Israel’s attacks on the storytellers. [notes from a speech for Free Palestine Central Vic – who meet Sunday 12pm Jaara Park]

 In contrast to politics, art doesn’t try to readjust or fix the machine. Instead, it does something more subversive and troubling: it shows the possibility of another world, – Zapatista Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.

A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven, – James Baldwin

I’m speak today as an artist and a filmmaker. Many of my peers on this continent have been threatened with losing opportunities, had publishing and presentation opportunities cancelled or withdrawn and are being pressured for speaking out on Palestine.

But the situation is far far worse for my Palestinian peers. They are being killed. In Gaza and the West Bank – my peers – the artists, filmmakers, poets and storytellers are losing their lives, their families, their homes and their institutions.

Over 90 journalists have been killed and countless artists, poets and writers have lost their lives.

I am not speaking about this because a poet or a journalist’s life is more valuable than anyone else’s. I want to speak to this because of the deliberate targetting of artists, writers, poets and journalists.

Why is the Israeli regime killing the stroytellers?     

This deliberate targetting is about attempting to control the narratives, to control history, by silencing the story tellers.

In the last nine weeks over 352 educational institutes have been bombed, along with the destruction of universities and archives. This is an attempt to destroy stories and to destroy memories. This is an attempt at erasure of Palestinian histories, presents and futures. 

This week we have seen raids and attacks on the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank and the arrest of their general manager Mustafa Sheta.  

This week the Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abudaqa was killed. His colleague Wael Wahdouh, who just weeks ago lost his wife and children, stayed with him as he bled to death, Wael himself injured.

Israel’s war on Gaza is the deadliest for media workers ever recorded, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Against this erasure, as international media are denied access to Gaza we turn to the citizen journalists, we know them by their first names, Bisan, Motaz, Plestia.

Poet Sara Saleh explains that “poets name what is going on”.

Here is Australia we see attempts of silencing of artists with the backlash generated when three artists took their curtail call at STC wearing keffiyeh and by threats of removal from exhibitions and galleries – or cutting of ties such as Mike Parr who was dropped by his gallerist of 36 years Anna Schwartz.

Artists are not just here to help us make sense of the world – we are also workers, we can also strike, we can also refuse. We can use our platforms to amplify the voices of Palestinian artists and storytellers. I am part of both Creatives for Palestine and MEEA Members for Palestine

#CreativesForPalestine demands are:

  1. An end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
  2. For the Australian government and Foreign Minister Penny Wong to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
  3. For our arts institutions to join the call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
  4. For the safety and rights of artists to be honoured wherever they may work.

Finally, I want to be very careful with my language. I do not give voice to or speak for Palestinian people. Palestinian people have voices and they have been speaking for a long time – we must listen. Arundhati Roy said ““There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

We refuse to allow people to be silenced, we listen to their voices, we amplify their voices.

I won’t read the final poem of Professor and writer Refaat Alereer – today, but it’s opening line;

If I Must Die
Refaat Alareer

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story

Refaat, we will speak – we will tell your story.

We don’t speak for you, but we stand beside you – we will share your stories, we will refuse your erasure, we will refuse for you to be silenced. We will use our platforms. We will amplify your words.

Palestinians have strong voices and have a rich history of literature, poetry and filmmaking. I encourage you to seek out the words, films, poetry. You can find free e-books at Verso, Haymarket and streaming films at the Arab Film Institute, Aflamuna, Free Palestine Film Festival.

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” – Toni Morrison

I stand with the storytellers, artists, poets and journalists in Palestine.

Your stories matter, you are teaching us so much. We will share them.

Summons by Aurora Levins Morales

“Last night I dreamed
ten thousand grandmothers
from the twelve hundred corners of the earth
walked out into the gap
one breath deep
between the bullet and the flesh
between the bomb and the family.
They told me we cannot wait for governments.
There are no peacekeepers boarding planes.
There are no leaders who dare to say
every life is precious, so it will have to be us.
They said we will cup our hands around each heart.
We will sing the earth’s song, the song of water,
a song so beautiful that vengeance will turn to weeping,
the mourners will embrace, and grief replace
every impulse toward harm.
Ten thousand is not enough, they said,
so, we have sent this dream, like a flock of doves
into the sleep of the world.

Wake up. Put on your shoes.
You who are reading this, I am bringing bandages
and a bag of scented guavas from my trees. I think
I remember the tune. Meet me at the corner.
Let’s go.”

Reading Summons at Free Palestine Central Vic rally.

Where is the Australian climate movement’s solidarity with Palestine?

Image: Collective civil society action calling for a Ceasefire at COP28, Dubai, December 2023. Credit: Friends of the Earth International.

Originally published in Overland.

In the sea of powerful statements of solidarity with Palestine from Jewish collectivesunionshealth workers, University staff and students, artists and many more, the climate movement in Australia remains notably absent. Everywhere I look there are groups organising; rank and file unionists, student strikes, people joining the BDS campaign, teach-ins, sits-ins at arms manufacturers, road blockades at Pine Gap and of Israeli boats at the ports. There are people organising in regional towns from a recent bake sale for Palestine in Bega to the regular Sunday rallies where I live on Djaara Country. So where is the climate movement?

Searching the press releases, news and social media feeds of several leading environmental NGOs, their CEOs and executive leadership, I struggle to see any posts since October 7th mentioning Israel, Palestine, Gaza or a ceasefire.

There are some exceptions. In mid-November Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Tomorrow Movement and School Strike for Climate hosted a webinar; Brisbane climate strikers held a solidarity action as part of the last School Strike for Climate; Friends of the Earth Australia (FoE) have been active in their support; Australia published a blog and a solidarity statement: ‘Palestine is a climate justice issue’ and Move Beyond Coal posted the blog ‘No climate justice on occupied land’.

Many individuals across the climate movement are of course active in support of Palestine and many are organising to push their organisations to take a more public stance. Propelled by the absence of a movement-wide position, a range of groups — including ActionAid Australia, Democracy in Colour, Muslim Collective, Extinction Rebellion Australia, FoE, Loud Jew Collective, Jews against fascism, Tipping Point & Australia —last week hosted a Land and Climate Justice Webinar.

I understand there is some work behind the scenes to get a climate movement statement drafted and signed on to by key orgs similar to the one released on October 20th by Climate Action Network International – which Climate Action Network Australia (CANA) abstained from signing.

So why the delay?

It can’t be for lack of coordination or a precedent. The Australian climate movement coordinates itself through CANA, which comprises over 150 member organisations and an active email list and Slack channel. There are countless open letters circulating every few weeks across these platforms, encouraging organisations to sign on. Recent examples include: an ACOSS lead statement for Fair Fast and Inclusive Action on Climate Change; an open letter signed by 43 climate organisations encouraging members to vote Yes to the Voice referendum; a Climate Council hosted letter to Tanya Plibersek, and an Australia Institute lead open letter from scientists and over 50 climate organisations calling for No New Fossil Fuel Projects. A small handful of climate organisations — Australia, FoE and AYCC — signed on to the Australian Civil Society statement in solidarity with Gaza released in late October.

The climate movement has also responded quickly to other conflicts, including most recently the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Several of the aforementioned climate organisations and leaders have posted on the war in Ukraine and the ramifications of the conflict for the fossil fuel industry and the climate crisis. Some climate organisations shifted resources to enable campaigners to focus on the climate dimensions of the war and maintain their focus on that work today.

Perhaps organisations fear a backlash and the potential risk to their charitable DGR status? In 2017, the Guardian reported that

the Civil Voices report found that charities and non-government organisations operate in an ‘insidious’ environment where ‘self-censorship’ is rife because of funding agreements, management pressure and the ‘implied repercussions’ of political speech.

Or is it that environmental organisations are worried about staying in their lane? That there is not enough of a ‘climate angle’ to speak up? Aside from the fact that there shouldn’t need to be a climate dimension to speak up on a genocide, the fact is that there are myriad reasons to why this is a climate justice issue.

Palestine is a climate justice issue. War is a climate justice issue.

In 2017, Amnesty International reported that since 1967 Palestinians have had to obtain a permit from the Israeli Army to construct ‘any new water installation’. On top of this lack of autonomy, Amnesty explains that in Gaza, ‘some 90-95 per cent of the water supply is contaminated and unfit for human consumption.’ This was before the recent attacks during which Israel has maintained a blockade restricting resources moving in and out of Gaza, severely limiting people’s access to clean water. Abeer Butmeh, coordinator of the Palestinian NGOs Network explains on the Drilled podcast, ‘when we talk about climate change adaptation, we cannot cope with the climate change phenomena without full sovereignty on our water resources’.

‘Gaza Marine’ is a gas reserve of an estimated trillion cubic feet thirty-six kms offshore from the Gaza Strip. In June this year, Israel gave preliminary approval for its development. In a chilling example of disaster capitalism, amidst uncertainty about how long the bombings will continue and while bodies are still buried under the rubble, both President Biden’s energy security advisor Amos Hochstein and the energy news site Oil Price are speculating on the how these gas reserves could help Gaza’s recovery.

A critical consideration for the Australian climate movement is the involvement of Adani in weapons manufacturing. The company behind the massively polluting Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin has recently acquired a 70 per cent interest in Israel’s newly privatised Haifa Port and are in business with Israel’s largest weapons company, Elbit. Together with Elbit, they manufacture drones, while with Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) they make sniper rifles and machine guns.

Then there are the environmental implications of military offensives themselves.

Israel is armed with nuclear weapons and has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. It is also a significant arms manufacturer and exporter. The use of chemical weapons such as white phosphorous, bombing of infrastructure and the energy-intensive operations of their army all have enormous carbon footprints and wide-ranging environmental consequences. Bombing leads to air pollution, contaminated land and poisoned water. This further impacts the health of land and people, the ability to grow food, to fish and to access clean water.

On November 18th, six weeks in to the genocide unfolding in Gaza, the Jordan Times published an analysis by engineers from Yarmouk University of the carbon emissions from the attacks. The report estimated that ‘in the first 35 days of heightened conflict, emissions amounting to approximately 60.304 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents were discharged.’ It is estimated that the global military footprint makes up 5.5 per cent of global emissions, these are currently excluded from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Ahead of COP28 the European Parliament has called for the closure of this ‘military emissions gap’.

