Screen Australia announces $3.7 million for 13 documentaries

Harley Windsor and Katya Alexandrovskaya.

Screen Australia has unveiled 13 titles that will share in $3.7 million of production funding, with six documentaries to be supported through the Producer Program and seven projects via the Commissioned Program.

They include a feature documentary from Stranger Than Fiction that follows an Indigenous figure skater from Western Sydney, Harley Windsor, on his quest to compete in the Winter Olympics; a series going inside the Sydney Opera House for the ABC; and a feature documentary about a grandmother with dementia who became an internet sensation in Everybody’s Oma.

Screen Australia head of documentary Alex West said the documentaries were a testament to the talented filmmakers creating local stories with great impact.

“These projects will explore contemporary social issues including how First Nations artist Richard Bell’s work uses art to effect change in War & Order, as well as the complexities of teen parenting in Kids Raising Kids,” he said.

“They are also set to celebrate Australian icons like the Sydney Opera House and the Tasmanian Tiger, and I look forward to seeing them hit our big and small screens.”

The Producer Program projects are:

  • Everybody’s Oma: A feature documentary from director/producer Jason van Genderen, who makes home videos about his ageing mother ‘Oma’ who is living with dementia. Quite accidentally, Jason turns Oma into an internet sensation, creating a love fuelled battle for identity that played out in front of 100 million people. The film charts the family’s playful, moving and ultimately hopeful journey in the public spotlight and behind the scenes. Van Genderen is joined by producer Ros Walker, editor/co-director Gavin Banks, co-producer Olivia Olley and composer Angela Little. This project has been developed with support from Screen NSW and will be distributed by Bonsai Films.
  • Israel Folau (working title): A feature documentary about Australia’s most gifted and controversial athlete, and how a social media post landed him at the heart of culture wars, derailing campaigns and careers in the process. A homophobic bigot to some, a persecuted freedom warrior to others, this will be the first time Israel Folau’s story is examined in all its multilayered complexity. The creative team features director Nel Minchin, associate director Vanilla Tupu, and producer Ivan O’Mahoney of In Films. This project is developed with support from Screen NSW.
  • Harley & Katya: A feature documentary from Blayke Hoffman and Stranger Than Fiction about Indigenous Australian figure skater Harley Windsor, who was the poster boy for the Australian Winter Olympic Team. Paired with Russian skater Katya Alexandrovskaya, this unlikely duo achieved unprecedented success on the ice before meeting with great tragedy. This film follows Harley on a journey of triumph, loss and transformation. Writer/director Selina Miles teams up with producers Blayke Hoffman, Jo-anne McGowan and Aayliah-Jade Bradbury, and executive producer Jennifer Peedom. The project is supported by Screen NSW and will be distributed internationally by MGM/K2.
  • Tiger on the Rocks: A one-hour documentary about the Tasmanian Tiger which once roamed throughout Australia, leaving lasting connections with the land and its First Peoples. Featuring insights from Indigenous artists, rangers and custodians, biologists, bone hunters and archaeologists, this project explores the connection between human and animal, culture, nature and country. Tiger on the Rocks is written and directed by Cathryn Vasseleu and produced by Pat Fiske. It is financed with support from Screen Territory.
  • The Last Daughter: A feature documentary about Brenda Matthews, a Wiradjuri woman whose earliest memories are of growing up in a white foster family, until she was placed back with her biological family, leaving her feeling disconnected with both sides. Directed by Matthews, The Last Daughter follows her mission to uncover the truth of her past, find a deeper connection to her culture and her story, and ultimately reconcile the two sides of her family. The film is also directed by Nathaniel Schmidt and is produced by Simon Williams and Brendon Skinner who previously collaborated on short documentary. The executive producers are Kyle Slabb, Michael Tear and Taryn Brumfitt.
  • War & Order: A feature documentary about 50 years of First Nations activism in Australia, shown through the lens of contemporary Australian Aboriginal artist Richard Bell. Director Larissa Behrendt teams up with producers Charlotte Wheaton, Nick Batzias and Josh Milani. It will be executive produced by Richard Bell and Virginia Whitwell. Madman and NITV will be bringing War & Order to Australian audiences.

The Commissioned Program projects are:

  • The Family Court Murders (working title): A four-part series for Network 10 from Easy Tiger Productions in association with SAM Content which will examine the family court murders in 1980’s Sydney which resulted in several family court judges and their families being targeted by domestic terrorist attacks. This series will expose a chapter of Australian life that has frightening relevance today. Director/producer Sally Aitken teams up with producers Ian Collie, Rob Gibson, and Aline Jacques. This project is financed with support from Screen NSW and Fremantle International will manage international sales.
  • Inconceivable: A one-hour documentary for SBS’s Australia Uncovered strand, in which investigative journalist Sarah Dingle embarks on a deeply personal journey to uncover the truth about her origins, and in doing so exposes the secrets of a multi-million dollar fertility industry. In this emotional whodunnit, based on her book Brave New Humans: The Dirty Reality of Donor Conception, Dingle confronts questions around her identity within the ethical morass of donor conception. For SAM content, Inconceivable is directed and produced by Sally Aitken with producers Aline Jacques and Marianne Leitch, who is also writing. It is financed with support from Screen NSW.
  • Inside The Opera House: For the first time, cameras will go behind the scenes to reveal what it takes to run one of the world’s greatest performing arts centres, the Sydney Opera House, in this three-part documentary series for the ABC. Produced by Barking Mad Productions and Fremantle Australia, this project is executive produced by Steve Bibb and Chris Oliver-Taylor and is financed with support from Screen NSW. ABC Commercial holds worldwide distribution rights.
  • Keeping Hope: A one-hour documentary for NITV from Joined Up Films, exploring the hidden complexities of living in the magical Kimberley. The remote region renowned for its stunning tourist destinations has become a place with high rates of suicide among young Indigenous people, and in this documentary, actor Mark Coles Smith goes on a deeply personal journey to investigate why this is happening and what can be done about it. The creative team also features director Tyson Mowarin, producer Marlikka Perdrisat and executive producers Jacqueline Willinge and Dan Brown. This documentary is financed with support from Screenwest.
  • Kids Raising Kids: A one-hour documentary for SBS’s Australia Uncovered strand created by journalist and broadcaster Patrick Abboud’s production company Only Human. Gaining exclusive access inside Canberra College, a one-of-a-kind high school for teenage parents, the documentary explores the complex lives of its students who are also overcoming family trauma, abuse, drug dependency and constant setbacks while navigating a complex system. What unites them is a will to transform their lives – to get an education, to stay on the right side of the law, and be the best parents they can be. The creative team features director/writer/producer Patrick Abboud, producer Marie Maroun, executive producer Sally Aitken and associate producer Marta Jelec. The film is financed with support from Screen NSW and Screen Canberra.
  • The Eagle and the Ant (and Everything In Between): A three-part natural history series for the ABC that follows the flow of water across the continent to explore the incredible connectivity that links organisms and ecosystems, and makes life on earth possible. The creative team features writer/director Nick Robinson, writer/producer Peta Ayers and executive producer Electra Manikakis, who all previously collaborated on Australia’s Ocean Odyssey. This project is financed with support from Screen NSW.
  • Multicultural History Series (working title): A celebratory three-part series for SBS, featuring well-known personalities from different faiths, countries and cultural backgrounds exploring the history of their community. This documentary series is produced by Tony Jackson of Chemical Media and is financed with support from Film Victoria.