Doreen Warburton’s theatre legacy is everywhere

A note placed on the seats at the official opening night, July 19, of The Incredible Here and Now, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta gave the news –

Doreen Warburton, 1930 -2017, Founder and Artistic Director Q Theatre

Doreen Warburton and Q Theatre played pioneering roles in the development of professional theatre in Western Sydney

National Theatre of Parramatta dedicates the remaining performances of The Incredible Here and Now in her memory

How often have you attended a funeral where family and friends burst into applause? Tears and laughter, yes, but applause – not just once, but many times? Such was the occasion of Doreen Warburton’s farewell and celebration of her life last week. Doreen died aged 87, July 19, 2017. See the SMH obituary – Evelyn Doreen Warburton OBE, Doreen Gabriel. Actors, family and friends described her as larger than life, charismatic, impassioned, blunt, hugely generous, mother to so many of them, a brilliant artist, administrator and director. She was driven by a fierce sense of social justice and a determination that anyone could be inspired and transformed by their experience of theatre. Doreen grew up in wartime England and trained with the radical Joan Littlewood Theatre. The photo, above, was posted by The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre. – the present day home of the Q. Remembering a life well lived.

During a period of four years in the mid-1970s, Doreen pioneered a program of bringing theatre workshops and productions by the Sydney based Q Theatre into western Sydney suburbs. Their focus was young people – exposing them to performance opportunities and providing them with theatre skills, while simultaneously building future audiences for the theatre they planned to establish in the region. It was Penrith Council that eventually offered the use of the old Railway Institute and it was there that the Q Theatre made their home. Above, Doreen, right, opens the Q Theatre in Penrith in 1977, accompanied by the Mayor of Penrith, Eileen Cammack.

At the funeral, David Hoey described his excitement while a student at Colyton and then Rooty Hill high schools, when he discovered the chance to participate in those first Q Theatre workshops. He participated in some of Q’s subsequent productions and had a “brain explosion” when given the chance to work with the team producing the local rock musical St Marys Kid and another home grown musical story Zilch. Hawkesbury costume designer Leone Sharpe provoked laughter when she described her alarm and apprehension as a 20 year old, when her efforts to restore a hair piece for Doreen went wrong. Right, Doreen as Lady Bracknell in a costume later made by Leone.

Hania Radvan is CEO of Penrith Performing and Visual Arts Ltd (PP&VA) which incorporates the Penrith Regional Gallery, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith Conservatorium of Music and the Q Theatre. Although she never actually met Doreen, she described her influence as everywhere – in their workshop and performance programs, especially for children and young people.

In an interview earlier this year, producer – Q programs, Nick Atkins said, “The Q is the Joan’s, theatre-making arm. My job, and the role of The Q, which sits inside the building, is to produce and develop professional local theatre. We make theatre for and from the heart of Penrith. We respond to what the local community wants to see, whilst also ensuring the voice of this community is pushed out into the world. We get to export stories as well as import them. Like others, he was a local high school student at Emu Plains, who was inspired by his exposure to Q Theatre, and went on to study a practice based theatre course at University of NSW.

In March this year he produced Black Birds, a new work by Emele Ugavule and Ayeesha Ash, exploring what it means to be a woman of colour in 2017 in Australia, it’s their personal stories. “The traditional way of theatre is very white, very Western, and very European, which clashes with their experience of the world,” he said.

“We have an artist in residence program. We offer four two-week residencies in our studio. So it’s two weeks space and $2,000 in financial support, and well as drama and technical support from the centre. We also have Propel, which is a play writing program, for 16 to 25-year-old emerging playwrights, in partnership with Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and WestWords. Originate is also for 16’s to 25-year-olds. But it’s more for performance majors and actors. It’s an ensemble project. Eight artists are brought together over three months and create their own work.

Q’s partnerships and influence are everywhere. From August 10 to 12 The Joan wants you to forget your troubles, come on get happy. How to make a happy meal is a new devised performance created as part of The Q’s Originate project and involving two recent WSU music graduates.

