Filmmaker Warwick Thornton was mentally and physically exhausted last year so he decided to spend a couple of months in isolation on a remote beach on the north-west coast of Western Australia.
Seeing the potential for a documentary, Thornton and the producers, Michelle Parker, Mitchell Stanley and Tanith Glynn-Maloney, sent a three-page pitch document to NITV and Screen Australia.
The result is The Beach, a lyrical, evocative six-part series which premieres on NITV, SBS and SBS On Demand this Friday at 7.30 pm.
Across the three hours, the Sweet Country and Samson and Delilah writer-director sharpens his skills to hunt and gather food, prepares surprisingly exquisite dishes and talks to three chickens as he relates stories from his childhood and adult life.
“I was feeling a bit shitty, mentally and physically drained, and I needed a break,” he tells IF. “There was an incredible trust between NITV and Screen Australia to make it.”
The therapy worked. After filming in May/June last year he went on to direct six episodes of the second season of Bunya Productions’ Mystery Road, his first TV drama.
“Doing The Beach enabled me to clear my head, get off the piss and get well so I was in the best place to make Mystery Road,” he says.
Stunning camerawork by his son, DOP Dylan River, alternates between close-ups of Thornton in and around the shack built for the production in Jilirr, and wide angled shots of the terrain.
River has said his dad was initially self-conscious of the camera but soon warmed up. “I’m not an actor so it took a week to forget the camera was there and start living,” Warwick says, adding that during filming he offered some advice to his son on the lenses he thought he should be using. Dylan’s response: “Shut up dad, I’m the cinematographer and you’re not.”
In episode two he is seen writing a script entitled The Father and the Son. It’s totally fictional and he’s been working on it on and off for 10 years with Kath Shelper, who produced Samson and Delilah.
Thornton met Parker when he directed a TVC for production house World Wide Mind, which will look to appoint a sales agent to secure international sales.
“It’s a unique beast,” he says. “We would need an adventurous sales agent to get on board, which comes to us with a plan on how they think they can sell it.”
NITV channel manager Tanya Orman said: “NITV are honoured that Warwick has chosen to share such a personal and stunning masterpiece with us. At a time when many Australians feel a longing to escape or to reconnect to Country, I can’t think of a better way to experience an incredible corner of Australia than to join us for this special three-hour journey.”
The filmmaker is chuffed at NITV’s decision to celebrate much of his life’s work during National Reconciliation Week. That kicks off with the screening of Sweet Country and the short Green Bush on Thursday at 8.30 pm and 10.25 pm, followed the next day by The Point Special: Warwick Thornton at 10.30 pm and The Payback at 10.45 pm.
Feature docs She Who Must Be Loved will screen on Saturday at 7.35 pm and We Don’t Need a Map and The Point: Warwick Thornton is Here on Sunday at 8.05 pm and 9.35 pm.
Admirers of Sweet Country may be disappointed to know he won’t be involved in the sequel which Bunya Productions has been developing since last year.
“I reckon the next script will be amazing but I’ve got lots of ideas for features and stuff to do with other people,” he says.
“I’m a bit hyperactive when it comes to storytelling and I like to keep moving rather than coming back to a common ground or anything like that.”