Mitchell Stanley and co-collaborators rework Indigenous anthology

(L-R) Jack Steele, Warwick Thornton and Mitchell Stanley (Photo credit: John Paille).

The Indigenous creative teams in Australia and New Zealand were developing the anthology feature Cook 2020: Our Right of Reply when they decided the basic premise wasn’t right.

When Screen Australia’s Indigenous department and the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) agreed to fund the project last year the intention was for each of the eight teams to provide an Indigenous perspective on the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s maiden voyage to the Pacific.

“We have scrapped that idea. The film will touch on survival and colonisation but it doesn’t refer directly back to Cook,” says Mitchell Stanley, who is co-producing with his No Coincidence Media partner Toni Stowers and Mia Henry-Tierney (Baby Mama’s Club).

“The consensus from all the writing teams was that we want to tell stories about us, we don’t want to focus on the British Empire or colonisation. That’s not what we are.”

Each chapter is interwoven with genealogy, events and themes and will have its own protagonist, dealing with such subjects as family kinship, the ties that bind communities and the resilience of Indigenous people and their culture.

Some characters find love, others defy their family in the interest of defending their tribe against colonisation or enter a dystopian future with a young girl navigating through a dangerous marketplace.

The Aussie-based teams comprise Beck Cole and Samuel Paynter; Dena Curtis; Danielle MacLean, producer Anna Grieve and animator Huni Bolliger; and Tracey Rigney.

The Kiwi contingent consists of Mario Gaoa and Miki Magasiva; Renae Maihi; Richard Curtis and Tim Worrall; and Tiraroa Debra Reweti and Chantelle Burgoyne.

The aim is to start filming in late September/early October, depending when travel restrictions are lifted. Curtis and Cole will shoot their chapters in Alice Springs and MacLean and Rigney’s will happen in Melbourne.

Briar Grace-Smith is the script editor. David Jowsey’s Dark Matters will distribute theatrically in Australia. No international sales agent is aboard yet.

In a MediaRing webinar with NITV’s Lowanna Grant this week, the producer said this is an exciting time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander screen practitioners, observing: “What was once considered niche is now considered popular.

“There is nothing more satisfying than seeing our mob and our stories on screen. We come from a people who have often been ignored in Australia.”

Last year No Coincidence Media produced two shorts funded by Screen Australia’s Short Blacks initiative.

Written and directed by Jack Steele and photographed by Warwick Thornton, Between Two Lines followed two WWI enemy soldiers who become stranded in No Man’s land and form an unlikely bond.

Hunter Page-Lochard and Carter Fred Simpkin (son of Bunya Productions’ Greer Simpkin) wrote, produced and directed Closed Doors.

The psychological thriller centres on a paranoid young couple (Rhimi Johnson Page, Tasia Zalar) who discover their infant daughter is missing after their car crashes in the bush. Wayne Blair and Tessa Rose play the young woman’s parents. Both will screen on the ABC.

Stanley teamed up again with Thornton and fellow producers Michelle Parker and Tanith Glynn-Maloney on The Beach, the six-part series which premiered on NITV, SBS and SBS On Demand last Friday.

‘Closed Door’ co-directors Hunter Page-Lochard and Carter Simpkin with DOP Tim Nagel (Photo: Joseph Mayers).

Stanley and Stowers’ development slate includes Ruby Moonlight, a drama which Beck Cole is adapting from the book of poetry by Ali Cobby Eckerman.

A co-production with Robert Connolly’s Arenamedia, it will follow the survivor of a massacre in mid-north South Australia in the 1880s who shelters in the woods where she befriends an Irish trapper.

Screen Australia is funding the story development of The Nursery, a TV series about lifelong friends Betty, Judy, Rose and Arthur who live in a nursing home and are determined to regain their freedom with weekly escapades which lead to the spreading of STI’s, lockdowns and trips to the emergency room.

Dena Curtis is writing the bible with Jodie Molloy as story producer. Molloy is also story producing The Force, an eight-part comedy about two crazy paramedics in a small Queensland town who are stuck working with cops and firemen in the same building.

No Coincidence Media came up with the concept, Screen Australia and Screen Queensland are co-funding development and Dena Curtis wrote the pilot. Also attached are Beck Cole, Rachel House, Shari Sebbens and Steven Oliver.

Causeway Films’ Kristina Ceyton and Samantha Jennings and Stanley produced writer-director Jon Bell’s proof-of-concept short The Moogai with hopes of turning it into a feature.

The horror/thriller centres on a family terrorised by a child-stealing spirit.