“This year we have a new project called Highway 234, which is another residency program, it’s in collaboration with PYT in Fairfield and PACT in Erskineville. The objective is to see how can we not just empower performers here, but link them in with other centres – because as an artist, it’s great to have your home, but you need to start linking in with other networks.”

Q Programs are a true extension of Doreen’s philosophy, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Western Sydney still struggles with the same inequitable funding distribution as it did in the 1970s. Nick says, “One per cent of federal funding is being used to try and open up a platform for 10% of Australia’s population to have either some experience in culture, or express their culture. That’s why the programs we run are so vital.”

Independent actor/director Aanisa Vylet, right, last week completed one of the new Southlands Breakthrough Artist Residencies at the Q by sharing a 15 minute excerpt from her new show The Woman and is deeply grateful for the opportunity. “In commemoration of Doreen Warburton, I will continue to create theatre that ‘…opens doors and windows to people’,” she says.

 

 

(Photo Credit, the fab Julie Koh)

Roslyn Oades – Abbotsford Convent

“Living Traces” offers an international vision for North Parramatta heritage site

1-living-traces-griefThanks to the vision and passionate commitment of artist Bonney Djuric, the current exhibition Living Traces – a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition – is giving us a glimpse of possibilities both poignant and beautiful. The possibilities are implicit in her proposed International Site of Conscience embracing the convict Parramatta Female Factory and the Parramatta Girls Home. Both lie in the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct, a key site of Sydney’s colonial history from 1792 and part of the land of the Burramatta clan of the Darug people for at least 20,000 years.

This core of Australia’s national history is now threatened with subdivision and development by the NSW Government through its agency UrbanGrowth. The girls home is currently under investigation as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse and former individual male staff members are the subject of criminal investigations.

living-traces-workshop-bonney-djuricBonney, left, and the late Christina Green were the co-founders of Parragirls in 2006. Both had been institutionalised in the Parramatta Girls Home under a punitive welfare model  in the 1970s, though like most of the residents, neither had committed any crime. Both had struggled in adulthood to understand the harshness of their experiences and to find healing from the consequences. Parragirls was founded to assist other former residents to find similar recovery. As part of this process, following a chance meeting with artist Lily Hibberd, Bonney initiated the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project with Lily as creative director in 2012. There was little or no money. The early stages involved bringing to light through photography, history documentation, artworks, multimedia presentations and installations, a record of the abuses and punishments of life in the institution. A theatre production, a symposium conducted in partnership with UTS Shopfront and quiet meetings with former girls returning to face their past were all part of the process. They began to reach a wider public totally unaware of the history.

living-traces-workshop-gypsie-hayesAs Bonney explains in the Living Traces catalogue, “Important to both of us was coming up with a new model of ethical practice to engage with and interpret institutional sites of confinement that would place former occupants at the centre of the process rather than at the periphery as subjects, footnotes. . . . Slowly we have built community interest in the site, connections to arts, history and the museum sector, and are rekindling its early Indigenous history. Most importantly we’re exploring new ideas on how these sites can be used, and who should be involved in the process.” There are no similar models to guide the process. Aboriginal artist and Parragirl Gypsie Hayes, above, in a Living Traces workshop.

living-traces-workshop-jenny-mcnallyFor those of us who grew up outside Sydney and NSW, it it difficult to comprehend the fear and shame associated with the girls home. Although originally intended to provide safety and education in life skills for disadvantaged girls from the 1880s, instead it became a focus for brutality, moral judgements and the abuse of power, especially by male officers. As Bonney says in a video interview in Living Traces, “we were told we would never amount to anything.” Civic leaders and the media echoed these judgements, and until the home was forcibly closed in 1986, teenage girls were commonly threatened with the girls home if they didn’t behave. It was a mode of control and punishment, including shaved heads and solitary confinement, that had its origins in British naval practice in earlier centuries. Although Bonney and Christina Green (aka Riley) were each treated very differently in the home – Christina’s Aboriginality compounded her punishments – both buried their experiences until painful memory triggers became inescapable. For almost every former resident who survived the ordeal, this was the pattern – profound shame, guilt and burying memories of the past. Parragirl Jenny McNally, above, and her Living Traces collagraph, below.

