Looking For My Next Documentary

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Click here to see trailer Blackbirding

The ‘happening-now -cyclone’, Marcia, has let me know that my next documentary will  definitely not be about cyclone recovery. I can let go of that ‘natural disaster recovery theme.’ After Yasi – Finding the Smile Within is there for anyone that wants to read it and walk in the shoes of Cassowary Coastal locals. I have been on that pathway, with friends, family and community.

I venture out to a meeting with independent documentary makers in Brisbane, where guests from the Asia /Pacific, will be present. It’s time to reignite my film making journey once more. This is the first time I will meet local filmmakers.

After a year of hibernating, writing a memoirs and several picture book drafts, taking photographs of ripples, cricket, tree planting, a friend’s exhibition and nature walks and mainly meeting writers for children and youth – it’s time to discover and connect with more of the creative  and cultural communities around me.

Only a few people have turned up due to cyclone Marcia looming and the rain. Yet it is not raining and I am glad we checked and saw it would be ‘flood free’ to attend. My daughter and I speak with Maurice and Gemma at the bar of the BEMAC. We are under the Storybridge, what an apt place to be.

Gemma, one of the presenters, is open, warm and friendly. She wears a stylish scarf and her hair is long and thick. Maurice is a gentle man wearing a patterned shirt in subtle ochres. Gemma carries herself as I would expect a documentary maker would, open and interested in others. They are both happy to let me and my daughter converse with them. Soon we are talking about family history a little. She is a citizen of the world, home is wherever she is. She tells us a story about filming with an umbrella and everyone else standing out in heavy rain around her in Vanuatu. The lightning strikes her.

What follows is a memorable conversation about home, identity, land and far beyond the cliche of reality tv ‘my journey has been.’ In the presentation session we learn more about a hidden history with Gemma of Blackbirding. Unspoken stories of South Sea Islander secrets are spoken. Gemma Tamock is the Artistic Director of Amazon Productions. She is a filmmaker and performer and previously wrote/produced/directed a documentary called Whitewash.

We learn more about Chartchai ‘Nat’ Ketnust, a writer/director/producer and Tim Schultz, a post production producer, who both live and work in Bangkok. We are introduced to a series  they are working on about Muay Thai.

The questions and feedback from the audience are lively and we are intrigued by Gemma not placing re-enactments in costume and her philosophy that this will distance the audience from the reality of those stories. These are not finished films though by either presenter, but there promise is strong. We are all going to go home and find out more about Muay Thai. We will be thinking about multiple voices and leaving our watchers with questions, rather than answers.

They invite suggestions from us, seek out our responses to their documentary babes in the film woods. The photography in Muay Thai is poetic, brutal and the philosophy behind what has become a sport incredible. Warrior, Survivor, Freedom. The themes are still spinning over in my head.

Tim (based in Thailand) who is working with Nat and Daniel (based in Brisbane), of Krabi studios also speak.

Another film, with amazing underwater photography of sea people in Indonesia is screened. We are transported far beyond where we sit and marvel at a man who walks on coral as if it is carpet.

The next morning, with Gemma’s advice in the search for my next documentary theme firmly lodged in my head – ‘Be open’ I write this on my facebook wall.

“Met some very interesting visiting film makers last night at BEMAC, Brisbane Documentary Makers meeting. Learnt about some martial arts in Thailand and some shocking things about Blackbirding history – now to find what story might call me… hidden history, a place, a problem, a challenge with an unknown answer?”

(c) June Perkins

Blog Hop Begins – Recovering Joy after Cyclone Yasi

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photographer: Sheridan Perkins

A four year journey to create this ebook.  Finally it’s here.

Documenting Disaster Recovery for Beginners  ABC Open

“It’s powerful to document something you have been through with a community, like bush fire, cyclone, flood, storm, tsunami, but how can you write, video, photograph it in a way that is accessible to people who haven’t been through the event and sensitive to those who have lived it ?”

Karen Tyrrell on After Yasi Book Launch and Blog Tour

“As a survivor of bullying and mental illness and a resilience author, I was interested in how June and her community survived their ordeal with coping skills and resilience. So I interviewed June to find out…”

Tomorrow heading to Dimity’s blog.

Dim’s Write Stuff

*Please note if you leave comments on the participating blogs after the ABC Open one you have a chance to win a copy of the ebook, or a photographic print of an image from the ebook.  Thanks so much for your kind interest in this project.

Tablelands Folk Festival – the making of the documentary

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Shane Howard and Ben Perkins. – By June Perkins

I went as a volunteer, with my family along to help carry gear etc, to make a documentary and short video trailer of the festival.   It was a last minute ask as I was supposed to be in Sydney at a photo exhibition which was postponed and they originally had another videographer booked who pulled out. I don’t know what the original videographer was planning to do but I specifically asked to make a documentary not just collect raw footage.