Many have suggested that Palestine is a ‘litmus test for humanity’ and that what happens in Gaza now foreshadows possible futures for all of us. Which brings us to the issue of binding global agreements. The global climate movement pours enormous energy in to the UN Conference of Parties (COP) processes in the hope of creating a global agreement that compels countries to stick to the emissions reduction targets in line with best available science. If global peacekeeping agreements and international humanitarian standards cannot be upheld even when the whole world is watching Gaza, then what chance is there for global binding climate agreements to be achieved and respected?

Follow the money, hold space for complexity

With all this information in the public domain, why then are we only hearing from a handful of environmental and climate groups in Australia?

When I put these questions to climate organisers, I began to hear worrying reports of pressure not to speak out on Palestine or to discuss the issue at a network level. The reasons appear to be concerns for potential loss of funding and the possibility of fracturing coalitions.

Several people shared their experience and knowledge of one-on-one calls, emails and text messages from donors and climate leaders to CEOs and organisational executives discouraging people from speaking out in support of Palestine. I also understand a number of funders indicated that they would withdraw funding if groups took a public stance and that several organisations have already been advised their funding is at risk.

It appears that this has led to senior management and staff in some organisations advising workers that it is not acceptable to speak on Palestine or to wear symbols of solidarity such as keffiyehs at work or in media interviews. Despite this, it was heartening to see Palestinian flags and other symbols of solidarity at the Rising Tide People’s Blockade in Newcastle and to note that over 175 people attended the Land and Justice webinar.

Coalition-building is complex and there are many ways of coming at and understanding this work. In their Boston Review essay ‘How Much Discomfort Is the Whole World Worth?’ Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba observe that

broader movements are struggles, not sanctuaries. They are full of contradiction and challenges we may feel unprepared for.

They go on to argue for working with discomfort to be able to build larger movements, but also acknowledge there are times when we ‘have to draw hard lines.’

This moment is highlighting an existing tension about the identities and principles that animate climate organising on this continent. It may invite us to ask: is this a climate action movement or a climate justice movement?

There have been many attempts to organise with a greater commitment to climate justice principles as well as to build a more diverse movement. This is reflected in the recent CANA Power Through Collaboration conference program and in a range of internal movement mapping processes. It is fair to say that there are generational tensions as well as a climate action vs climate justice divide across the movement. How the leadership of large organisations respond right now will have far-ranging impacts on the trust and engagement of younger climate activists — especially those who are from the very communities that the movement wants to engage more with.

What I learned from climate organisers is unsettling and familiar. I am also hearing about similar pressure and fear of backlash and fall-outs in the arts and media industries in which I work. What really gets me here, though, is that the climate movement aspires to be a movement based on justice. The silence from the larger organisations in the climate space, however, raises concerns for the strength of the shared principles of the movement, as well as questions regarding the genuine understanding of and commitment to climate justice amongst movement leaders.

What do we mean when we say climate justice?

It is immoral that rich nations cannot find adequate funds for addressing climate impact, yet could instantly find billions of dollars… to support a war on the people of Gaza … There can be no peace without justice. And there can be no climate justice without human rights.

Tasneem Essop, Executive Director Climate Action Network, COP28, December 2023

Climate justice builds on the groundwork of environmental Justice, a phrase coined by movements led by people of colour on Turtle Island (USA and Canada) through the 1980-90s designed to highlight the unfair exposure of poor and marginalised communities, often along racial lines, to environmental hazards, waste and pollution. Organisers and movements in the Global South built on this framing when they issued the call for climate justice. Climate justice identifies both the disproportionate impacts on those who have had the least to do with creating the climate crisis and the need to centre and resource the leadership and visions of those communities in responding to the crisis.

The first Climate Justice Summit was held in 2000 alongside the COP6 in The Hague. In 2002, the Bali Principles of Climate Justice were ratified by a coalition of international groups. Since then, the term and the values it speaks to have gained significant traction, influencing the content of the COP meetings and framing debates and campaigns globally.

On this continent, climate justice necessarily encompasses colonial histories and present-day demands for sovereignty for First Nations people. The parallel struggles for land rights and self-determination are the foundation of longstanding solidarity and connection between First Nations people and Palestinian liberation movements. This is demonstrated by the decades-long support for Palestine by (among others) historian and activist Gary Foley and or the outspoken leadership of First Nations organisers backing Free Palestine rallies across the continent.

The robust and enduring connection between these movements has laid much of the ground for the organised response to the genocide here and is critical to listen to. This is especially necessary for the organisations that express their solidarity with First Nations people and regularly speak to the need to centre their wisdom in the climate movement.

Like the words, sustainability or reconciliation, climate justice is at risk of being hollowed out of value if organisations do not meaningfully follow the leadership of the communities most impacted by climate change and uphold an intersectional approach in their work.

If we are to build a robust climate justice movement on this continent we need to have a fundamental commitment to all human rights. We have to challenge all forms of othering and racism including antisemitism and Islamophobia. We need to stick by our principles even if it means risking our funding and stretching our coalitions. We need to be prepared to have difficult conversations and hold complexity. We also need to show up in moments of solidarity.

Step into the whirlwind

This is a powerful moment. People are finding one another, educating themselves, taking collective risks, putting their bodies on the line, joining countless signal groups, meeting fellow union members, researching, learning, connecting, organising. It’s global, dynamic and embodies a diversity of tactics and targets following the lead of decades-long organising of Palestinian liberation movements and of progressive Jewish voices around the world.

There is no doubt that this organising and mobilising pressure is influencing media coverage and policy decisions including the recent temporary ceasefire. It is drawing attention to and is building a deeper understanding of what is happening in Gaza.

Movement trainers The Ayni Institute, who have worked with the climate movement here, call times like this the ‘moment of the whirlwind’ – the heady, adrenalin-fuelled moments where power feels less fixed and change feels more possible. Mark and Paul Engler, who work with Ayni, describe this as a

dramatic public event or series of events that sets off a flurry of activity, and that this activity quickly spreads beyond the institutional control of any one organization. It inspires a rash of decentralized action, drawing in people previously unconnected to established movement groups.

The handful of times I have been part of moments of the whirlwind — around Jabiluka, Woomera2002, in the anti-globalisation movement and the mobilisations against the Iraq War — I have rapidly made deep new connections, many of which have carried through the decades that followed. If the climate movement does not visibly show up for Palestine, it will lose an opportunity to build power and connections with the diverse communities who are leading the mobilisations. We remember who shows up in these moments, just as people remember showing up. But beyond these strategic considerations, failing to show up would be a stain on the soul of the movement itself. It is not possible to build a climate justice movement if we do not have the ability to stand up for justice for fear of losing funding, having difficult conversations or of our coalitions not holding.

This essay is not intended as a call out, but a call in. It’s an appeal to those in positions of leadership in the climate movement to show up.

Let this be a line in the sand. Let us learn our history. Let us listen to liberation movements around the world. Let us draw connections between climate justice and self-determination on this continent and a Free Palestine, an end to the invasion of Ukraine and an end to all other assaults on human rights around the world. Conflicts for land and water will shape the decades to come. Showing up for each other and building power to demand justice is our only hope for a humane future.

Thanks to the many people I spoke to in researching this piece.

Image: Collective civil society action calling for a Ceasefire at COP28, Dubai, December 2023. Credit: Friends of the Earth International.

Love and rockets

Love and rockets to everyone who loved and was entangled with Jess Search.

I’ve recently started a PhD in impact producing – it’s practice-lead and the new climate film that Maya Donna and our Unquiet team are developing will be part of the research.

I’ve been reading widely trying to find a way to frame the dynamics of impact producing – beyond the ethics of how we make the content and before the audience reception, the place of strategy, communications, partnerships and collaboration with community and participants that makes the web and weave of this work.

A friend (photographer Jesse Boylan) put me on to feminist physicist Karen Barad and their notion of agency as not something existing in individuals, but instead to be understood as existing through relationships and what they call intra-action*.

As I process the loss of Jess Search I am struck by Jess’s amazing work of intra-action – of her ability to recognise and accelerate entangled agency. Not just between herself and others but between others and others, connecting, convening, introducing, listening. A network weaver, an agent of entangling.

I met Sandi DuBowski at the Crossover Labs in 2009 and this is where I first discovered there were others like me out there, working at the intersection of film, art and changemaking and that there was a growing field and practice coming in to focus. Through Sandi I discovered Working Films and BRITDOC (now Doc Society). (Side note of timing in the way of loops, I met Working Films as they were facing the loss of founder Robert West and this makes me draw breath now).

I applied for a Churchill Fellowship to explore film and change practices worldwide in 2012 which I undertook in 2013. Between applying and undertaking the fellowship in 2012 BRITDOC had held a retreat on Osea Island, UK and along with practitioners who attended had coined the term Impact Producer. London was my first stop on the Churchill (which I combined with brokering the relationships for the Namatjira family to visit Buckingham Palace alongside the show’s tour to London in 2013). I emailed Beadie and then hotdesked out of BRITDOC’s offices for 6 weeks, absorbing, listening, learning, connecting.

There’s so many moments rushing back to me — Good Pitch Chicago, cocktails at CPH DOX, japanese dinner in Sydney, raves and ideas at IDFA, texts over whatsapp working out strategies to intervene in the terf narratives, dancing to Peaches in a Sundance condo, so many memories of Jess and the networks she has woven.

She did of course, not weave these in isolation and I honour too the wisdom of Beadie, Maxyne, Sandra and the extended Doc Society team in unleashing all of this beauty and power and networking and entangling. I am also thinking of Sandi, Jennifer, Brenda, Nancy, Lina, Ingrid, Justine, Joanna, Sonya, Molly, Hollie, Sahar Judith, Rebecca, Pamela, Paco and so many other wonders I have met and loved through these networks.

I am grieving not just Jess, but also her commitment to struggle. Oh how we need joy and strategy and vision and struggle. The work will continue, the struggle will continue and I promise Jess I will triple down on my commitment. I will share everything, I will listen for signals, not noise, I will connect, I will remain curious and I will be brave.

Thank you Jess and my deepest love to everyone weeping and mourning across our entangled networks as we weave stories and strategies for justice.

Love and solidarity forever, Rest In Power, Jess.



