Screen Australia announces $4 million for 13 documentaries

Rob Collins in 'The First Inventors'.

Subjects ranging from the Australian Open tennis tournament to the country’s LGBTQI+ history will be explored in the latest round of documentary projects to receive production funding from Screen Australia.

The agency has announced $4 million for 13 titles, seven of which are supported through the Commissioned Program, five under the Producer Program, and one via the First Nations Department.

Screen Australia head of documentary Alex West said the selected documentaries offered timely reflections on Australian culture and identity, exploring the importance of topics such as activism, arts, health, and the environment.

“We are living through a period of immense change to the planet and society,” he said.

“Documentary provides a powerful avenue to spark or shift national conversations, and we can’t wait to see these fantastic projects brought to life on screen.”

Screen Australia head of first nations, Angela Bates, said her department was pleased to support John Harvey’s Still We Rise, a one-hour archival documentary for the ABC that captures the moment when activists erected an Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns opposite Parliament House in 1972.

“This project will be vital viewing, not only as a celebration of First Nations history and activism but also as an invaluable resource to educate future generations,” she said.

The funded projects are:

First Nations Department:

Still We Rise: A one-hour archival documentary for the ABC that captures the moment when activists erected an Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns opposite Parliament House in 1972, Fifty years on, this program takes a bold dive into a year of protest and revolutionary change for First Nations people. Writer/director John Harvey teams up with producer Anna Grieve. Still We Rise is a Tamarind Tree Pictures production, financed in association with VicScreen and developed and produced in association with the ABC.

Producer Program:

Australia’s Open: A feature documentary that will chart the nation’s relationship with the celebrated individual tennis tournament, the Australian Open. Examining the events that have shaken and shaped it both on and off the court, this film will explore how the evolution of the event has mirrored Australia’s own journey as a nation, from a poor colonial cousin to a mature and confident world player. Australia’s Open will be directed by Ili Baré and produced by Charlotte Wheaton and Nick Batzias of GoodThing Productions, whose credits include The Australian Dream. This project is financed with support from the ABC, VicScreen, and the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund.

The Endangered Generation?: A feature documentary narrated by acclaimed actress Laura Dern, which challenges the myth that the world is fundamentally driven by selfishness and competition and instead explores how kindness and cooperation may be just as crucial to prospering in the natural world. As humans face the next crises – whether pandemic, environmental collapse or social disorder – this film will shine a light on new models for thinking and living. The creative team features writer/director Celeste Geer, producers Gal Greenspan and Daniel Joyce, and executive producer Leila Conners. The Endangered Generation? is financed with support from VicScreen, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Premiere Fund, and the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC). It will debut at MIFF this week.

Las Balsas: An Ocean Odyssey: A feature documentary about the 1973 Las Balsas Expedition which saw 12 men travel 9,000 miles at sea on three rafts. With no motors, GPS, or back-up, their aim was to cross the Pacific, from Ecuador to Australia. The crew’s original 16mm film reels have been unearthed and will be re-mastered and intercut with interviews with the surviving raftsmen, recounting the sharks, storms, psychological struggles, and starvation they overcame to achieve this legendary ocean voyage. This film is written and directed by Alex Barry, produced by Chadden Hunter, and executive produced by Bettina Dalton of WildBear Entertainment, along with Anna Godas and Oli Harbottle of Dogwoof.

Left Write Hook: A feature documentary about a ground-breaking recovery program that helps survivors of childhood sexual abuse find transformation and friendship, through a combination of boxing and creative writing. Left Write Hook is a story about resilience, connection, expression, and healing. The creative team features writer/director Shannon Owen and producer Donna Lyon, with producer Alice Burgin and executive producer Gal Greenspan. This film is financed with support from VicScreen and the University of Melbourne.

Speedway: A true-crime documentary about the unsolved ‘Burger Chef Murders’ that claimed the lives of four teenagers in Speedway, Indiana in 1978. This film uses archives, animation, interviews, and scripted scenes to explore the 40-year mystery. The creative team features writer/directors Luke Rynderman and Adam Kamien, and producers Bonnie McBride, Anna Vincent, Louise Nathanson, and Lisa Scott. This project is financed with support from the SAFC.