This was my biggest and most ambitious video project to date. I was a bit nervous about how I would go, and like all artists I think wow next time I’d do it this way but overall it was a very enlightening and enjoyable experience. This project has shown me the true wisdoms of learning through doing, and learning through service.

It has been two years since my first ABC Open video job, with a small handy cam. I went to cover Carolyn Bofinger’s farewell. The brief then to, collect some footage to include in someone elses longer video.

Since that time I have learnt so much, made several short videos interviewing people about the cyclone, a video postcard, and a dance project documentary, and acquired a rodeo mike and upgraded my camera, and have a couple of brand new tripods.

Using production notes from a mentor I did my best to try and plan the shoot, and think of what I could say with the documentary without preempting the outcomes.

In prior discussions with an organiser I had explained I would like to use interviews with a range of people involved in the festival to shape a narrative. There was so many performers, colours, vibrancy – I wanted to capture some of the spirit of the festival but knew at the outset it would be impossible to capture everything.

Now I am busy at work on the documentary, and have been able to aquire some additional footage and photographs from festival goers and other volunteers at the festival to maybe supplement some of my footage. I have also been through all the interviews and done a rough cut of the script that I will then place the footage around.

I am so happy that the interview questions which were fairly open ended questions, have on first viewing brought out a story which reflects what the festival is about. Now I have to log the other footage and make decisions about what will go in around these. I think I may do a couple more interviews as well.

My husband was astounding with his ability to track down interesting stories and interviews during the festival, including one with Shane Howard, which in the end we had to do twice (what a gracious and sincere human being as well as music artist he is).

My children lugged around gear, bought me food and drinks and contributed ideas for the documentary which I liked and took on board.  My eldest son also played at the buskers tent, to a rapt audience and really took to the spirit of the festival.

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Young Film Assistant, my youngest son last afternoon of filming – June Perkins

We learnt an immense amount about team work, but also the need to have breaks and look after ourselves during the making of this documentary. I hope that everyone will enjoy the documentary when it is finished.

Our best experience as a family of the festival was meeting Shane Howard and what he said to our son, and I can’t say more as it might be in the documentary.   Another wonderful experience was my realisation that I can take my film making to another level.

Yes, not everything went as I planned, but as a wise Indigenous Elder from the area who spoke to me as we came to a close with filming, you will make the film you were meant to make – she added that the Elders were deciding from the spirit world what film footage of mine would work, and it was like a massive burden lifted from my shoulders and I saw a future of fearless film making and the idea of Elders from the local country looking out for me well that almost made me cry (in a good way.)

Well I must have been doing something okay for the Elder I met to say that.  She had been watching me at work all weekend and her words meant so much as I have always wanted to honour the original people of this country and am myself Indigenous to Papua New Guinea through Mum and this is mixed up with my Dad’s European heritage.

Other magic moments, I’ll leave those for another blog post.  So much else to do, like taking my son to tennis (hopefully, just checking the weather)!  Have a great weekend, and keep the music alive!

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Steve Pigram and Shane Howard performing together at Yungburra – June Perkins

Dance for Recovery – Films soon to be Released

The Documentary Dance for Recovery Behind the Scenes is almost complete. Final edits today and then it is sent to the project organisers. It’s been the biggest project in my short film making journey so far.

Many documentaries are done by a full crew and have the luxury of people specialising in editing of sound, image, camera work and they have access to some time saving programs like Pluralise etc – films even short films benefit from having a lot of crew on board. But ABC Open has taught me it is possible to work on a shoe string, but this means it can take more time. I have an even tighter shoe string budget than ABC too (: just explaining the limitiations of my current small film set up. Sounds like time for me to set up some serious collaborations and search out funding.

I have had to make this documentary fairly independently, with some support and mentoring being provided by Leandro from ABC Open and my hubby David who truly is a genius in coming up with creative ways to solve our lack of expensive equipment, we used our tablet with an application to collect the sound – which was a step up in quality from our mobile phone, but it probably has some better apps, I’ll have to ask Leandro and google for some more advice. I loved having access to Dez Green’s beautiful sound track, which was used for Danielle’s show. He’s a talented man and himself a budding film maker and music maker for stage shows.

It’s been brilliant interviewing and going over some raw footage with Danielle Wilson since the workshop and mixing it in. Danielle is so eloquent in explaining the processes behind her project. It’s a thoughtful interview. Also mixed into the documentary are some shots collected from one of the preplanning meetings and some of the footage collected at the workshop.

The documentary film makes extensive use of photograph stills as well as video and gives a sneak peek of the performance as I filmed it from the behind the scenes. An additional challenge to this film was collecting footage which gave participants a sense of privacy and space as they were involved in ‘healing the past from the cyclone.’