living-traces-jenny-mcnallyLiving Traces, a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition has been a year long project with funding assistance from Arts NSW. Among the traces of the brutal and demeaning history perpetrated in the 19th century buildings of the Girls Home are names, initials and statements scratched into doors and window frames by girls locked in solitary confinement. So many records have been lost or destroyed by the state welfare authorities, and others not yet found, that sometimes the scratchings are the only evidence that a girl was ever there. Professional artists Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson conducted 16 workshops with 12 former Parragirls to create delicate multilayered collagraphs incorporating traces of these scratchings and others in which they respond to those marks on their own lives. The results are printed on exquisite German etching paper, displayed individually throughout the exhibition and gathered into collective artist books.

living-traces-bethel-its-time-for-transparencyThe exhibition is laid out in Bethel, left as seen at the launch of Living Traces, the children’s hospital built in 1862 for the adjacent Roman Catholic Orphanage opened in 1844. Both buildings were subsequently part of the Girls Home. A catalogue and information sheet guide visitors through rooms upstairs and downstairs, where sound recordings, videos, and installations create an atmospheric context for the stories being told. Upstairs in particular the sight of stripped back walls and scratchings on doors bear grim witness to the girls’ experiences. With the official opening on Saturday, September 24, performance artist Zsuzsi Soboslay, presented the verbatim story of Jenny McNally’s struggle against shame and hiding her past from her family. As she spoke, she quietly wiped a window clean to reveal the words – It’s time for transparency. Her strength and dignity were almost palpable and her audience was deeply moved.

1-living-traces-its-time-for-transparencyArt is transforming a terrible history into a transcending experience uniquely personal and universally relevant, from which we can all learn and draw inspiration. Lily says, “Living Traces offers rare insight into the continuous history of a justice system that criminalises, incarcerates and punishes vulnerable children to this day.” For Bonney it is “opening up new ways of understanding ourselves as a nation who never questioned the rule of authority when it came to the fate of those who were placed in institutional care.” The goal is a Memory Museum for Women and Children for which they have already amassed a huge archive.

But there is an elephant in the room potentially threatening the future of the project, other than from the NSW Government. Without a unified voice, the government could easily ignore alternative proposals to their plans. In the last two years, government proposals for the site have led to the rise of the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, which has been instrumental in mounting a widespread inclusive campaign to save the 30 hectare heritage precinct. With the National Trust and Parramatta Chamber of Commerce, among others, they envisage a world class cultural, educational and tourist precinct that is economically viable and remains in public ownership. They have tried to engage Bonney and the Memory Project in the process. Last October they conducted a symposium about the future of the precinct drawing on a broad range of expert opinion and continue to garner support and commission alternative concepts to those of UrbanGrowth.

living-traces-bonney-djuricPrevious experience has taught Bonney to be deeply distrustful of heritage organisations, which “domesticate” or sentimentalise colonial history and fail to see the continuing impact on contemporary society. It is only her highly strategic and total commitment which has brought the project this far and won global recognition as the first Australian member of the 200 strong International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Bonney’s Living Traces collagraph, left.

About the Parramatta Memory Project Lily explains, “The Site of Conscience founding ethos is to bring ‘Memory to Action’ past and present experiences of women and children who have been in state welfare institutions. It is place of recognition for women and children who have been subjected to terrible injustice, cruelty and punishment in welfare and juvenile justice systems. Parramatta Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home are conjoined as the mother and child of this system from its colonial origins and legacies from the 20th century to the present day.

living-traces-gypsie-hayes“The Memory Museum for Women and Children will make the physical and emotional link between the Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home and the intergenerational and contemporary issues for all those who have similar experiences. This is a museum of inclusion: a home for otherwise disparate and vulnerable people: Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations and many others who have been treated unjustly and abandoned by the state and their carers.” International Sites of Conscience generate huge visitor numbers, she says, and strong economic returns. Gypsie Hayes’ Living Traces collagraph, left.

