Screen Australia announces $2.3 million towards 10 documentaries

Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach. (Image: Sandy Scheltema. Courtesy of Wash My Soul Productions)

A trio of music icons and a legendary racehorse are among the subjects of 10 projects to receive $2.3 million in documentary production funding from Screen Australia.

Of the those earmarked for funding, eight will be supported through the Producer Program, and two through the Commissioned Program.

They include feature documentaries about John Farnham, Ruby Hunter, and Archie Roach, as well as racehorse WINX.

There is also a follow-up to the 2016 documentary Embrace, entitled Embrace Kids.

Screen Australia head of documentary Alex West said an “impressive mix” of projects had rounded out the agency’s documentary funding for 2019/20.

“It’s great to support so many feature documentaries covering a range of exciting topics, including shining a light on a number of Australian icons, and I’m confident they will captivate audiences,” he said.

The Commissioned Program projects are:

  • Nurses: A 10-part series from ITV Studios Australia for the Seven Network about the nurses in NSW. With privileged access to three of Sydney’s busiest hospitals, this documentary will shine a light on the diverse workforce and the life-or-death decisions they make every day. Director/producer Lisa Storer (Medicine or Myth?) is joined by producer Lexi Landsman and executive producers Ben Ulm and Steve Bibb.
  • Outback Ringer series 2: A seven-part series from Ronde Media for the ABC about the families that risk their lives catching feral bulls and buffalo in the Australian Outback. Returning for series two are series producer Liam Taylor, series director (field) Tom Lawrence, producer Jess Brown and executive producer Ben Davies. They are joined by producer Cian McCue. This project has received production investment from the ABC.

The Producer Program projects are:

  • Embrace Kids: A feature documentary from filmmaker and activist Taryn Brumfitt, following on from her breakout documentary Embrace which explored the global issue of negative body image. Written, directed and produced by Brumfitt, this film will focus on why 70 per cent of Australian school kids consider body image to be their number one concern, and what can be done about it. The creative team includes producers Anna Vincent and Bonnie McBride and the executive producers are comedian Celeste Barber, actor Teresa Palmer and Natasha Stott Despoja, Australia’s former Ambassador for Women and Girls. This project is financed with support from the South Australian Film Corporation and is being distributed in ANZ by Transmission Films.
  • Gloriavale: A feature documentary about the infamous Gloriavale Christian Community and the institutional failures that have allowed one of the world’s biggest and longest running cults to continue. Told through the personal journey of a man fighting to save his family, the film follows a group of unlikely heroes as they interrogate accusations of abuse and modern day slavery within this isolated community. Gloriavale is written, directed and produced by Noel Smyth and Fergus Grady who previously collaborated on Camino Skies. The executive producers are Kim Ingles and Richard Fletcher.
  • Ithaka: A feature documentary that follows Julian Assange’s father John Shipton as he teams up with Assange’s fiancé and legal advisor, Stella Moris to fight to free his son. Directed by Ben Lawrence, whose 2018 documentary Ghosthunter won Best Documentary at Sydney Film Festival, this film is produced by Assange’s half-brother Gabriel Shipton along with Moris’s brother Adrian Devant. This project is financed with support from Film Victoria and will premiere at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival.
  • John Farnham – Finding the Voice: A feature documentary about John Farnham’s life and career, his journey to find an artistic voice and become one of Australia’s most beloved performers. This project is the feature debut from director Poppy Stockell, who teams up with producer Olivia Hoopmann and executive producer Martin Fabinyi and writer/executive producer Paul Clarke whose credits together include Blood + Thunder– The Story of Alberts, and Whitlam: The Power and the Passion. This project is supported by the ABC and Sony Pictures. 
  • Knowing the Score: A feature documentary from Serendipity Productions centred on trailblazer Simone Young, the first woman to be chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in its 90-year history. Getting up close and personal with Young, this documentary also explores gender parity in the classical music industry and the impact of COVID-19 on the arts more broadly. The creative team features writer/director Janine Hosking, director Simon Target, producer Margaret Bryant and executive producer Jonathan Page. This project is supported by Autlook Distribution, Bonsai Films, the ABC, Arte, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and philanthropy via Documentary Australia Foundation.
  • The Giants: A feature documentary that paints a cinematic portrait of environmentalist Bob Brown intertwined with the Forest. This film draws on emerging science about trees and Brown’s life of activism to inspire a new chapter in our relationship with trees. The creative team features General Strike director/producer Laurence Billiet and executive producer Helen Panckhurst of Matchbox Pictures, who previously collaborated on FREEMAN. This project is developed with assistance from Film Victoria and financed with support from Madman Entertainment and philanthropy via Documentary Australia Foundation.
  • Wash My Soul In The River’s Flow: A feature documentary about the lives and love story of musicians Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach, as told by their own songs in a cinematic reinvention of their 2004 Helpmann Award-winning concert Kura Tungar: Songs from the River – a collaboration with Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra. This film will explore Hunter’s connection to country and the joy of coming home. Roach is a producer and the film is written and directed by Philippa Bateman. The creative team also includes producer Kate Hodges and executive producers Emma Donovan, who has toured with Roach and Hunter, and Ian Darling. This project is financed with support from the Shark Island Institute, philanthropic donations and Screen NSW.
  • WINX: A feature documentary that tells the story of the bay filly from Lot 329 who went on to be crowned the best race horse in the world. Writer, director and producer Janine Hosking teams up with writer Andrew Rule (author of WINX: The Authorised BiographyUnderbelly) and producer Katrina McGowan. This project will be distributed by Transmission.

From this month, documentary projects that have a primary release on a social media platform are able to apply for funding via Screen Australia’s Online Production fund. Applicants with documentary projects designed for release on other platforms, including on SVOD services, should continue to apply through the documentary funding programs. More information is available here.