It is not uncommon for documentary makers to work with sensitive subjects and to have to come up with filmic solutions and compromises in reaching their goals of an interesting story shot in an interesting way. Trust is important in making many documentary films and many are in search of emotional truth. I will do some more research and future blogs on documentary films I have seen that have moved or inspired me and find out about some famous ones for my readers.

Mark Edwards has filmed and edited a very polished version of the silhouette performance and after viewing the documentary I am sure you will be keen and very curious to see his film; I have seen some of the early edits and it’s looking like it will be fantastic.

The making of this mini documentary has given me enormous insight not only into Danielle’s vision of Dance for Recovery, and the work and team needed to help her realise that vision, but also into taking my own film making to the next level and assisting me to develop more confidence and skills in this very interesting genre. It would certaintly be brilliant to have access to a few more programs, some better lenses, sound equipment and more helpers, but I’ve definitely learnt that anything is possible, even if you have limited resources. Now just imagine with more resources, finances, and a bigger team, yes maybe its time to hit trop fest sometime soon.

Dance for Recovery was funded by FNQ Volunteers, Queensland and Australian Governments, Isay project, Connecting Community Voices, and involved many volunteers and a small budget for production for some contributing Artists.

Make Me Look Beautiful: Challenges of Documentary Photography

Tully Locals
Oh to meet the Prince – By June Perkins – These two ladies loved their portrait!  Hooray it’s great when you have happy documentary subjects.  This was taken at the visit of Prince William to Tully and I asked them to pose.

Why would some people rather eat brussel sprouts with mustard and peanut butter than have a photograph taken?

Why do some people hug the camera as it if was their dearest long lost primary school friend that they haven’t seen in thirty years?

Is it simply that some people think they break the camera glass and have bud luck for the next three generations?  Many of us have a deep seated belief that some people are born for the camera – they are the blessed photogenic and never look bad in a photo.  (Tabloid professionals are always out to turn that one upside down.)

Or is it just that some of us don’t want the world to see what we looked like after our slim years?

Maybe it’s just that we don’t trust that camera person not to take an unflattering pose of us eating and then possibly throwing up after the peanut butter brussel sprouts with mustard.

Some people just don’t like the look of their face, their hair or just have to have makeup on; they want to control the way they come out on camera or the way they look now.  The struggle with the body image, and having time to care for the body  and feel confronted by the camera and resulting picture, not to mention that annoying camera person documenting an event and making them do this. (This by the way is not what the camera person is thinking.)

Have you ever taken what you thought was a beautiful picture of a person and had them say  ”Yuk I look fat in that or “I don’t like my face” or can, “you chuck that out please.”

Now have you ever also had a person on the other end of the scale say “Wow you made me look great”, “I look so strong,”  “I didn’t realise I could look just like Elle McPherson” or “Miranda Kerr.”

Thinking about this more deeply opens the Pandora’s box of what is beauty, but also what is the purpose of photography.  There are many purposes, capturing memory, documenting, finding beauty just to mention a few.

For me we don’t always photograph to make others look beautiful, but most photographers, including documentary ones, don’t set out to make people feel ugly.

Responses to an image are not always about the skill of the camera person,  but sometimes about how the person is feeling about themselves at that stage in their life. And people photography is not easy as you are dealing with psychology.

All this can make it tricky for the documentary oriented photographer.  Our goal to capture the beautiful moments in an event, the connection between people, the ecstasy and triumphs, and yes also struggles and sorrow and some kind of truth.  Is truth always beautiful?It can be.

We have to respect our subjects – and yet is respect always sticking with posed photographs – not all posed photographs are the most memorable ones.  It is the spontaneous moments that sparkle and shimmer and are strong in our memories.  Like images of a boy kissing a girl in a riot in Canada.

The portrait photographer captures inner beauty when they work hard.  They relax a person, collaborate, work with them and bring out what is needed to shine on camera.  For some people their relationship with the camera – for instance Miranda Kerr – is a dance – a connection of tango – and they just fit together.

For others any sign of a camera and they freeze, stop smiling, hide, move away, and do an anti paparazzi pose, and yet in relaxed moments their inner being comes out.  They are themselves, regardless of what they think about their weight, looks, anyone in my view can come across as beautiful on camera.

Anyway let me say the next time you start running from the camera at a family event from some photo crazy family member or friend, remember they are taking a photograph of you because you are special to them, cherished and they want to remember you in the moment.

Maybe the photograph won’t represent the seventeen year old slim you, but maybe you can take that inner angst and relax – it makes for a lovely photograph.

And as for you mad crazy family, community documenters, maybe you can learn from the professionals and coax the beauty and the joy out of others, and realise that part of your role is to educate people that even though we love Miranda and Elle there are all kinds of beauty waiting to be captured by the camera.  Also sometimes you just need to put the camera down and write the memory.

(c) June Perkins