Intra-action is a concept introduced by Karen Barad. It describes the mutual constitution of entangled agency, that is the mutual constitution of our ability to act. When two entities intra-act, they do so in co-constituitive ways. This means that agency is not a preexisting given. The ability to act emerges from within the relationship not outside of it. And this ability constantly changes and adapts according to processes it is involved in.Make Commoning Work wiki

Watch this powerful spotlight conversation with Jess Search from BFI London Film Festival 2021.

The new climate in climate arts activism

Artist-led campaigns are creating powerful change underwritten by concern for the future.

11 Nov 2022

David Pledger and Alex Kelly

The relationship between sponsorship and climate activism has again been in the news. Players of professional tennis, football, cricket and netball have exercised their muscle recently and pushed back against sponsorship deals for their codes and representative teams by companies operating in the extractive industries.

Santos, Alinta Energy and Hancock Prospecting have all had the plug pulled on their deals with, respectively, Tennis Australia, Cricket Australia and Netball Australia, due to pressure exerted by current and former players, their allies and fans in the community. Decisions ‘not-to-renew’ long-standing sponsorship deals have been met with warnings of the sky falling in by some in the mainstream commentariat. The quick pick-up of the Netball Australia $15 million sponsorship by Visit Victoria reduced that noise to a whimper with the swish of a pen on an equivalent cheque. 

This shift in activism reflects a new generation of players whose futures, and those of their sports, are dependent upon climate mitigation. For example, this year, Australian Cricket Captain, Pat Cummins, helped establish Cricket for Climate, an organisation assisting grassroots clubs to reduce their carbon output in the face of predictions that global warming will make outdoor sport impossible within 20 years. This new climate activism has repercussions for, and is partly reflected in, the arts and cultural milieux.

Sports-washing and art-washing are agents of destruction in the sponsorship universe. They are similarly tentacular in the way they reach into the very soul of art and sport and, in the case of the arts, create any number of toxic pressures and responses in a sector with scant financial resources. 

For years, extractive capitalism has been a key component in the production and promulgation of the arts in Australia, implicating them in the values and operations of its various industries. Through board representation, event sponsorship and partnership arrangements, Australian arts agencies, arts training and tertiary institutions, major cultural institutions and presenting organisations have become deeply entwined with the practices of extractive capitalism.

Our understanding of the extent to which fossil fuel industries have captured governance, sponsorship and partnership in the cultural sector owes much to the 2018 artwork Maps of Gratitude by former artist, now Richmond candidate for the Greens in the upcoming Victorian election, Gabrielle de Vietri, whose visualisation demonstrates a disturbing nexus. It weaves a dense matrix – scan the boards of major cultural institutions and presenting organisations, you’ll most likely find a representative of the extractive industries – the weight of which (in)directly places an impost on governance and curatorial decision-making, while conversely deferring the benefit of a ‘social licence’ on the relevant companies. Recently writer Penny Tangey has pulled together a ‘non exhaustive list’ of fossil fuel sponsorship across the arts and sports in Australia, which details over 450 relationships and counting. 

Over the last few years, the presence of art-washing in the sector has been made explicit by artist-led activism that has caused sponsorship deals to come unstuck in a number of key contests. These can be seen in the context of broader arts activism going back to the seminal  Sydney Biennale boycott in 2014 and the Artists’ Committee direct action against the NGV in 2018 both over the issue of detention of asylum seekers, and the 2022 artist boycott of Sydney Festival due to Israeli embassy sponsorship. 

Unsurprisingly, where an economy is dominated by the resources sector you will find proportional investment in the arts and cultural sector – Western Australia is a good example. So many arts organisations in the state receive financial support from fossil fuel companies, with those that make a point of refusal – such as Revelation Perth International Film Festival and PVI Collective – standing out. Oil and gas company, Woodside Energy has its fingerprints all over the sector; Fortescue, Chevron, BHP, Rio Tinto et al are more selective but no less penetrative. 

Woodside has recently been the subject of two campaigns to divest it of its sponsorship deals with, respectively, Perth’s Fringe World Festival and WA Symphony Orchestra. With controversial projects like the Scarborough gas project requiring approval, Woodside desperately needs social licence to operate. 

Produced by ARTRAGE, Fringe World has been sponsored by Woodside since 2012, an arrangement that from 2018 has been the subject of protest by a coalition of artists and activists. In January 2021, ARTRAGE staged a COVID-interrupted festival for which the administration inserted a clause in artists’ contracts binding them to ‘use its (their) best endeavours to not do any act or omit to do any act that would prejudice any of Fringe World’s sponsorship arrangements’. Unsurprisingly, the coalition interpreted the clause as a gag order and ramped up their protests. When Woodside’s Principal Partner sponsorship came up for renewal in June last year, the collective celebrated when the offer was not taken up. Those celebrations, however, were short-lived when Woodside was announced just a few weeks later as ARTRAGE’s Philanthropy Partner, a move off the Fringe World banner and down the sponsorship food chain, but a continuing arrangement, nevertheless. 

Six months later and just around the corner, the WA Symphony Orchestra and the WA Youth Orchestra, performed Become Ocean for Perth Festival 2022. Considering the piece was described as an existential musing on climate change, the genuinely absurd and deeply cynical decision to promote Woodside as its sponsor incited author Tim Winton to protest at the Writers Weekend saying it ‘shows how far and how wide and how deep we’ve let the influence of fossil capital seep through our culture, and also how bloody hard it’s going to be to extricate ourselves. Because they’re everywhere’. Winton is also now part of the recently launched campaign to get Woodside’s hands off the Fremantle Dockers. Both a coda and a corollary to Winton’s Perth Festival protest is the dropping of US fossil fuel giant, Chevron, from the Festival’s sponsorship roster in mid-2023 after a decades-long partnership, having been the subject of another four-year push from artists.

These are significant campaign wins that have been initiated, generated and implemented by individual artistsand artists’ collectives challenging the status quo of arts-washing in WA. The Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action and Fossil Free Arts WA collectives, in particular, are notable for their active persistence, consistent messaging and direct action to effect significant change. 

In October this year, a high-profile campaign led by a group of artists, activists and Traditional Owners – taking their inspiration from Fossil Free Arts WA – called Fossil Free Arts NT – was successful in getting Santos out of the Darwin Festival after almost 30 years of sponsorship.

It’s been a seven-year campaign, which grew alongside the powerful movement against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the NT and, like Perth’s Fringe World, featured artists subjected to a gag clause in their contracts. In their Open Letter as part of the campaign, artists went to great lengths to communicate how much they cared about the festival. Fossil Free Arts NT also attracted replacement funding from a group of philanthropists– an offer first made in 2017 and upgraded to the 2022 level of $200,000. Putting a pin in the argument that the arts cannot survive without fossil fuel money, the offer comes with an invitation to consider ongoing funding beyond the initial two-year term.  

Arts activism has come a long way since the Sydney Biennale boycott, about which then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, bemoaned artists’ ‘vicious ingratitude’. Turnbull’s deficits as a leader have been more than matched by the strategic and cultural assets accumulating in artists’ activism in the last decade: the understanding that today to be an artist, one must also be an activist, the sense of solidarity that collective action brings, the confidence that comes with taking a stand, the sense of responsibility that accumulates with asserting influence, and the demonstration of possibility and the inspiration of hope. 

In these artist-led campaigns, change has been created that, on the surface, seems to be about money but is clearly underwritten by a cultural dramaturgy in which social justice, care for Country and collective futuring are fundamental pressure points. 

These are our times.

Make the fossil fuel companies pay

The industries that have fuelled the climate crisis, funded climate denial, and blocked just climate progress for decades must pay for the damage they have caused. Holding them liable means ensuring that they are held criminally and financially responsible, and that they are made to end the practices that have driven this crisis in the first place.

Make Big Polluters Pay

The question of who should pay for the loss and damage of climate change raises familiar problems in distributive justice: Should rich countries pay be¬cause they are richer or because they have emitted more? We can add another: or because they’ve inherited more of the liabilities from global racial empire?

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

In the last few weeks, like many others, I have sent money to a range of different GoFundMe and Chuffed campaigns for flood impacted communities across NSW and Queensland—for the Aboriginal Community of Lismore, the brilliant Quandamooka artist Megan Cope and infamous counter culture ratbag Chris Lego; as well as dear friends who have lost everything to the mud and water. I refreshed each of the pages regularly, gratified to see them reach their targets quickly.

While it is heart-warming to see how quickly we can get cash into the hands of people who need it right now, it begs the question of who should actually be paying for the recovery.

We know that every La Niña will bring more of these devastating floods and storm cells. We know that in the drier years of El Niño we will be facing increasingly catastrophic bushfires. We are running out of adjectives to convey the scale and ferocity of the disasters we face.

The climate emergency is here—we are living in it.

Initial estimates put the clean-up bill for these floods in the billions. Communities affected by the deadly fires of summer 2019-20 still haven’t seen the resources they need to properly recover; people are still living in tents two years later. We can’t leave communities to fend for themselves in the wake of these destructive events.

The government has a $4.7bn disaster fund. Insurance companies will be paying out by the millions and citizen crowdfunds are going to transfer millions, too. But it shouldn’t be our taxes or our private cash or the insurance firms who foot the bill for this mess. It is those who got us in to this disaster who must pay—the planet-wrecking fossil fuel companies.

Australian fossil fuel companies are projected to export more than $379bn worth of oil and gas by June this year. According to research from Market Forces, as many as sixty-two of these companies paid no tax in 2019-20.

As we process the magnitude of these floods, while still trying to make sense of the black summer fires, it is clear that we are going to need significant resources to manage the ongoing, rolling crises that will define our lives in the decades to come. As these impacts become more and more frequent, we need to organise around the idea that those responsible for the climate crisis must pay for the mess they have made.

The polluter pays principle (PPP) is not new. It was embedded in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and has a variety of applications in both binding and non-binding laws, policies and conventions around the world.

This principle is what underpins attempts to place a price or tax on carbon and emissions. Contested as they are, these policies don’t go far enough in taking into account either historic emissions or the colonial context in which they were accelerated.

Both the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action and The Australia Institute call for a $1 per tonne levy on carbon pollution from fossil fuel production to be introduced to raise money for the National Climate Disaster Fund. In May 2021, the Greens introduced the Liability for Climate Change Damage Bill (Make the Polluters Pay).  These and all the attempts to put a price on carbon are a necessary beginning, but we need to go further again—not just charging them for the damage they do now, but making them liable for the damage they have already done. We need powerful government intervention, commensurate with the scale of the ever-worsening crises we face.