Commissioned Program:

Australia’s Sleep Revolution with Dr Michael Mosley: A three-part series from Artemis Media for SBS in which serial insomniac Dr Michael Mosley, together with some of the nation’s poorest sleepers, put their bodies on the line to trial Australian-led, world-first sleep treatments. Teaming up with expert physicians, Mosley will wake up the nation to the dangers of bad slumber and inspire a sleep revolution. The creative team includes series producer Katherine Barrett, alongside series director Russell Vines, development producer Nia Pericles, and executive producer Celia Tait, who previously collaborated on Australia’s Health Revolution with Dr Michael Mosley. This series is financed with support from Screenwest and Lotterywest and the SAFC.

Out of the City (working title): A three-part series for SBS from Blackfella Films, this documentary from writer/producer Jacob Hickey and producer Darren Dale will explore multiculturalism and life in regional areas. This series is financed with support from VicScreen.

Queerstralia: A three-part series for ABC in which comedian Zoë Coombs Marr engages with the untold and fascinating queer (LGBTQI+) history of Australia – a place of gay Diggers, lesbian convict gangs, trans pioneers, and cross-dressing bushrangers. Queerstralia will be directed by Stamatia Maroupas, written by Marr and Nayuka Gorrie, and executive produced by Jon Casimir. It is financed with support from VicScreen and the Judith Nielsen Institute.

Revealed: Reefshot: A feature documentary for Stan’s Revealed slate about the Great Barrier Reef and some of its most loyal citizens, who are racing against time to turn the tide on the danger facing the world’s largest living organism. Led by Andy Ridley, the creator of Earth Hour, a small group of scientists, volunteers and Indigenous rangers set out to help protect and conserve the Reef by uploading data to one of the largest natural censuses ever. Rather than getting a sinking feeling about the reef and its fate, seeing this armada in action aims to inspire and empower viewers to take part in their plight. This film from CME and WildBear Entertainment is directed by Matt Tomaszewski and produced by Chris Chard and Holly Trueman. It is executive produced by Michael Tear, Bettina Dalton, and Tom Abood, and is financed with support from Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef and Screen Queensland. It will premiere as a Stan Original.

The Black Hand: A three-part series for ABC that explores an Australian Italian community’s struggle against hard times, extreme politics, and the mafia in their midst. Director Kriv Stenders teams up with writer/producer Adam Grossetti, writer Anya Beyersdorf, line producer Therese Duranti, and producer Kate Pappas. The executive producers are Michael Tear, Alan Erson, and Anthony LaPaglia. This documentary is financed with support from the ABC.

The First Inventors: A four-part series for NITV and Network 10 hosted by actor Rob Collins investigating the innovations, complex knowledge systems, and scientific discoveries of Australia’s First People. Together with First Nations’ experts and scientists, Collins examines ancient ingenuity and archaeological discoveries to bring scientific inventions of Australia’s First Nations people to the foreground. This documentary series is directed by award-winning filmmaker Larissa Behrendt alongside co-producer Cian McCue, with Ben Davies and Ben Commens executive producing. This project is produced by Ronde Media with Moogie Down Productions co-producing, and is financed with support from the National Indigenous Australians Agency, Tourism Australia, and Screen Territory.

The Platypus Guardian: A one-hour documentary from WildBear Entertainment and Tetrapod Films for the ABC and the WNET Group exploring the secret world of Hobart’s platypus through the eyes of local naturalist Peter Walsh. In the urban heart of the city, Walsh discovers a hidden community of these mysterious aquatic mammals. Walsh forms a unique and intimate bond with one special platypus he calls Zoom, who he finds tangled in plastic. Changed by the experience, Walsh galvanises the community to save Hobart’s last wild platypus. This documentary is directed by Nick Hayward, produced by Hayward and Fraser Johnston, and executive produced by Chadden Hunter and Bettina Dalton. It is financed with support from Screen Tasmania.