It’s time to talk. In the meantime, UrbanGrowth has just announced –

Sprout

Growing ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct

Two days of panel discussions, working sessions, inspirational presentations, site tours and displays to help us grow ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct. Thursday and Friday, November 10 and 11. The Chapel, Norma Parker Centre,
1 Fleet Street, North Parramatta NSW 2145.
Sprout
is free to attend. Pre-registration is required, as we have limited space. Register

I regret that I shall be unable to attend, but you can still make a contribution by phoning  Sara Wilson on 0419 815 087 or emailing parramattanorth@urbangrowth.nsw.gov.au

Living Traces continues only from Friday September 30 to next Sunday, October 2, 2 – 6pm, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta North.

Workshop images – Lucy Parakhina; Collagraph images – Lily Hibberd; Other images – Suzette Meade

Get FUNPARKED this weekend!

Funpark 2016 - WorkshopsWow! It’s happening already! School holiday workshops are underway this week in preparation for FUNPARK at Bidwill on Saturday, April 23. Now making it easier than ever to participate in popular activities from previous FUNPARK celebrations are workshops in Parkour, hulahooping, art and craft and “Let’s paint Bidwell” – see times in poster, left. A packed program will run from 12 noon to 3.30pm, on Saturday in Bidwill Square and the adjacent Bidwell Uniting Grounds. FUNPARK specifically targets young people who live in Mt Druitt. The project continues to involve participants in creative dialogue around the social, civic and imagined spaces of Mt Druitt.

FUNPARK is the brainchild of award winning theatre director, Kaz Therese, whose own childhood was spent in Bidwill and inspires so much of her creative output. It was launched as an event of Sydney Festival in January 2014 and became an annualFunpark 2016 boy event as a result of popular demand. Professional development workshops began in January for FUNPARK 2016. Kaz and her team promise food, live theatre performances, games, and workshops in a whole range of activities, including filmmaking, hip hop, food making and mural creation.

There is a close link between FUNPARK, the Bidwill community and last weekend’s walk and camp in which Aboriginal elders from the Mt Druitt area passed stories, knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next: “Ngal lo wah murraytula”. CuriousWorks in partnership with Moogahlin Performing Arts will be working with the young people who attended this camp over a number of years, to help them tell their own First Nations stories of life in western Sydney. “Ngal lo wah murraytula – Culture is the foundation, learning flows from here. Biaime, Stars and Grandfather Sun. Always today and every day.” Mt Druitt and Bidwill are on Darug country.

The community engagement and skills sharing of FUNPARK has already transformed Bidwill by drawing attention to its previous loss of community facilities and achieving recent upgrades to the square itself, and to shopping and services available.

Funpark 2016
Now in its third year, FUNPARK is supported by a coalition of six companies – Bidwill Uniting, Blacktown Arts Centre, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, CuriousWorks, UNOH and Learning Ground. FUNPARK is now cemented as a long-term creative program for Mt Druitt. Come and see what it’s all about at FUNPARK 2016! APRIL 23rd.

A time for reflection and optimism

Jeannie and Governor Marie BashirAs we now know, after 1909, you had only to be an Aboriginal girl to be taken from family and incarcerated  in the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. Jeannie Hayes was one of those girls, who also endured the vicious punishments of the former Hay Gaol, or Hay Institute. Here she is, left, at a much happier time years later, enjoying the moment as she wears the hat of then Governor of NSW, Marie Bashir, alongside her, at the Children’s Day, 2014. The event was organised by the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project. and the Governor was there to acknowledge the sufferings of the former girls and to plant a tree in the memorial garden. Thanks to Jeannie’s Facebook postings, we are being brought up to date and given time to reflect on developments about the site.

