First recipients announced for AFTRS Netflix Indigenous Scholarship Fund

From left are Dylan Marcus Nicholls, Samantha Alexis Laughton, and Nazareth Manar Alfred.

The first recipients of the Netflix Indigenous Scholarship Fund have been announced, with a trio of First Nations students to be supported in their screen studies at AFTRS.

Launched in 2021, the initiative comprises a $515,000 investment across two years from Netflix to offer longer-term assistance and short-term opportunities for practitioners in the screen and broadcast industry, particularly for those working below the line.

Nazareth Manar Alfred (Master of Arts Screen: Directing), Dylan Marcus Nicholls (Master of Arts Screen: Documentary), and Samantha Alexis Laughton (Master of Arts Screen: Business) will be helped with the full cost of course fees, plus a contribution towards travel, accommodation and living expenses.

Alfred is a Torres Strait Islander who grew up in Queensland and has written and directed her own short films while completing her Bachelor of Arts Screen: Production at AFTRS, including Pills & Powder Milk, which is currently screening on SBS OnDemand.

She said support from the find could only bring her closer to reaching her full potential.

The Netflix scholarship means a lot to me,” she said.

“It enables opportunities such as acquiring resources and attending conferences, workshops, and master classes to expand my skills and knowledge to be an effective director.

Nicholls, a Yuwaalaraay man who served as a practicing psychologist while working as a videographer and making his own short documentary films, described receiving the scholarship as “unreal”.

“I was quite a creative kid growing up, telling stories, drawing, and making short films,” he said.

“But after graduating high school, I didn’t have the confidence to pursue anything creative as a career. Instead, I followed a more conventional path, training in the health professions to become a psychologist. I found psychology fascinating, but deep down, all I ever wanted to be was a filmmaker.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to study at AFTRS. To study at the same film school as great First Nations filmmakers like Ivan Sen and Warwick Thornton means so much to me. Without this scholarship, it wouldn’t have been possible to move from Brisbane to Sydney. I’m looking forward to starting there this year, to be in a creative environment where I can make new connections and develop my skills and craft as a storyteller.”

Rounding out the trio is Laughton, a filmmaker with Honey Ant Productions, whose credits include 3rd assistant director and VFX Coordinator on Jon Bell’s The Moogai, VFX coordinator on Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy and Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel, and 3rd assistant director on television crime-drama series True Colours.

Having previously been shortlisted for the SBS Emerging Writers Incubator, AACTA/AFI Pitch: Regional Landscapes, and the Sundance Merata Mita Fellowship, the Screen Australia Gender Matters Taskforce representative paid tribute to Netflix for supporting her next steps forward.

“As an emerging Eastern Arrernte filmmaker who comes from an artistic family of poets, novelists, and visual artists, receiving the Netflix Scholarship to study a Masters of Arts Screen: Business at this breakout point in my career as a screenwriter and the creative producer is an invaluable opportunity to enhance my skill set at the business and financial end of the film industry to further solidify the long-term film career that I have envisioned over the past decade,” she said.

The scholarships’ selection panel was chaired by AFTRS Council member Tanya Hosch and included representatives from AFTRS, Netflix, Screen West, and Create Victoria as well as community advisors.

AFTRS director of First Nations and outreach, Dr Romaine Moreton said the scholarship fund presented a further opportunity for the institution to further support First Nations media makers in cultivating expertise in their selected discipline.

“The scholarship fund as framed by AFTRS First Nations Strategic Plan recognises the important role community plays in the personal, familial, cultural, and professional lives of First Nations students,” she said.

“The fund also gave us scope to centre First Nations values in the designing of pathways into industry; be they local, national, and international.”