Social movements can no longer just ask for what we think is politically possible—we have to ask for what is required.

First, we urgently need to get off fossil fuels. To start that transition we need to rule out any further government subsidies to coal, oil or gas extraction, which currently sit at over $12bn a year. We need an immediate ban on all new fossil fuel projects and to invest in substantive planning and funding for a rapid transition for workers and communities currently reliant on these industries. Then we need to raid their coffers and take back the profits they have made trashing our shared home. They must pay for the years of preparedness and ongoing disaster recoveries ahead of us.

There are precedents for this kind of payout. In Australia we have seen successful class actions for those impacted by asbestos. In Canada, a recent decision saw tobacco companies forced to pay $15bn in compensation and punitive damages. Around the world there are lawsuits taking place to hold fossil fuel companies to account, such as a group of cases in the US based on the idea that

the industry severely aggravated the environmental crisis with a decades-long campaign of lies and deceit to suppress warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and dupe the American public.

On this continent, we must understand the gigantic wealth of the fossil fuels companies in the context of invasion. The idea of addressing historic injustice and the ways in which the colonial project has fuelled the climate crisis is increasingly being understood as Climate Reparations. Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò explains that the ‘historical connections between the climate crisis and our present systems of injustice help explain why a just future depends on reparations.’ Approaching the polluter pays principles with a justice lens takes in to account the colonial debt owed on this continent and can be seen as an important extension of growing calls and commitments to Pay the Rent in this settler colony.

We need to develop regulatory mechanisms that reflect the specific histories of theft—of labour and of land—that enabled so much wealth to be accrued. We need to set up mechanisms to distribute that wealth that are reparatory and that are embedded in and informed by truth telling and Treaty processes.

I spent the peak days of the floods scrolling, in awe as people set up ingenious shared Googledocs, watching in real time as people scoured social media for rescue alerts and relayed information and addresses to people out in boats. Following the organising lead by the Koori Mail and many other across the Northern Rivers and the Bandjalung community. Amazing. And yet—how is it that we are at this stage of the climate crisis without significant investment, crisis and preparedness training across the continent? Why are communities cobbling together shared excel spreadsheets to find old people in roof cavities?

Impacted communities will always be the first responders and there are more neighbourhood groups and mutual aid networks being established across the continent every time we face another crisis—be it the pandemic or a flood, drought or a cut-off highway. Why is the establishment of such groups being left to local community volunteers? Where is the national coordination supporting this grassroots planning and preparation and connecting these efforts to other emergency services?

We need to resource training, planning, infrastructure and equipment. We need to fund our SES and firefighters, our local CFAs. We need psychologists and trauma counsellors. We need emergency food systems and mobile emergency telecommunications services. We need better resourced health services. We need emergency housing for the immediate aftermath of the crisis and in the long tail of recovery. And we need the resources for these services and equipment to be fairly and equally distributed.

We are going to need all of this and more year in and year out as we face the ongoing and increasingly devastating impacts of the climate emergency. It is going to cost an enormous amount of money.

We know exactly which companies have enormous amounts of money. It is those that are responsible for global heating and those that have done everything to suppress the science and undermine climate action. We know that all profit on this continent comes from stolen land, stolen labour and much of this has been supercharged by the extractive industries.

Now we need to make them pay for the damage they have done.


Newsletter Sept 2020

Dear friends,

I write through waves of iso-fatigue, but with the warm spring winds lifting my spirits. I am also buoyed as I reflect on the dynamic and generative events that were Assembly for the Future 2020 which I am excited to share with you in this update.

There was no blank page. There was no empty land.
There was never a moment that felt like the stage was set
for the world to come.
There was only the unmarked seed,
the garden already overgrown, and between the weeds and the flowers
there was work — there was living to be done.

– Jingua Qian, Still Life (excerpt). Assembly for the Future #3

My collaborators Sophia Marinos, David Pledger and I are catching our breath after a huge burst of real-time, responsive art making on Assembly for the Future. It might seem counter intuitive that we would find such joy and purpose in imagining the future at a moment when time has changed so much, but it really was an antidote to the despair of the present.

Over three events we assembled. Guided by our Usher to the Future, Robbie, Keeper of Time (yours truly) our ensemble of fifteen Moderators, six Artists, six Respondents and three First Speakers over 300 people gathered and built other futures together.

Each of those First Speakers talks, Claire G. Coleman, Scott Ludlam and Alice Wong are now online to view here + Scott’s Love Letter from 2029 was also published in the Guardian. Each Assembly generated ten Dispatches from the Future, two Artworks and a Future Archive piece – and I really encourage you to take a moment to jump in. From poems, to spoken word to a manifesto, a ‘zone drop’, a mission briefing, a vlog and more; the forms and approaches and content are varied but all are transporting and moving their own ways. All in all, the Assembly series generated 49 futures, a new body of work from 2029 – check them all out here.

Alice Wong The Disabled Oracle Society by Joshua Santospirito
This creative burst and the experiment of Assembly for the Future affirmed even more urgently that we need new stories and new visions of the futures – we need hundreds of thousands of them, we need everyone to feel they have a claim on the futures, a stake in them, we need contested, divergent, contradictory demands, arguments about how to get to these futures and a whole lot of new ideas about how to deal with the now. We need to develop a habit of imagining futures that have potential. Only then can we realise them.

The pandemic is throwing into high relief everything that is broken in our current system, our inherited historical injustice, our privatised and carceral responses.

According to Arundhati Roy this pandemic is a cuddly teddy bear compared to the shocks to come from the climate crisis. If we want to deal with these shocks with dignity and humanity we need to centre care, justice and a practice of listening, imagining and creating together in all that we do.

This project is one humble attempt to practice some of these ideas, to invite small cracks of possibility into conversations between audiences and artists – with a hope that this might just influence the ways in which we all think – and act.

It is a very simple and widely used device, but when you speak from the future it does something to your body and to the body of the listener – we are transported, some part of us reacts differently to the possibility.

This is the space in which we are attempting to make work – in the hope that it can unlock a place in all of us to fight for a liveable future for all rather than accepting the rampant inequality and violence of the present.

I am humbled to have been awarded a fellowship with the Bertha Challenge for 2020-21 and this will enable me to make The Things We Did Next my focus for the coming year. So stay tuned, we are currently plotting for next year with plans for more Assembly events, a sound-feature and a book!

In solidarity and with care,

strange bedfellows led

dismantling predatory architectures

artists and farmers in their villages

came together


broken systems cast them aside

they collided

a slippage

their interconnectivity

changed how we saw culture and Country

they fed the soil

returning what was there



no longer floating

and Country spoke through them

whether they knew or not

And Country Spoke Through Them (excerpt)
By Zena Cumpston
Elders Anthology of Australian Poetry, 2020-2029
Assembly for the Future #2

Newsletter September 9th 2020:


How can we imagine the things we did next?

When I travelled with Naomi Klein on the roll out of her 2015 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate I came to be able to predict key questions from audiences. Whether we were in a warehouse with grassroots activists or a grand theatre with thousands of people in a capital city, a round table with economists or brainstorming with workers drafting a green deal new proposal someone would inevitably ask if it was worth organising, was the future written, were we doomed?

When this question was asked the air would go out of the room and everyone would look to Naomi to provide the rallying cry that whilst things were dire we could build another future. It was a high pressure moment, and no matter how well Naomi nailed the response it felt like people left unconvinced, as if it was impossible to imagine other futures but losing the world.

Alongside this role as Global Impact and Distribution Producer on This Changes Everything I spent a lot of time reading cli-fi. I devoured The Water Knife (Paolo Bacigalupi), Station Eleven (Emily St John Mandel), Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy and re-read all of the Obernwetyn series by Isobel Carmody.  At the same time Mad Max and other dystopian fictions dominated our screens.

Despite my reading of these dark and violent novels, exploring narratives of plagues and resource wars it was a period of great inspiration for me. I was in the incredible position of spending my time researching and connecting with social movements around the world. My job was to see how the roll out of the book and film could amplify their work and assist movements to build connections between issues. I wasn’t just looking at climate and anti extraction movements, but to labour rights activists, no borders campaigners, human rights and press freedom orgs and to disability and anti racist work. I felt flooded by possibility and inspiration by my time spent paying attention to campaigns, actions, policy reforms, blockades, legal challenges, writing and deep community work happening the world over.

It soon became apparent to me that for people who didn’t have the opportunity to pay this kind of deep attention to social movements – and given the fact that movements are not given much airtime in the mainstream media, this is most of us – were really needing to hear some of what I was hearing about daily as an antidote to climate despair.

Since then (I was on this project from 2013-2015) even more movements have exploded to shift dominant narratives around climate breakdown – particularly the student climate strikers and First Nations resistance to extraction such as the Borroloola community fighting fracking in the NT and pushing back on pipelines in Wet’suwet’en Territory in Canada. This is a battle for the future, told not just in bodies on the frontlines, but through stories.

I became increasingly preoccupied by this question of the role of our narratives for futures – as many say “you can’t be what you can’t see”. We clearly need to imagine and tell wild new stories, speak of future victories, push our thinking beyond those deep worm grooves of expectation of corporate doom, poisoned water and violent closed borders. We know these stories, we predict them, we slump in to them as if they are inevitable and all that we are capable of.

But we also know, I think, that we are creatures driven by love, even when the fear drives us to behave in horrible and shortsighted ways, I think on a deep cellular level we know we are connected and we know we are love.

So the challenge to myself became; how can I turn my own art making to these questions of future making, possibility of care and love? How could I step up as an artist and encourage different kinds of conversations?

I started to think about what kind of performance and art forms I was comfortable exploring and thinking about what size and shape my art making could take to work with my two young kids (I’ve toured major theatre works with crew of over 30 before, so I was trying to avoid that!) I started to play with the notion of the talk show, of a conversation format and started to imagine the idea of interviewing real people improvising a future version of themselves. We would look at projects and movements they had been involved in in the 2020s and through this future histories lens we could speak about cultural and political change not yet written.

It has been several years in development and with each month that passes the unpredictable news (fire, viruses, global conflicts, First Nations territories declaring independence from colonial states) in the present provides ever more narrative permission to push out our imaginings for the next ten years.