The first is her news of a Youtube video, Abandon All Hope – A History of Parramatta Girls Home compiled and presented by Parragirls founder Bonney Djuric, and made possible by a small grant from Parramatta City Council. It follows Bonney’s publication of her 2011 book of similar name in which she outlined the history of the girls home in the context of the development of child welfare legislation in New South Wales. They are both part of a broader project to ensure that the history of the home and its inmates will never be forgotten, while the buildings will be preserved and re-used to memorialise the girls’ experience within the colonial Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. The site is part of the North Parramatta Urban Transformation Project, currently under consideration by UrbanGrowth NSW. The transformation project is provoking strong community protest because of the speed at which the government is propelling planning.

Christina - ABCJeannie also posted a reminder of the life of Christina Green, also known as Christina Riley, who died last month. Chris was Bonney Djuric’s co-founder of Parragirls, which provides support and healing to former girls. Like Jeannie, Chris was of Aboriginal descent and a former inmate of the Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institute. Christina was present when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples in Federal Parliament, February 13, 2008. Her photo, above, accompanied an ABC news report by Eleanor Bell in 2009 – Forgotten woman finds peace from lost childhood.

A memorial to girls abused at the Parramatta Girls Home has just been announced by the State Government. Artists and designers will be invited to submit expressions of interest, with the successful applicant receiving $200,000 to develop the memorial in consultation with survivors.

Wagana - Honolulu FestivalMoving from gravity and reflection, Facebook has also carried plenty of good news from Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains. With the support of an ever growing number of families and friends they raised the funds to send four dancers to the 22nd annual Honolulu Festival earlier this month. It was clearly a very rewarding and exciting experience, right, sharing culture with other Pacific nations.

Wagana - BM Music FestivalShortly after their return, they took joyous part in last weekend’s Blue Mountains Music Festival. The importance of teaching and sharing culture with the children of their community is vividly illustrated here. It may be a mode of teaching that doesn’t attract government support, but Wagana is working with a natural and ancient tradition clearly enjoyed by the children.

 

Christina’s legacy reveals the ignorance of Alan Jones’ claim

Christina - St Joseph Hospital“Mum is finally at peace” – with these simple words, Christina Riley’s son marked the end of her long battle with illness, two days ago, at St Joseph’s Hospital, Auburn. Chris was also known as Christina Green. Her life was an extraordinary story of resilience and survival against almost insurmountable odds. Born of Wiradjuri and European parents, Chris was taken from her family at the age of three. There appears to have been no other reason than that she was Aboriginal. With Bonney Djuric, Chris was the co-founder of Parragirls in 2006, women who survived incarceration and abuse as teenagers in the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. In Bonney’s careful documentation of the emergence and evolution of the child welfare system in NSW, her book Abandon All Hope records that by 1909, the only reason needed for committal of Aboriginal girls to state care was “being Aboriginal”.

By the age of nine, after years of rape, torture and abuse at the hands of a foster family and with no memory of her birth family, Chris was taken into state institutional “care”. As she wrote in her recently published book, The Life of Riley, see below with Geoff Lee MP, “when human beings are Christina - Life of Riley launch 0914treated like filth, they lose their hope and their identity.” She was 13 when confronted with a crisis about who she was. At roll call, an officer “presented my first name, then surname, then two other surnames from my past foster parents, and ending with ‘whichever one you are’. Well that moment was a very embarrassing and dramatic 10 minutes of my life. I answered protesting she could use any name she bloody well liked, and walked off leaving everyone at assembly bewildered.”

Her “insubordination” set off a cycle of punishments and detentions at state institutions, including Parramatta Girls home. Eventually this led to three periods at the infamous Hay Institution for “the worst behaved, depraved, delinquent young girls in the state.” Amazingly, Chris survived the treatment meted out to her and with professional help, it took 25 years to write her book. It became the way she could eventually bring herself to look back at her past and try to understand why all this had happened to her. In the meantime, she became a foster carer to many children and mother to a family of her own. Her commitment to the protection of children and her later struggle to acquire an education were inspirational.

1-Christina - with granddaughter Oct 14As she reestablished links with her birth family, and worked with Bonney on the development of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project, she put forward ideas for a memorial garden, an education and research centre, and recorded a video interview with Lily Hibberd which will have an important place as the proposals come to fruition. The site was an indigenous women’s place long before white colonisation and Chris was also developing a concept for Aboriginal cultural tourism. Increasing illness prevented her from furthering this idea, but she leaves a gift to the Australian community that will be increasingly recognised.

