Penny Smallacombe to join Bunya

Sophia Zachariou, David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin and Penny Smallacombe. (Photo: Patrick Stevenson)

Outgoing Screen Australia head of First Nations Penny Smallacombe is set to join Bunya Media Group as a producer.

Smallacombe will produce a number of the company’s upcoming projects, including SBS drama series Copping It Black, working with directors Erica Glynn and Steven McGregor, who both penned the script with Danielle Maclean.

While at Screen Australia, Smallacombe helped shepherd to screen several Bunya Productions projects, including ABC series Mystery Road, Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country and Ivan Sen’s Goldstone, as well as helping to facilitate Bunya Talent Hub LA.

Smallacombe, a Maramanindji woman from the Northern Territory, tells IF she has loved Bunya’s “big, bold” output over the past few years, and considers it a privilege to join the team. She is keen to use her new role to continue to bring authentic First Nations stories to screen, particularly from exciting new talent.

“They’re a trusted company for many First Nations creators. They work with some of the best, from the Warwick Thorntons, the Steven McGregors, the Erica Glynns. I want to be a part of those productions and work with these dynamic filmmakers, and also usher in a whole new group of First Nations filmmakers that I’ve supported over the years.”

Other projects Smallacombe supported during her six and a half year tenure at Screen Australia include Total Control, Little J and Big Cuz, Grace Beside Me, We Don’t Need a Map, Maralinga Tjarutja, Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky and She Who Must Be Loved. She also oversaw numerous initiatives, including Songlines on Screen, Pitch Black Shorts, Shock Treatment, State of Alarm, [Black Space] and the Producers Initiative.

IF wrote of her decision to depart Screen Australia in March; her last day is June 1. Prior to joining the agency, she worked as senior programmer at NITV. Her background is in producing, with credits including A Change of Heart, The Forgotten Ones, Message Sticks and Yarning Up.

Production will begin on SBS’s Copping It Black next month in the Northern Territory.

The series has been supported by Screen Australia’s First Nations department, with Smallacombe actually attending an early writers room at CAAMA in Alice Springs when she first started at the agency.

“It’s going to be a real pleasure [to produce], because I got to see Copping It Black from when it was a small concept into what it has become now, and hopefully, what it will be, which is just a beautiful series with really authentic characters.

“It will also showcase the Arrernte language throughout the series as well, which is something that I’m super excited about, because we don’t have nearly enough Aboriginal content in language.”

The crime drama follows detective Toni Alma, assigned to investigate a suspicious car accident in Perdar Theendar, the Indigenous community she left as a child and has had little to do with over the years.

Clues will lead back to her own family, leading to Toni to navigate her way between past and present, the complexities of the Indigenous art world and her own self-doubt.

Bunya also today officially launched its entertainment arm, aptly named Bunya Entertainment, following on from the announcement of Amazon commission The Moth Effect last week.

Bunya Entertainment is helmed by Sophia Zachariou as CEO alongside David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin.

The Moth Effect is a satirical six-part sketch comedy created by Nick Boshier (Bondi Hipsters) and Jazz Twemlow (Tonightly), with a star-studded roster that includes Bryan Brown, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Ben Lawson, Jonny Brugh, Peter O’Brien, Kate Box, Sam Cotton, Christiaan van Vuuren, Sarah Bishop, Nazeem Hussain, David Woodhead and Zoë Coombs Marr.

Bunya Entertainment has series in development with Netflix, Foxtel, Amazon and 10, as well as partnerships with Sydney Theatre Company and Lynette Wallworth.

Its development slate includes adaptations of Ladies in Black, with Greg Waters, Sarah Bassiuoni, Joan Sauers, Sue Milliken and Allanah Zitserman; City of Gold, with Meyne Wyatt; Things Without A Name, with Shelley Birse, Suzie Miller and Joanne Fedler; and Ghosthunter with Ben Lawrence, Rebecca Bennett and Beatrix Christian.

Bunya Productions will continue to be run by co-managing directors Jowsey and Simpkin. On its slate are several feature films, as well as Copping It Black.

In October, Roadshow will release Leah Purcell’s The Drovers Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson, produced by Bunya in partnership with Oombarra Productions. Later this year, via its distribution arm, Dark Matter Distribution, Bunya will also release Ivan Sen’s feature film Loveland starring Ryan Kwanten, Jillian Nguyen and Hugo Weaving.

Jowsey said: “We are delighted that Penny Smallacombe will be joining us at Bunya Productions as producer, firstly working with Greer and me on the SBS series Copping It Black. Penny is a terrific creative, with a great eye for story. We will relish working alongside her on our television and feature projects.

“We are also very excited about the incredibly strong television drama and comedy slate that Sophia Zachariou, along with the team, has developed, with Amazon Prime Originals sketch comedy series The Moth Effect being the first cab off the rank. Sophia’s strength in the comedy and entertainment areas, in particular, has helped enormously in developing a broader range of stories and we are thrilled to be able to launch Bunya Entertainment with such a strong slate.”