I quickly realised I didn’t want to write these futures myself and so have been slowly building a team and approaching a range of collaborators to join me in the world building. We are borrowing from tv making ‘writers rooms’ and from different theatre methodologies such as body listening (as lead by my collaborator David Pledger).

Together in this in between space of art, interview and conversation I hope we can speak to surprising, preposterous and unusual futures and together as artists and audiences we can together imagine other possible futures.

The Things We Did Next will premiere at BLEED Festival at Arts House Melbourne in June 2020.

This interview first appeared in The Victoria Writer magazine April 2020

New Year, New Action for Transformation

A lot of people have messaged me saying “the fires have really rocked me. I’m angry and I want real action on climate but what can I DO?” Here are some initial ideas to get you started.

Please note this article is not about how to respond to these immediate fires, it’s some more long term ideas. I also haven’t included divestment, eco transport, banking ethically etc but those kind of actions are fairly easy to find on campaign sites.

I think what we need now is twofold:

strong community adaptation and resilience and
a powerful movements of movements to challenge the planet wreckers and put an urgent end to fossil fuels and extraction.

Firstly you don’t have to drop what you’re doing; you can start where you are with what you have; use your skills and influence your own networks, friends and workplaces.

If we are realistic about climate change it’s clear we need to transform everything about our economy and energy systems so every industry and much of our infrastructure needs to change; you can influence the areas you know and care about.

In terms of supporting campaigns maybe you are great at research, brilliant with excel spreadsheets, an ace cook, have rope and climbing skills, have first aid training, can play music, are good at writing and can put together media releases or up for direct action: whatever you can do, movements need!

If you haven’t joined an activist group before you might be shy or have some funny ideas about who you might encounter if you get involved. I reckon what you will find is ordinary people just like you who are trying to figure out ways to make things better. You can also find a place for the kind of skills and interests you have; direct action, protest, corporate campaigning, research and policy, art and culture, you name it, we need it!

Secondly this is not just about you, a single person and your choices and actions; this is about US, all of us and what WE can do. Wherever you can connect up with other people in your town, industry, family, workplace, sports club and start organising. Individual consumer thinking won’t get us out of this mess so let’s try and shift to thinking and acting collectively. Networks of networks, movements of movements – system change.

This is about US, all of us and what WE can do. Together we can do so much!

Here are just a few ideas.

– Support First Nations campaigns: by donating or volunteering or partnering and most importantly amplifying and sharing their work and lifting up the voices, solutions and needs of Indigenous communities this is central to climate justice on this continent

– Donate to frontline organisations and grassroots groups: they are often struggling for funding but also often have deepest roots and have biggest impact in their communities

– Research how climate change impacts the most vulnerable: homeless folks, those in poverty with poor housing, people with disabilities and work with those communities to develop support plans

– Get informed: research and read up on climate change, climate justice, social change and transition plans like the Green New Deal. Don’t do this on your own, set up reading groups and watch and listening parties to debrief, discuss and plan

– Plan for local resilience: meet your neighbours and build a community resilience project and disaster preparedness plan with the streets and properties nearby

– Campaign against extraction: join up with an existing campaign in your region or community that is working to keep fossil fuels in the ground especially coal, oil and gas

– Run for government: run for local, state or federal government on an anti fossil fuels and pro community resilience platform – most of us are shy about this idea esp LGBTIQ people, women and young people but we really need more people taking real leadership in our governments

– Join (or start) a community garden and research food security in your region

– Join an anti racism campaign, whether antifa or in support of asylum seekers. Border politics are going to amp up as climate impacts increase

– Put on a resilience festival and engage local authors, poets and musicians to perform and create new stories for your communities

My love and solidarity to you all as we process, grieve, get angry, feel despair and then, ORGANISE!

Republished on The Commons

In the Zone – arriving at the zad

This article first appeared in Overland 27th June 2017

Subcommandante Marcos, Robin Hood, Louise Michel and Spartacus – the Roman rebel, resplendent in green woollen socks rather than the leather boots one might expect – are all impatiently waiting outside the Palais de Justice (courthouse) at Saint Nazaire (in western France). The characters eye off two surly security guards, who grimace back at them from behind their aviator shades.

All these people are here for the lauded ‘Cèsar de la Resistance’ award, to be presented in due course. The police close the small road to traffic, and a red carpet is rolled out, running from the gates of the courthouse to the lectern in the middle of a narrow traffic island. Paté and muscadet (the local bubbly) are at the ready, and women more used to work boots laugh as they attempt to navigate cobblestones in second-hand sparkly heels. Everyone in attendance has made a nod to Cannes fashion with op-shop finery. It’s not your average kind of awards ceremony. Then again, the ZAD is not your average kind of place.

Subcommandante Marcos, Robin Hood, Louise Michel and Spartacus

Subcommandante Marcos, Robin Hood, Emma Goldman and Spartacus

What exactly is the ZAD? Near the village of Notre Dame des Landes in rural Brittany, the Zone à Dèfendre (Zone to Defend) or just ‘the zone’ is comprised of a sprawling 4000 acres of forest, wetlands and fields – fields of cattle, vegetables and hay, permaculture farms and the home of an unlikely alliance of squatters and radicals, farmers and rural organisers. Occupied for eight years, the ZAD is currently the largest autonomous zone in Europe. And it’s under renewed threat from France’s fresh-faced president.

The Cèsar de la Resistance is the first action I attend upon arriving at the ZAD. The occasion celebrates a documentary currently on release in cinemas in France, featuring local inhabitants Christiane and Claude Herbin. The award is both an allusion to the Cèsar awarded at the Cannes film festival, and a cheeky reference to the failed expulsions of the ZAD in 2012 – code named Operation Cèsar by the state. I’m slowly discovering the zone by visiting a few collectives each afternoon by bicycle, in awe at the sheer physical labour and time that has gone into building and growing – quite literally – the resistance here.

Since 1960 this land has been earmarked for an airport, despite the fact that there is already an airport in the nearby city of Nantes, twenty minutes away. Locals have long opposed the airport, and many considered the project dormant and unlikely to cause trouble as they continued to work the land and build their lives here. In the early 2000s the project was resurrected and the state again began to buy up land, offering farmers compensation for leaving. A number of them – including Christiane and Claude, now known as the ‘historic inhabitants’ – refused to move. They realised that they would be unable to defend such a vast tract of land through legal strategies alone, and collectively made an appeal for people to come and occupy the land – so, in 2009 the zone came to be. It exists as an occupation ‘against the airport and its world’, and at the same time a space for experimentation and creation.

2016- bridge action

2016 Bridge action

The farms here are in an older style known as le bocage; small fields between wide hedges made up of woodlands. These create a series of natural corridors between the fields, forests and lakes across the zone. You can spend hours wandering the shaded pathways through scrub and forests, discovering hand-built ramshackle cabins, retro caravans in various states of repair, earthen buildings, old trucks and horse carriages converted to living quarters, and masses of that cheap and modular building ingredient – the wooden pallet. It is a beautiful irony that the potential of an airport on this site has prevented it from being transformed into the larger fields that now dominate modern agriculture in France, sustaining the biodiversity and multiple uses of the land that many now seek to protect.

Over the years, I have visited and lived in many social centres, squats, warehouses and collective projects around the world. I’d read and heard a lot about the ZAD before arriving, but I was still unprepared for the scale, the audacity and the creativity that has gone toward resisting, and simultaneously creating this beautiful haphazard space of possibility that has flourished for these many years.

There are around 200 people living in 60 different collectives across the zone. There’s collectives growing hops and brewing beer and cider, baking kilos of bread, making cheese, growing vegetables for the free market, a pirate radio station, a sports space, a gym, cinemas, a kids’ house and a newspaper with open publishing principles, delivered weekly to each collective – The Zad News.

I’m staying with the collective at La Rolandière. They have opened a welcome and information centre for the ZAD, in an attempt to address the common difficulty of these kind of radical spaces being inaccessible and often intimidating to connect with. The centre was converted from a disused stable in an old farmhouse, and features many pamphlets, books, and maps of the zone. Learning traditional terre paille (cob building) the collective have remade the walls with straw and clay from the zone, and rebuilt the floor and staircase to the attic above. The attic is now home to the Taslu library, which hosts screenings and discussions on themes such as anthropology, Italian autonomous movements and the Zapatistas.


A map of the Zone à Defendre

If you duck your head and climb through the attic window of the Taslu you can use the walkway to a 20-metre-high steel lighthouse, for a view across the bocage and cow paddocks. This beautiful surrealist inland lighthouse was built collectively over many months, and gently teases at the control tower that would have been built, along with the proposed runway, on a nearby field. It asserts an audacious confidence, by committing to building something large and permanent despite the uncertainty of the struggle. Locals and Zadistes (zone members) often drop by on their bikes with friends and family, climbing to the top of the tower to have a drink and take in the ZAD from on high.

An autonomous project of this scale comes with its own particular politics and tensions, of course, as people attempt to build new systems and ways of living and being while opposing outside forces. Finding ways to manage these tensions, and not be overwhelmed by these forces, will be even more critical in the coming months, as the new Macron government sets its sights on resolving the issue of the airport, and by extension, the ZAD.

The ZAD and the proposed airport featured as a major political issue in the presidential election, discussed on televised debates and in many news articles. Macron’s announced approach is to send in a team of mediators to find a solution without ‘brutality’. This is no doubt a reference to the four weeks of Operation Cèsar in 2012 – during which many people were injured in a huge show of police force, and saw tens of thousands turn up to defend the ZAD.

The ZAD presents a telling conundrum for Macron, particularly as it seems to be among the first issues he is seeking to tackle. Macron is determined to promote his new government as both open for business and leading on climate change – as demonstrated by the appointment of Nicolos Hulot, a former television star and philanthropist, as the Minister for the Ecological Transition. Will Macron finally lay to rest the decades-long question of this airport? And, should it be abandoned, what will be the future of the zone be, now that the state owns the vast majority of the land and the ZAD has become a powerful site of resistance?


The lighthouse and its walkway at La Rolandière

Resolute not to be set against each other – as farmer versus squatter, if the airport is abandoned – the movement at the ZAD is committed to finding a long-term way to manage the 4000-acre zone collectively. The next six months will prove a dynamic and fascinating moment in the struggle, as Macron promotes his mediation, and the movement recommits to solidarity across the diverse positions and visions for the future of the zone.

