Screen Australia announces $2.7 million for nine documentaries

The Wiggles.

A film tracking the 30-year journey of children’s band The Wiggles and another celebrating the life of late music executive Michael Gudinski are among the nine projects to share in more than $2.7 million of documentary funding from Screen Australia.

The agency will support five titles through the Documentary Producer Program, two through the Documentary Commissioned Program, one through the First Nations Department, and one through the Online Production Fund.

They include the currently untitled Wiggles project that will be an Australian/New Zealand co-production between SAM Content’s Sally Aitken and Aline Jacques, Augusto Entertainment’s Cass Avery and Daniel Story, and Frog Productions’ Fraser Grut; and feature documentary Gudinski from director/co-writer Paul Goldman, co-writer Toby Creswell, and producer Bethany Jones.

There is also Dena Curtis and Darren Dale’s First Weapons, which showcases the inherent science and knowledge behind some of the world’s oldest, most innovative and deadliest weapons used by First Australians; and Finding Yeezus, an online documentary to be released on Aunty Donna’s secondary YouTube channel Grouse House that investigates a cult internet religion.

Screen Australia head of documentary Alex West said the upcoming productions had a broad thematic range.

 “We’re proud to announce such a diverse slate of projects that will explore stories of human resilience, challenging prejudice and the lives of some of Australia’s biggest music icons,” he said.

“Screen Australia is also very excited to prioritise history projects like Her Name is Nannie Nellie and First Weapons that will focus on Indigenous achievements told by First Nations people.” 

Screen Australia head of First Nations Angela Bates said her department was pleased to be able to support Curtis and Dale in their historical exploration.

“Dena Curtis and Darren Dale have a strong track record in realising documentary series of this scale and we’re thrilled to support them in bringing Curtis’ original and distinct concept to fruition in First Weapons in what will be an unparalleled examination into a part of First Nations history,” she said.

Head of online Lee Naimo said his department was similarly excited to be able to assist with Finding Yeezus.

“Comedians Cameron James and Alexei Toliopoulos have already had incredible success with their investigative mystery podcasts Finding Drago and Finding Desperado,” he said.

“Now teaming up with Aunty Donna’s Haven’t You Done Well Productions, we’re delighted to see them bring their expertise and comedy skills to the screen for Finding Yeezus in what promises to be an enticing and entertaining documentary for an online audience.”

As of February 21, the guidelines for the Documentary Producer Program have been streamlined to become a single rather than two-stage process. All production funding decision outcomes will now be confirmed at stage 1 and unless further specific information is requested to make an assessment, projects will no longer require a further stage.

‘Fighting for Hakeem’.

Project funded through the First Nations Department:

First Weapons: First Nations filmmakers Dena Curtis and Blackfella Films’ Darren Dale have partnered to bring Curtis’ original idea to the screen in this six-part series for the ABC. First Weapons showcases the inherent science and knowledge behind some of the world’s oldest, most innovative and deadliest weapons used by First Australians for thousands of years. Presented by Philip Breslin, each episode will examine, recreate and test traditional Indigenous weapons. Complementing the producing team is director Dean Gibson and Jacob Hickey as executive producer and writer. The project will be distributed through ABC Commercial.

Producer Program Projects:

Fighting for Hakeem (working title): A feature documentary from writer/director Matthew Bate about refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi and the global campaign that fought to free him from prison. It tells the true story of how former Australian football captain Craig Foster and a ragtag team of social media warriors challenged two monarchies, a military junta, and the sporting body FIFA to rescue Hakeem. Produced by Sweetshop & Green’s Gal Greenspan and executive produced by Closer Productions’ Rebecca Summerton, this project is financed with the support of VicScreen and the South Australian Film Corporation.

The Wolves Always Come At Night: A feature documentary that explores the journey of Mongolian nomadic families who are displaced from their life as herders and forced to migrate. The film depicts a story of urbanisation and climate change. Director Gabrielle Brady of award-winning Island of the Hungry Ghosts is working with creative teams in Germany, Mongolia, and Australia on this hybrid project. Producers are Julia Niethammer, Ariunaa Tserenpil, and Rita Walsh.

Gudinski: This feature documentary is the story of music pioneer, the late Michael Gudinski, who transformed the business on the back of his determination to let Australian music find its own voice. This project follows the real-life events of Gudinski’s life spanning a 50-year period, from starting his own independent record company to becoming a major international player and household name in Australia – a rollercoaster ride of iconic artists, classic albums, and mega tours. Helmed by a highly experienced team in director/co-writer Paul Goldman, co-writer and former editor of Rolling Stone Toby Creswell, and producer Bethany Jones.

Her Name is Nanny Nellie: In this documentary for NITV, writer-director and Yuin/Awabakal man Daniel King documents his mother’s journey to restore and recover a trio of nameless statues buried in the archives of the Australian Museum to honour her ancestors and reclaim their life stories. Alongside producer Ben Pederick and executive producer Charlotte Seymour, King will take a hybrid observational and investigative approach as he retells Indigenous stories through Indigenous eyes, rewriting how Aboriginal people are represented in Australia’s public. Her Name is Nanny Nellie has also received production funding from The Post Lounge.

The Untitled Wiggles Project: Four music mates decided to don yellow, red, blue and purple skivvies and make rock ‘n’ roll for children. The improbable story of iconic Australian band, The Wiggles, is a global feature film and Australia/New Zealand co-production between SAM Content’s Sally Aitken and Aline Jacques, Augusto Entertainment’s Cass Avery and Daniel Story, and Frog Productions’ Fraser Grut. The Untitled Wiggles Project explores the band’s improbable origins, meteoric global rise, and reinventions in a story about authenticity, inculcating self-belief, love, and trust in what you do. Madman Entertainment will distribute the feature documentary with Arclight handling International Sales.

Commissioned Program Projects:

Me and My Tourette’s: Around one in every hundred Australians are diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), a condition that has no cure and is so little understood, even by medical science. Me and My Tourette’s is an observational documentary for SBS’s Australia Uncovered strand that follows three people with TS as they challenge society’s prejudices and strive toward acceptance. This project is produced and directed by Lisa Dupenois alongside executive producers of Joined Up Films, Jacqueline Willinge and Daniel Brown, whose most recent projects include The Truth About Anxiety with Celia Pacquola and What Does Australia Really Think About…. The project is financed with support from Screenwest and Lotterywest.

The School (working title): Created by the team behind The Mosque Next Door, this three-part series for SBS will follow the leader of one of Australia’s fastest-growing Islamic schools as he embarks on a bold new social experiment: a pilot program for students and their families that aims to break down the barriers between communities and breach the fault lines of modern multicultural Australia. Queensland executive producer Ross Wilson will team up with producer Dylan Chown. The School is financed in association with SBS, with support from Screen Queensland.

Project funded through Online Department:

Finding Yeezus: Comedians, pop culture detectives, and writers/producers Cameron James and Alexei Toliopoulos will embark on an all-new investigation into a world of re-imagined realities, hip hop heads, new age cults, and the very nature of belief, all through the lens of a barely remembered online video game. Aunty Donna’s Max Miller will direct alongside writer Sophie Braham, producer Rebecca Metcalf, and story consultant Anna Broinowski. The series will be released on Aunty Donna’s secondary YouTube channel Grouse House.