challenges and difficulties but also about the positive aspects of their resettlement. I found it fascinating to hear people’s perspectives and it really made me think about all the social and logistical challenges that appear when resettling hundreds of people.

The final video will provide an evaluation tool demonstrating the impact of the resettlement project from the perspective of the people directly involved.

And this is why I love using video to demonstrate impact and evaluation. It’s engaging, it’s about creating connections through personal stories and it provides the people making decisions with a point of view and possibly a new understanding many of them would probably rarely get to experience.

Above image:  One of the community members who spoke to camera about her experiences with the resettlement scheme.

Animation. Art. Alyawarr Stories. Working with some amazing women from central Australia on my current project.

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In October last year, I spent time with a handful of talented women artists from the remote community of Ampilatwatja in central Australia. I’ve been going to Ampilatwatja since 2010 when I made my first trip out there to start work on an independent documentary about Alyawarr elder Banjo Morton and the walk off he was involved in back in 1949. I discovered it was the first walk-off by Aboriginal stockmen in the Northern Territory. Banjo and a few other stockmen walked off from the Lake Nash Cattle Station where they were employed, demanding wages instead of rations.

This time, in 2016, I’m producing a series of short videos that show each of the artists working on a painting from start to finish that will incorporate animation. The animation is being produced by Karu-Karu studio.

Most of the artists paint Arreth, which translates to ‘strong bush medicine’, demonstrating a deep connection to country. For the Alyawarr people, their land has provided and sustained for generations. The paintings pay homage to the significance and use of traditional bush medicine, allowing an insight into their community. The Alyawarr people have lived in this part of Australia for hundreds of thousands of years.

As part of this project, we spent a day outside of the community where the women showed me a variety of bush medicine plants and explained their uses and which I filmed. I’m now cutting this into a 12 minute film which will be screened on Indigenous Community TV once complete.

I’m lucky to be able to work with these wonderful artists who have shared their stories and talent with my camera. I’m looking forward to finishing the video series and to showing them to the world !

To find out more about the artists from Ampilatwatja and their work, click here.

The above image shows artists Margaret Kemarre Ross (left) and Beverly Pula Luck who are two of the artists involved in the project.

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.

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.