Shark Island Institute and DAF commission short docs on performing artists

Clockwise from top left: Cornel Ozies, Hollie Fifer, Ian Darling and Santilla Chingaipe.

Eight established and emerging filmmakers will each create a 3 to 5-minute documentary with a focus on the performing arts during the challenging time of COVID-19.

Entitled voxdocs, it’s an initiative from the Shark Island Institute headed by filmmaker and philanthropist Ian Darling and Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF), in association with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

They are Maya Newell (In My Blood it Runs, Gayby Baby); Hollie Fifer (The Opposition); Ian Darling (The Final Quarter, Paul Kelly – Stories of Me); Santilla Chingaipe (Black as Me); Alex Wu (winner of the Dendy Award for Best Australian Live-Action Short Film at the 2020 Sydney Film Festival for Idol); Tamara Whyte (this year’s recipient of the inaugural Centralised DAF Fellowship); Maria Tran (actor, filmmaker, martial artist); and Cornel Ozies (Our Law).

Their subjects include a young Tongan-Australian woman whose body still remembers the dance routine of her first big show before it was cancelled due to the Covid-19; performance artists using isolation for creative inspiration; comedian Greg Fleet discovering what it’s like to perform for laughs without an audience; and the impact of systemic racism on artists including an African/Australian burlesque performer and a Chinese/Australian actor.

The others examine the role of the performing arts in remote communities; a Somali/Australian slam poet; and a daughter’s film about her mother, a Vietnamese/Australian refugee.

Darling said: “In these most difficult of times, when our ability to experience performing arts has been curtailed and when our artists are struggling financially and for meaning, this series of films is a timely exploration.

“It’s a series about both loss and resilience, it’s a celebration of artistic expression and the gifts our artists give to the community. We hope the films will kickstart a conversation about how we can better support and appreciate the performing arts in Australia.”

DAF CEO Dr. Mitzi Goldman added: “To create an opportunity to hear from a diversity of voices on the critical importance of the arts to our lives, and how the arts helps us process the unprecedented times we are experiencing, is to throw a life line to both the artists and their audiences.

“The collective impact of the stories as a whole will hopefully drive home what the arts offers us as a society and why artists need our support.”

Maya Newell’s Playlist

This doc follows Neda, a Tongan/Arabic Australian whose body still moves to the dance routines of her first breakout show, Playlist, before it was cancelled due to COVID-19. The pause and stillness sparked Neda to question how she can represent her culture when she still has so much to learn.

Santilla Chingaipe’s The Dancer

This explores the motivations, dreams and harrowing accounts of racism in the arts industry through the stories of non-white creatives and interpreted through a dance choreographed and performed by Congolese-Australian burlesque dancer, choreographer and performing artist Zelia Rose. It asks the sector to actively work to dismantle racism which has long lasting impacts on creatives.

Hollie Fifer’s Unbalanced

Stuck in their apartment during Melbourne’s second-wave coronavirus lockdown, performance artists Will and Garrett Huxley are looking for a way out. Their antidote to boredom, frustration and anxiety may look slightly different to most. Partners in life and work, Will and Garrett intimately film themselves as they navigate their cabin fever and search for an escape through their art and discover their glitter-submerged creativity is their lifeline.

Ian Darling’s The Comedian

Internationally renowned stand-up comedian Greg Fleet is at the top of his game but the only thing he needs is an audience. COVID has closed down venues across Australia and live performances have been made impossible. When the reality of performing for laughs without an audience finally dawns on him, it raises some serious questions about his own mortality as a performer. He questions whether audiences will ever return at a time when those who once laughed with him are now at home staring at their screens. What is left for this ageing performer, when there is no safety net and all is stripped away?

Maria Tran’s My Mother, the Action Star

Tran was developing the solo theatrical show Action Star at the Powerhouse Youth Theatre in Fairfield when the venue had to shut down. She looked closer to home and decided to tell the story of her mother Betty Thi Tran and her journey, which inspired a new movement and action which Maria will take into the next stage of creative development for a new one-woman play, Action Star.

Tamara Whyte’s Gove Arts Theatre

Far from the country’s largest art institutions in the lands of the Yolngu peoples is the town of Nhulunbuy. In its Captain Cook Community Centre is the Gove Arts Theatre, where a local theatre group will host their only event for the year. Supported by a small group of volunteer committee members, they are showcasing local community talent and asking, “Do the performing arts really matter?”

Alex Wu’s A Reminder

Chinese actor Kyle Chen reflects on his initial aspirations of becoming an actor, the liberating experience of performing, how performance art supports his mental wellbeing and the integral function of the arts in society as a whole.

Cornel Ozies’ Verse

Hani Abdile fled the civil war in Somalia aged 16 and made her way to Australia by boat. She spent 11 months detained on Christmas Island where she began writing poetry. After being released she found her voice and community through slam poetry and World Travels, the organisation dedicated to supporting artists like her. Now a successful poet and performer, she shows what can happen when people have the support, encouragement and opportunity to express themselves creatively and to be heard.