I am grateful that Chris could give the Acknowledgement to Country at the launch of my book in 2013.  Her extraordinary legacy of resilience and survival demonstrates the ignorance and injustice of radio shock jock Alan Jones’ recent tirade that “we need stolen generations”.

The photo above, taken 18 months ago, shows Chris in her favourite role, caring for one of her grandchildren. Rest in peace, Christina Riley.

Passion, purpose and meaning flourish despite unjust government decisions

Blog - PPM book coverPassion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney is the title of my book, which has spawned this blog. The book was inspired by 40 years of recording the creativity, enterprise and generosity of passionate individuals. These artists and advocates have generated critical change by creating opportunities for others in arts and cultural expression across the region. They have won the support of their local councils, which have then supported the development of local arts centres and programs. The most obvious, though subtle, change among the thousands who have experienced these programs is their growth in confidence, dignity, critical thinking and creative expression. Their numbers are growing all the time.

The recent Deloitte report discussed in an earlier post on this blog, highlighted the extreme arts funding imbalance, proportionate to population, which state and federal governments continue to maintain. The recent federal cuts to Australia Council funding are likely to impact particularly hard in western Sydney. We don’t have any of the flagship companies to be funded by Senator Brandis’s arts ministry. The full title of the Deloitte report is Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Arts Economy – a key to Sydney’s success (my underline). It looks like Sydney is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Now further fears have been realised with the decision by the NSW government to convert the Old King’s School at Parramatta into a primary school, instead of the long advocated arts and cultural precinct. Any enterprising business or government would willingly pay to have the commitment, resourcefulness and skills that continue to produce so much in the region with so little encouragement.

1-IMG_3352One brilliant example of these attributes is Wagana Aboriginal Dancers, which has been quietly developing in the Blue Mountains under Jo Clancy’s direction for almost 10 years. ‘Wagana’ in Jo’s Wiradjuri language means ‘dance’.  Following a recent residency at Bankstown Arts Centre Jo, left, introduces her five young company members and her assistant Becky Chatfield to local elders and guests. The five girls aged from 11 to 13, with Jo and Becky, are off Denmark at on June 30, where they have been invited to participate in Dance and the Child International. The work they created and were performing at Bankstown is Sum of My Ancestors. It was inspired in part by questions from the audience when older company members performed at the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival in Scotland last year.

1-IMG_3354Audiences asked why they were light skinned, what did their dance stories mean, how did they know them. Wagana dancers found keener interest in their culture abroad than they find at home. Many of the girls have been learning their ancestral stories from early childhood and through participation in Wagana Aboriginal Dancers. Their soundtrack begins with their voices retelling the stories as they portray them in movement. Sum of My Ancestors is just what it says and Jo has encouraged the girls to feel confident in answering question about themselves and their dance in public. Left above, the dancers perform the story of how the waratah flower became red

While the company is grateful for a grant from Arts NSW, the major fundraising for the tour has been done by the company, families and friends. They have raised thousands of dollars from street stalls, trivia nights, raffles, online campaigns, morning teas and events conducted by other community organisations. Their spirit is strong and morale is high. Jo is acutely aware that a company ranging in age from preschooler to adult doesn’t correspond to government funding guidelines. More importantly, however, she knows it is the natural and traditional way for children to absorb their culture and to grow up confident and at ease with their identity.

Riz - pre-screening musicAnother outstanding example of commitment, resourcefulness and enterprise is the recent feature film Riz, given its world premiere at Sydney Film Festival. Developed under the auspice of CuriousWorks and writer-directors Guido Gonzales and S. Shakthidharan the characters of Riz and his friends were based on the real life experiences of Guido. At the age of 18, in 1981, just as Giudo was leaving his Cabramatta high school, he and his friends were confronted with a divisive situation of hope, ambition, expectation, disappointment, social class and cultural difference which tore the group apart.