The awards ceremony takes place the week that Macron announces the three mediators who will take carriage of the work over the next six months. Claude Herbin – affectionately known as ‘Petit Claude’ – and Christiane exit the courthouse, where they have lodged an application to extend their right to stay in the Liminbout hamlet. Claude and Christiane are the final historic inhabitants of the ZAD to reach ‘evictable’ status; they are also the final nominations for the Cèsar to arrive at the event.

With over-the-top pomp and the official Oscars music blaring, the ragtag crowd of Zadistes open the envelope to reveal the winner, and present Claude and Christiane with the Cèsar – a hand welded trophy of a golden pitchfork impaling an airplane. It is so heavy that they are unable to raise it aloft to celebrate their win; instead, they hold it at chest height and smile at the crowd with gentle joy at the spectacle, and the sentiment.


Claude and Christiane with their award

The warmth in honouring the couple demonstrates the strong and deep friendships built between local paysans (farmers) and the occupants at the ZAD who answered their call in 2009. When I see the camaraderie between people here, forged on barricades and in the fields, I can’t help but wonder what ‘Lock the Gate’ might look like if the relationships built on the frontlines at Bentley, or in communities in transition like Hazelwood, had the opportunity to live and build together over many years.

The complexity and the richness of possibilities evidenced in these collaborations – when people at once defend and create together – are the very things we need to examine and work our way through as we face deepening conflicts over resources and the increasing impacts of climate crisis.

For now, I am taken by a childlike wonder as I explore the greenhouses and shacks built from imaginations given free reign, on a foundation of genuine solidarity in fighting together to create something new.

Climate change from an Alice perspective: Time to act.

I wrote an end of year wrap up for the Alice Springs News Online – original article here



This is the second story in our Rest and Reflection series published during the festive season and written by people who are making a difference to Alice Springs.

It is official: 2016 was the hottest year on record and in September we passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

You could be forgiven for missing this news or not realising it is profoundly significant, as it barely rates a mention – especially not here in the NT.

Even writing on this subject this I know: I’m likely to see fact-muddying responses and outright dismissal in the comments thread.

I’ve spent the last three years working on This Changes Everything, a global climate change project lead by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and filmmaker Avi Lewis.

My role took me to twelve countries and put me in contact with communities opposing extraction and building alternatives around the world including spending three weeks in Paris during the COP21 UN climate talks this time last year.

Working between Alice Springs and New York and London was surreal in many obvious ways – but more surprising than the scale, traffic or weather it is the lack of concern for the impending impacts that climate change that struck me most when I returned home.

As I was drafting this piece the small village where my sister and her family live in Bijagua de Upala in the north of Costa Rica suffered terrible damage and loss of life as Hurricane Otto made landfall.

At least four people were killed in their village and many houses and properties were washed away by walls of water and mudslides.

This was the first hurricane to ever hit Costa Rica, the southern most ever in the area and the latest ever in the season. The cause of this largest ever forming hurricane in the region has been put down to the exceptionally high sea surface temperatures in the region – 29C.


Costa Rica is a world leader in renewables generated by a mix of solar, wind and thermal power. Between July and August this year they ran on 100% renewables for 76 days straight.  However, being 100% renewable doesn’t protect against climate impacts and the devastating news sharply reminds me that we are all on this planet together – all responsible for the atmosphere we share.

Here in the NT we are “highly vulnerable” to climate change according to the Federal government’s Department of the Environment. We are likely to see sea level rise, more frequent extreme weather events and temperature rises –  in Alice Springs the number of hot days over 35C is expected to increase from 90 per year to up to 182 by 2070. And we can expect to these changes to have massive impacts on water, weather, tourism, agriculture, disease and health.

So why the lack of action when this could undermine so much about what we love about this place, and perhaps even lead to this region becoming impossible to live in?

I am astounded by not only the silence, not just the wilful indifference, but also by the mad enthusiasm for fossil fuel extraction in the Territory.

I am struck that so many of our leaders, at a local level and Territory-wide, profess a deep love and loyalty to this place, yet by failing to act on climate change they are severely undermining our ability to sustain our lives here.

I hear the same old economic arguments – they are well worn and recycled for every new proposal. Jobs and growth would be great for the NT – but the truth is that real long terms jobs and growth don’t lie in fossil fuel projects.

I am heartened by the news this week of the Gunner government’s establishment of a Renewable Energy Panel – especially to see Alice’s local expert engineer Lyndon Frearson has been appointed to the panel.

However for a shift to 50% renewables by 2030 to even make a dent in our emissions we have to stop pursuing any new fossil fuel projects in the Territory.

We know that to face the climate crisis we need to do three things at once. Firstly we need to stop building any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Secondly we must put plans in place to rapidly transition to renewable energy. Good thing we know that the technology is ready for us to make this shift and that Alice Springs is uniquely well placed to lead this transition, especially with solar.

And thirdly we have to put in place disaster preparedness to be able to deal with the climate impacts that we have already locked in, those that will occur even if we were to make this transition and end extraction today, like those that just hit my sister’s village.

In this context it is sheer madness that the power station in Alice Springs be “upgraded” to operate on gas.

The gas industry may well be positioning itself as the clean answer to coal and oil, but the evidence shows that this is far from the truth. Gas is not clean, it is not a bridging fuel and it gets us into just as much trouble with emissions and pollution as other fossil fuels.

The proposed Northern Gas Pipeline – for which the pipeline materials are already starting to arrive in the NT even before the proposal meets approval under the NT’s environmental regulations – is another astounding example of the madness of the pursuit of fossil fuels.

Not only is there a strong argument to be made that there will not be a market for the gas extracted in the NT, a infrastructure project on this scale will open vast tracks on the NT to gas extraction and essentially be a carbon bomb – releasing even more harmful fossil fuels in to the atmosphere at the very moment we know we have to stop and shift.

We need leadership from governments, business and civil society to be driving an energy transition that will create jobs, that will create locally owned power and that will be a significant contribution to a much needed reduction of emissions.

The frightening thing is that even though Alice is uniquely vulnerable the truth is there are really no safe zones where we can escape climate impacts. We are all – all of us on the planet – in this together and we have to take responsibility of our energy generation and use both for ourselves and for everyone else who we share this world with.

I hope that 2017 is a year for real leadership on climate action in the NT. It hardly bears thinking about what will happen if it is not.

PHOTOS: Protesters burying their heads in the sand to show their disagreement with Australia’s climate policies in 2014 • Some of the impact of Hurricane Otto, photographed by Pip Varela Kelly, the writer’s sister • NASA graphic showing we passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

To donate to the Hurricane Otto relief in Bijagua please head to




From Paris to Alice


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I’m back home on Arrernte country in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), Central Australia after a whirlwind, and to be honest, exhausting, six months on the road rolling out Avi Lewis’s powerful global climate change documentary This Changes Everything. I’ve been working on the This Changes Everything project – which includes Naomi Klein’s award winning book, Avi’s film and a grassroots global outreach strategy – for the past two years and much of that time was spent laying the groundwork for the launch of the film leading up to the Paris UNFCCC climate negotiations, COP21, late last year.

Here in Alice I live on a block of land known affectionately as The Island. Part tongue in cheek moniker (it’s the middle of the Australian desert) and part reference to the way the block is hugged by a low rocky mountain range and fronts a (mostly dry and sandy) river bed. The Island is a haven of recycled metal sculptures, caravans, kids on horse back or in billy-carts and home to some of my dearest friends in the world.

It’s a world away from the red carpet at TIFF with the likes of Pamela Anderson, Alfonso Cuarón and inspiring activists from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and Montana, far from berocca fuelled 15 hour days in a Greenpoint sublet rushing to prepare all the social media for the iTunes launch of the film or checking the excel spreadsheet for our NYC IFC season premiere guest list one more time, from dinner at a Parisian brasserie with the crew from Democracy Now and Jeremy Corbyn’s team or walking past the shrines outside the Bataclan in Paris, waiting to hear if friends are okay after being struck by stun grenades shot by French police attempting to uphold the ban on protests or joining the joyfully costumed “We Can Can” protest at the Moulin Rouge….

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But somehow sitting on this deck that a mate built me in exchange for an old flat dodge bed truck I used to use for a cinema looking out across a paddock full of browning buffel grass at the rocky ranges, watching the neighbour’s kids careen through their yard on their home made flying fox, listening to the chatter of birds and the low hum of commodores driving up the river, this feels like just the right place to slowly process and reflect on all the pieces of my work and this movement.

At the end of the strange bubble that was Paris I collapsed with one of those colds that only hit you when you finally allow your body and mind to rest. I couldn’t think properly or read as much news as I had been, I didn’t want to engage with social media and I just wanted to soak up the warmth of an Australian summer (I’d missed summer for almost three years with my ill timed hemispheric swaps).

I spent a few weeks down south with friends, family and the beach. Then slowly as my energy came back I drove 4000kms across the country with a dear friend. We watched the ocean and forests give way to wheat fields and open plains before the red dirt of the centre lined the thin bitumen highway as the road home opened up before us.

I’m adjusting to the pace of a small town – virtually no travel time as opposed to 45 min commutes on the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan – and the shift from anonymity to the feeling of being known and knowing. I am reflecting on so many stories and ideas and – if I am really honest – wondering how on earth we’re all going to make it as the impacts of climate change worsen. How am I going to be able to live here for the rest of my life if the impacts on the desert are any where close to as bad as they are predicted to be?

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Far more than the surreal moments with high profile thinkers or at high pressure events; or the shift in travel time or the natural landscape the biggest shift from being on the road with this work to being home has been to no longer constantly be exposed to organisers and activists. My days no longer solely consist of conversations around climate, activism, justice and transformation.

Back home I am talking and hearing about ambitious arts projects, how the reticulation on the gardens held up under the recent storms, what is happening in the local campaigns and the growth and exploits of my mates kids. These very human and grounded tales I love, they bring me back to community, to a sense of being held and to being woven in to other people’s lives, and of other lives being woven in to mine.

But in my professional day-to-day life I am missing the daily connection that I’ve had with grassroots organisers, activists, climate scientists, communication strategists, filmmakers, artists and writers – all who are deeply committed to questions of transformation, justice and transition.

