David Bradbury: The plight of the documentary filmmaker

‘America and Me.’

After a career spanning nearly 40 years as one of Australia’s foremost and highly decorated documentary filmmakers, David Bradbury is in a bind.

The founder of Frontline Films, he borrowed money and maxed out his credit cards to fund his latest feature doc, America and Me, a searing indictment of President Trump’s America.

Now he is arranging theatrical screenings around Australia to try to recoup his costs and to continue his passion for social activist filmmaking.

“My partner and I wake up each day wondering how we can pay the phone bill and rates on our land,” Bradbury, who owns a property in Mullumbimby in northern NSW, tells IF. “We are getting further in debt. I’m stuck in a bind.”

The filmmaker who won five Australian Film Institute awards is unhappy that his pitches for funding have been rejected by Screen Australia, the ABC and SBS.

The Crater, his 2014 account of Vietnam War veteran Brian Cleaver’s redemptive journey to find the missing bodies of 42 enemy soldiers killed by Cleaver’s company in one night, was the last project backed by Screen Australia and the ABC, together with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

He’s been turned down so often by the public broadcasters he has given up approaching them — and he was dismayed when Screen Australia declined to fund the development of a deeply personal film he wanted to make about his son, who has mental health issues.

Operating as a one-man band, Bradbury started filming America and Me in eight US cities three months before Trump was elected. He was filming a protest by Native Americans at the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock when America woke to the news.

He continued filming as private security guards unleashed dogs on to the peaceful protestors and sprayed mace at point blank range.

Among many interviews he talked to American war veterans; a nun who alleges she was violated by the military junta in Guatemala under the directions of a CIA operative; and the homeless to find out what life is like on the streets.

He approached Netflix, Amazon Video and HBO in hopes they would screen the documentary and was knocked back.

He staged the premiere in his home town of Mullumbimby, which was hosted by Kerry O’Brien and drew 200 people. The film screened at Hobart’s State Cinema on Thursday night and has bookings at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova on March 16, the Canberra ANU Food Co-op on  March 29 and the Riverside cinema in Parramatta on April 30.

His 1979 debut film Frontline, which profiled Neil Davis, the war cinematographer and correspondent who covered the Vietnam war for 11 years, was nominated for an Academy Award for best feature documentary.

So was Chile: Hasta Cuando (1986), which traced the 12 years of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, whose forces seized power in a bloody, US-backed coup that left Marxist president Salvador Allende dead.

His films A Hard Rain and Blowin’ in the Wind  both explored the impact of ‘depleted’ uranium in the Gulf War.

Bradbury launched the Frontline Film Foundation to raise donations to help filmmakers make consciousness-raising films, backed by a large number of patrons including David Williamson, Father Frank Brennan, Judy Davis, Max Gillies, Peter Garrett, Phillip Adams, Paul Kelly and Thomas Keneally.

The DVD of America and Me is available on Frontline Films’ website for $25. He is now shooting a sequel, Winter in America is Cold…, to chronicle ‘how great’ the country is on the anniversary of the first year of the Trump administration.