Writer-director Beck Cole moves between two worlds

Beck Cole with Tessa Rose on the set of ‘Grace Beside Me’ (Photo credit: Magpie Picture/Julian Panetta).

As a proud woman from Warramungu/Luritja nations filmmaker Beck Cole has worked on numerous Indigenous-themed TV series and documentaries including First Australians, Redfern Now, Grace Beside Me and Black Comedy.

Two years ago she decided to embark on a wider range of projects, a strategy that’s paid off as she has directed two episodes of Fremantle/Foxtel’s Wentworth and is preparing to direct two episodes of Seven Studios’ drama Between Two Worlds.

Later this year she will resume her role as voice director on the third season of Ned Lander Media’s animated series Little J & Big Cuz for SBS.

Cole and emerging writer/director Samuel Paynter are among eight Indigenous teams from Australia and New Zealand who are making the anthology feature Cook 2020: Our Right of Reply. funded by Screen Australia and the NZFC.

Meanwhile she is developing two features with Screen Australia’s assistance, a horror movie set in Alice Springs based on real events, and a drama about an Indigenous teenager who joins a boxing tent during the Depression.

Twenty years since she graduated from AFTRS, the writer-director tells IF: “Working on TV dramas has enabled me to do a body of work which has given me more mainstream recognition. On TV you work really fast and you have to be super sharp. But I am still passionate about making feature films.”

She relished collaborating with Leah Purcell and the rest of the cast on Wentworth and is grateful to set-up director Kevin Carlin for taking her under his wing. The seventh season premieres on Fox Showcase at 8.30 pm on May 28.

She got the gig on Between Two Worlds after meeting with the creator Bevan Lee and producer Chris Martin-Jones and looks forward to working with set-up director Kriv Stenders.

Paynter and Cole, who first worked together on Little J & Big Cuz, each had an idea for their chapter of the Cook 2020 movie, which will provide Indigenous perspectives on the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s maiden voyage to the Pacific.

However when they started work shopping the project they decided to go with Paynter’s concept, which he will write and she will direct. “It’s set in Alice Springs and deals with intervention and blatant racism,” she says.

Beck Cole (R) with Kyliric “Kiki” Masella on ‘Grace Beside Me’ (Photo credit: Magpie Picture/Julian Panetta).

Beck was nine or 10 when her family took her to the Alice Springs drive-in to see Charles Chauvel’s 1955 classic Jedda, the poignant tale of a young Aboriginal girl who is adopted by a white woman, Sarah McCann, as a surrogate for her own baby who died. She names the baby Jedda after a wild bird and raises her as a white child.

It was the first Australian feature film to use Aboriginal actors in the lead roles and the first filmed in colour. “I have vivid memories of that film; it was the first time I had seen Indigenous people on screen,” she says.

Initially she trained as a journalist with Imparja TV in Alice Springs before moving to Sydney to work in the ABC’s Indigenous department headed by David Jowsey.

Then she did a degree in media production at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst followed by AFTRS. Her biggest mentor was Michael Riley, an Indigenous photographer, filmmaker and co-founder of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative, until his death in 2004.

She made her feature writing and directing debut in 2010 with Here I Am, which starred Shai Pittman as a young Aboriginal woman fresh out of prison who finds herself on the streets with a burning desire to turn her life around but no one to call for help.

The horror movie she is crafting is based on the true story of the Aboriginal children who live in a residential care home in Alice Springs and are attacked by an evil entity.

The other movie is The Wonderful Adventures of Topsy Brown and Other Terrible Tales, which follows the Aboriginal girl’s quest to reconnect with her country by joining a travelling boxing show.