The week after I got home I gave a short presentation on my reflections of COP21 in Paris to the Environmental Advisory Committee of the Alice Springs council, on which I sit as a community representative. It was a challenge to speak about my work to an audience who come from a very different place to me.

And then just a few days later the NT government approved the tender for a new power station in Alice for $75M. No one can recall even a murmur about the tender process – and surprise surprise – it’s to be run on gas which the government seems to think is the next economic boon for the territory.

Observing the lack of urgency to address climate change – instead decisions that take us in the opposite direction – is a shock for me, after spending several years deeply immersed in movements working directly on climate change, renewables, justice based transitions, resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure and social change. After meeting with frontline organisers from around the world battling to hold back coal trains, tar sands, fracking developments, ports and pipelines.

Of course these backwards fossil fuel driven decisions are also being made by governments elsewhere – we are in a contested moment, as renewables gain force and fossil fuel companies are fighting to cling on to their power, trying to lock us in by building infrastructure: mines, ports, train lines and power stations. But it feels very different when you’re facing these decisions in the place you live and love. It’s the shock of leaving a wonderful bubble of globally engaged thinkers and returning to a small town in a territory that doesn’t yet value real leadership and vision for the future.

This is not cultural cringe – we have incredible organisers and mounting victories here in Australia too (AGL pulling out of NSW, the victory against the proposed Muckaty waste dump, the opposition to Carmichael mine, the growing momentum of #letthemstay, incredibly organising in Borroloola…) And here in Alice there is an incredibly wise, creative and engaged community – a reading group for This Changes Everything started last week and there are action groups on peace, refugee rights, climate, fracking and against the nearby proposed nuclear waste dump, all of which are energised and meet weekly.

What I think I am feeling is the blunt shock of widening the circle of people I am engaging with, of remembering the tough work that comes with organising in a small community in proximity to power and those who hold it. I value this widening of connections about living here in Alice, but interacting with people who are dismissive of the urgency to act and transform our systems makes me miss the lounge rooms, bars, conference halls, taxi rides, warehouse spaces and cinemas where I’ve joined thousands of other deeply engaged and committed folks who are facing the reality and dreaming up solutions.

I know this blunt reality is where the real work lies – in drawing strength from this global web of resistance and building power between our struggles – and digging deep in our local communities to fight in and for the places we love.

I know this is where I want to be and live and work alongside the inspiring, committed, creative, tenacious and visionary people in this community. I also know that I am unbelievably privileged to have had the opportunities and exposure I’ve had in these past few years and to have met and collaborated with so many incredible people. I am so deeply grateful for these adventures and experiences.

Now to start the thousand year process of knowing this place* and doing my best to be part of the much needed leap to a justice based low carbon future – with flying foxes and camp outs under the stars and whacky art – building a vision for a resilient and inclusive future in this magical place I call home.

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* “After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping from home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.” That’s good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand. – Naomi Klein; from Climate Change is the fight for our lives, but we can hardly bear to look”

Art & Activism – 2970 Speech

Green Agenda have published my speech from 2970 The Boiling Point, on the Gold Coast in June, here.

Radically Re-Imagining the World as our Climate Changes.

We don’t need more fear-based stories of rising seas and hotter summers and drowning polar bears and killer storms and bushfires. We need work that triggers conversations, that makes us think about other possibilities – ideas beyond capitalism, beyond closing our borders, towards a more inclusive, more just, wiser and more creative world. A world that we can all see ourselves in and that we are excited to engage to fight for.

Read the full speech here.

2970 Degrees – The Boiling Point – Art & Activism talk links

Big hART

This Changes Everything 

Steve Lambert artist

Ursula Le Guin acceptance speech

Carbon Tracker research

The Guardian re NASA temperature rise studies 

Ngapartji Ngapartji 

Ninti – Pitjantjatjara learning website

Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji documentary 

National Indigenous Languages Policy

First Languages Australia

Binibar books

Occupy Sandy


Beautiful Solutions

People’s Climate March

Pope’s encyclical

Jobs, Justice & The Climate march Toronto

The Australia Institute on fossil fuel subsidies

Clive Hamilton Scorcher

Liberate Tate 


We can’t defend the arts without discussing the ideology driving the cuts

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Capitalism, It works for me. By Steve Lambert

In May’s federal budget Attorney General & Minister for the Arts George Brandis announced a $104.7M cut to the independent Australia Council for the Arts and the establishment of his own National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).

Artists have been responding loudly and creatively to the announcement, especially the critically important small to medium sector; where over 145 companies will be feeling the impact of the cuts. The #freethearts campaign is coordinating a whole-of-arts sector delegation to Canberra this Thursday, there is an online petition with over 11,000 signatures and the brilliantly cheeky Art of Brandis is going viral.

However, we won’t be successful in defending a single sector from the logic of austerity – artists need to stand up against the ideology driving these cuts, not just the cuts themselves.

Rather than simply arguing to protect funding for the arts, it is critical – to the arts sector and our society more broadly – that artists take a deeper look at the worldview held by this government that is driving these cuts and the cuts to just about every other sector in the public sphere.

This is not a moment for artists to be polite and argue for the merits of the arts alone. It is a moment that should instead inflame a critical dialogue about power, justice and the kind of Australia we want to live in.

We need our artists, poets and storytellers to be reflecting back to us a critique of the worldview of this government who seem hell bent on cutting public funding to essential services, building a super surveillance state, breaking international law in pursuit of their brutal border policing and passing massive tax subsidies on to the resource sector – with no heed for the climate crisis we face.

We need art and stories that help us understand that there are other options, other ways of seeing ourselves and each other so that we can demand a different kind of leadership alongside truly fair and just policies from our politicians.

I would love to see discussions widened to include the impacts of the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) when arts delegates head to Canberra this Thursday. The TPP is a proposed mega free trade deal between Australia, USA and ten other countries. We know – thanks to Wikileaks leaking the draft intellectual property rights chapter – that this trade deal could see digital downloads made criminal offenses and that there are significant threats to press freedom which could severely impact on journalists and whistleblowers.

With these kind of proposed trade laws the free trade, free market ideology marches on. And under this kind of ideology there is no way we can expect to see robust or independent funding for the arts.

We also know that these free trade deals are going to have a profound impact on our ability to protect the environment, take action on climate change and build our local economies.

Let this moment not just be about defending the arts funding patch, but about taking stock of the bigger picture and bringing an understanding of neoliberalism to our defense of the arts.  And please let more artists stand in solidarity with others campaigning against policies created by the same maddening ideology – against the closures of remote indigenous communities, in defense of the Great Barrier Reef and in solidarity with asylum seekers.

We need to talk about the destructive worldview driving these policies, we need our commentators and artists to be naming what is happening, we need to understand this, we need to build solidarity between all the sectors who are feeling the pain of this slash and burn agenda and then we need to fight, together, to build something different.

reflecting on 2014 – social movements

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“We call it the Great Turning – and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition of the doomed economy of industrial growth to a life sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. The transition is already well underway.”  – Joanna Macy

This year I’ve found incredible inspiration in the work of activists, organisers and social movements around the world. I’ve been lucky enough that my work means paying attention to and connecting with movements so I’ve crossed paths with even more campaigns and organisers than usual. It’s been a year of remarkable victories and – from my vantage point – ever greater connection, sharper analysis and greater influence across movements.

I think we often underestimate the power of social movements – the mainstream as they are not always paying attention, the elite and the establishment because they don’t want to promote the power of organising and don’t tell the stories of social movement victories – and paradoxically – by social movements and activists themselves; perhaps because we don’t quite dare to believe our own power, are used to being marginal, or we swallow the establishment media line and don’t tell our own stories loudly enough?

Whatever the reason, I believe that social movements and the power of organising are often grossly underestimated – and I think acknowledging their influence and power is critical to building more power and contributing to the transition to justice and true sustainability that the world so desperately must make.

As I’ve travelled and paid attention this year I’ve noticed a palpable buzz as movements gain momentum, connect with each other and build power – particularly across critical issues such as racial justice, climate change, state surveillance, indigenous land rights and international trade deals. It’s not just me – other people are excited – they feel this moment growing…..

So in the spirit of paying attention to movements I wanted to mark the end of 2014 with some shout outs to campaigns that have made my heart swell;

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Close to home the brilliant victory of the Traditional Owners of Muckaty against the proposed nuclear waste dump after a ten-year battle was a stand out win.

I am so inspired by the tenacity of the Beyond Nuclear Initiative and the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance ANFA; in particular a huge shout out to Nat for her strength and commitment to stand so solidly with Diane, Kylie and family. Thankyou. This victory is not just for Muckaty – but it creates a choke point for the expansion of the nuclear industry globally.

Sisters and Brothers NT are rocking it – from being an informal network to participating in tv programs, at national and international conferences, running trainings at the Alice Springs hospital the org now launched itself as a formal entity – mega  congratulations to everyone involved.

Also really amazing this year was the community organising around liquor restrictions and racialised policing in Alice Springs. Huge respect for everyone involved in the documentation of police and raising the issue publicly.

This year the Borroloola community stood up as part of the Global Frack Down day of action – fighting against both the existing mine and standing up against proposed pipeline and fracking on their country. (Also I can’t quite believe that there is still a zinc mining dump site that is on fire in Borroloola – it has been burning for months).

Another powerful campaign gaining traction in the NT is the Protect Arnhem Land movement opposed to the madness of offshore gas extraction in beautiful Arnhem Land. I’m looking forward to the Stingray Sisters doco series about some of the women involved in this campaign.

And lastly – after a few years break I am proud to have rejoined the board of the brilliant Arid Lands Environment Centre. With the huge federal and territory government cut backs to green groups and the ever expanding extractives industry we need ALEC more than ever – sign up to become a desert defender here.

The rise of Blockadia is, in many ways, simply the flip side of the carbon boom.

Blockadia is not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing frequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines.

What unites these increasingly interconnected pockets of resistance is the sheer ambition of the mining and fossil fuel companies: the fact that in their quest for high-priced commodities and higher-risk “unconventional” fuels, they are pushing relentlessly into countless new territories, regardless of the impact on the local ecology (in particular, local water systems), as well as the fact that many of the industrial activities in question have neither been adequately tested nor regulated, yet have already shown themselves to be extraordinarily accident-prone.