Guido has always felt regret and imagined there could have been a different outcome. Riz was his opportunity and the culturally diverse cast delivered a nuanced story of authenticity and conviction. Making their first feature film followed CuriousWorks‘ unique model of community collaboration, pairing industry professionals with a cast and crew largely comprised of young people from Sydney’s west. Shakthi and his long-time CuriousWorks collaborator Aimee Falzon created an original soundtrack for the film. In the photo, above, they perform before the screening of Riz at Casula Powerhouse, on Sunday, June 7, as part of the film festival.

Riz - Q&A with cast and crewTo be selected for the Sydney Film Festival was a tremendous achievement for a film shot in Cabramatta and Casula over nine days and at a cost of only $85,000. Garry Maddox wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Festival director Nashen Moodley says Riz depicts a multicultural Sydney he has not seen before on screen. ‘The film looks at the city and class divisions and a character who’s trying to exist in two worlds,’ he says. ‘They did a really good job and there’s a lot of talent there.”

In the photo above, cast and crew answer questions from their large and enthusiastic audience at Casula Powerhouse. They were still dazed with the excitement of their world premiere at a booked out screening at Dendy Opera Quays, the night before, and the Q&A that followed. The film was then to be shown at Dendy Newtown on Monday. Shakti says, “It’s a story about how different parts of Sydney have to find a way to reconcile and get on together.” Imagine the mutual benefit when that finally happens!

Footnote: By the time you read this, I will be in the Andes and then New York. Not sure yet, whether I’ll post again from there, but back July 8.

Young dancers and filmmakers find international recognition

Wagana rehearsal 1114After months of rehearsals and fundraising, the inspired and energetic members of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers are making their second overseas trip in less than 12 months. The first was to the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival in Scotland, last July. This time it is school age members who are attending Dance and the Child International in Denmark. They will perform another original work, Sum of my Ancestors, which is grounded in traditional culture. The production is supported by many others, including Bangarra Dance Theatre and NAISDA Dance College. Arts NSW has provided financial support

The Wagana Aboriginal Dancers are the Blue Mountains national and international touring Aboriginal women and girls dance company. They honour and respect the Darug, Gundungurra and Wiradjuri peoples as the traditional custodians of the lands they dance on and proudly share their love of dance, culture and storytelling at many festivals and events. “Wagana” means to dance in Wiradjuri language and their shows weave together traditional and contemporary movement, imagery and song. See Sum of my Ancestors before they go to Denmark at Bankstown Arts Centre, Friday June 5, at 12.30pm and at Kindlehill, Wentworth Falls School of Arts, Saturday, June 27, at 5pm. Phone 0409 651 290, or click Wagana Dancers.

1-Rites of passage - the-young-crew-in-actionHard on the heels of Struggle Street comes a film seen in Parramatta in 2013, made by young people in the Illawarra region from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds to those in Struggle StreetRites of Passage gave the young people involved the chance to create stories about their lives in the way they wanted to tell them. It is an amazing work, cobbled together from images that are black and white, colour, infra-red, grainy and super 8. It begins in chaos, but settles to cohesive storytelling of an amalgam of different experiences of the young participants. They each play roles created from a combination of their stories which has led to some illuminating results. The first principle of the non-profit production company Beyond Empathy is to assist people living with hardship build new futures. The crew in action in the photo, above.

1-Rites of Passage - lakia-igano accepting-jury-award-at-warsaw-film-festivalAfter three years spent in making the film, it was clear in 2013 that the young people who stood on stage after the screening had gained skills, confidence and a clear sense of direction in their lives. Since then Rites of Passage has won a series of awards at international film festivals and a sense of pride in their achievement has grown, too. Now the film is to screen on ABC1, Sunday, June 28, at 10.30pm. Mark it in your diary and make sure you see it. It’s an inspiration. Click here to find out more about the making of the film and Beyond Empathy. Above, Lakia Igano accepts the jury award for Rites of Passage at Warsaw Film Festival.