What unites Blockadia too is the fact the people at the forefront— packing local council meetings, marching in capital cities, being hauled off in police vans, even putting their bodies between the earth-movers and earth—do not look much like your typical activist, nor do the people in one Blockadia site resemble those in another. Rather, they each look like the places where they live, and they look like everyone: the local shop owners, the university professors, the high school students, the grandmothers. – Naomi Klein This Changes Everything

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Increasingly across Australia beautiful, powerful and successful expressions of #Blockadia can be found. Whilst the Abbott government is firmly in the grip of the fossil fuels industry the movement for action on climate change is growing stronger every day. The Lock The Gate Alliance is gaining momentum with deep community organising in regional communities across the country.

My social media feeds have been full of people taking direct action against the Maules Creek mine in NSW – having grown up in regional faming community the shots of farmers locking on hits a chord in me like nothing else.

The victory at the Bentley Blockade stopping Santos from setting up in gas drilling in Northern NSW was a critical win for bolstering the movement nationally.

Quit Coal Victoria had a great victory with the Victorian State Government announcing a moratorium on fracking on the eve of a planned horseback protest.

The recent Victorian election was practically a referendum on the proposed East West Link road – and the result is a resounding success for the people that opposed the unnecessary and stupidly expensive expansion.

Pacific Climate Warriors blocked the Newcastle coal port with hand carved canoes. These images of strong, proud, fierce activists blockading the seas, the ANZ corporate offices and visiting the Maules Creek blockade are simply brilliant.

Despite the continuation of appalling border policing policies there has been sustained resistance and solidarity with asylum seekers anti deportation actions, the expansion of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, occupations of government offices and persistent expression of solidarity in the face of the violent and illegal treatment of refugees.

Earthworker Co-operative – No jobs on a dead planet! – this year they ran a crowd funding campaign and opened a new solar factory in Melbourne – they are such legends.

The power of this ferocious love is what the resource companies and their advocates in government inevitably underestimate, precisely because no amount of money can extinguish it. When what is being fought for is an identity, a culture, a beloved place that people are determined to pass on to their grandchildren, and that their ancestors may have paid for with great sacrifice, there is nothing companies can offer as a bargaining chip.

 No safety pledge will assuage; no bribe will be big enough. And though this kind of connection to place is surely strongest in Indigenous communities where the ties to the land go back thousands of years, it is in fact Blockadia’s defining feature. – Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

 That connection to this place and the love that people have for it, that’s what Arch Coal doesn’t get. They underestimate that. They don’t understand it so they disregard it. And that’s what in the end will save that place. Is not the hatred of the coal companies, or anger, but love will save that place. – Alexis Bonogofsky, This Changes Everything

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Globally there are far to many stories to give justice to in one blog post, but I’ll make a few quick shout outs here;

Podemos in Spain are tearing it up – emerging from the Indignados movement they’ve only existed as a formal party for mere months and they are already the second biggest political force in Spain.

Liberate Tate and Art Not Oil in the UK have continued to pressure institutions to break ties with the big oil companies through savvy installations and political performances and are making great headway on their campaign. See more at Platform‘s website.

No Dash for Gas in the UK are blocking and protesting the expanding gas industry in the UK at every turn.

There’s some amazing work being done in housing rights in the UK with the recent victory of the New Era Estate campaign and the visibility of the e15 mums.

One of the most inspiring people I had the opportunity to spend time with this year is the human rights lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina from Chad who is taking former dictator of Chad to trial in Senegal.

In North American #Blockadia is also cranking; the campaign against the Tar Sands and XL Pipeline and going strong; in Montana the fight against Arch Coal continues, resistance to Tar Sands is cranking in Utah and the movement for racial justice is gaining momentum see; Ferguson Action and BlacklivesMatter.

The People’s Climate March was a momentous moment and Flood Wall Street made clear the critical links between real climate action and capitalism.

Free West Papua seems to be finally getting more attention as more people around the world raised the West Papuan flag for a global day of action than ever before.

In the digital sphere many great organisers continue to push for justice and freedom as more and more evidence of the growth of the surveillance state comes to light.

This list doesn’t even scrape the surface and as I am completing it I am aware of how many many more things I want to mention and add in! (Like Rojava and Hong Kong and and and and…..!)

For many more inspiring campaigns check out this Environmental Justice Atlas and the ever growing gallery at Beautiful Solutions.

My goal for 2015 is to pay even more attention to the role and influence of social movements and encourage others to do the same.

In solidarity and with love, here’s to a transformative year.

 * pics all sourced from the internet without attribution as unable to verify – apologies to the photographers!

reflecting on 2014 – what I got up to

What a bloody great adventure of a year! I built a house out of mainly recycled materials with the help of some wonderful friends and I travelled extensively connecting with activists and social movements around the world.

I’m working with wonderfully creative, gutsy, generous, rigorous and smart people and I’m lucky enough to be part of the team of the brilliant This Changes Everything project.

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2014 has been a very affirming year. I think no matter how much I’ve tried to resist the Australian ‘cultural cringe’ and ‘tall poppy syndrome’ these are pretty pervasive cultural norms. After spending the last 11 years in the desert I felt that somehow – even though I consider the Territory to be one of the most dynamic, innovative and challenging places to work – my skills and experience didn’t match up.

However, the more I travel and the more projects I come across the more I realise how unique and important the work of Big hART and many of the projects that I know of and have worked on in Alice Springs – projects like Ngapartji Ngapartji, Akeyulerre, ALECBrothers & Sisters NT, Elbow Workshop, 8 Hele Cres, Starlady’s salons, 8MMM (to mention a tiny few) – truly are. This is both a relief and a reminder that the big western cities are not the most powerful places and that the world is much more complex and interesting than that.

2013 wrapped up with Queen of the Desert having screened at over 45 film festivals and Big hART presenting Namatjira in London.

I joined the team of This Changes Everything in November 2013 and went to part time in my National Producer role with Big hART.

In early 2014 I moved back to Alice properly with a mission to build a shipping container and silver bullet house on Basso Island (my block of land). I traded my old dodge truck with my mate Giles who built me the amazing deck and in August the project was complete and I moved in!

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The work year kicked off with a big focus on supporting Big hART to negotiate a full range of performances and events to premiere in the October Melbourne Festival program including staging Hipbone Sticking Out and Murru and hosting a Big hART film retrospective and a Big hART process master class at ACMI.

I also rejoined the board of the critically important Arid Lands Environment Centre.

After a period of deep reflection I made the big (and emotional) decision to take extended leave from Big hART in May to focus on This Changes Everything and take up the opportunity to work with the visionary Bertha Foundation.

I’ve joined a fabulous small team of folks working to develop an activism portfolio for Bertha – watch this space!

As part of my work getting to know the existing portfolios at Bertha I attended two convenings of the brilliant Bertha Be Just program – a convening of the full network in Cape Town, South Africa in March and a convening of the project partners in Berlin, Germany in October. I also attended IDFA – International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam – to understand more deeply the diverse and ambitious Bertha media portfolio.

My work on film & impact more broadly continued through attending the BRITDOC Impact Distribution Lab in New York in March and maintaining active involvement with a brilliant group of peers; the Impact Producers Group.

The Australian Director’s Guild invited me to give lectures and teach a two day master-class in impact producing in Perth and Melbourne in May and June. I spoke at a number of other conferences and panels through out the year on media, story, activism and change.

I was invited to do some strategy and impact consultation for the forthcoming Frackman documentary. Frackman went on to be selected for the inaugural Good Pitch Australia in November and will premiere in early 2015. I reckon it will be a powerful tool for the movements against gas extraction across Australia – and hopefully the world.

And I started talking with filmmaker Gabrielle Brady about a very exciting documentary project she is developing on asylum seekers – more on this soon.

In September after a few weeks of Basso Island bliss I took off for NYC which is where I am currently based. I landed a couple of weeks before the launch of This Changes Everything and the People’s Climate March; which was a truly brilliant event to be a part of. The moment of silence was incredible – in such a big crowd, in such a big city – and the whole day was a powerful reminder of the role of culture and ritual in the making of change.

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I went on to travel with Naomi to London for the UK launch of This Changes Everything in October and for the Dutch and Belgian launches in November.

In October I was stoked to take part in a retreat in the Adirondacks with the folks from the Beautiful Universe – Beautiful Trouble, Beautiful Solutions & Beautiful Rising. Aside from being bloody happy for some time under a big sky and stars I was thrilled to discuss tactics and strategies on the role of story, culture, art and networks in change making with such great thinkers and trouble makers.

Also making some deeper friendships  – more than just allies – which is a pretty essential thing when you move to the other side of the globe and leave your amazing posse in Alice!

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In November I was part of a four day brainstorm around the possibilities of Russell Brand’s online series The Trews with a bunch of designers, artists and techies. It was a pretty fascinating experience of rapid prototyping with a group of people who didn’t all already know each other and interesting to explore the tensions between different platforms and ideas about social change.

In the last weeks of 2014 I joined the protests in New York calling for justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner and to #shutitdown. I’m deeply inspired by the leadership of activists from Ferguson, Black Lives Matter and across the country and am reflecting a lot on how this movement can inspire action on parallel issues of police violence and racism in Australia.

The work year wrapped up with an amazing weekend retreat for This Changes Everything with our education partners Rethinking Schools and Zinn Education Project. With 15 teachers writing lessons and responding to the book and film to think about the best ways to create materials for secondary school classroom use.

I was lucky enough to round out the year with family in Costa Rica where my sister and her husband run the beautiful rural farm and b&b; Casitas Tenorio. Did you know Costa Rica has no army and is already between 94-98% renewable energy wise? Amazing.

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It’s been a huge year of travel and networks and politics and social movements. I am deeply inspired and feel ready for what I am sure will be an even bigger year as projects take off with Bertha and the This Changes Everything documentary is released.

As 2015 kicks off I’m thinking a lot about love and interdependence.

Our connections to each other will make us stronger and enable us to build the power to create the very necessary and urgent shifts for true and lasting justice.

With love, gratitude and in solidarity, here’s to a transformative year.


ps all pics by me except for PCM unattributed pics from internet & retreat pics from Beautiful Solutions pals. 

Nocturnal Warriors win hearts and stop fracking!

Last weekend a small group of friends – comprising fellow filmmakers and artists Franca Barraclough, Imogen Semmler, Rusty Stewart, Anna Cadden, Kim Webeck, Melissa Kerl, Beth Sometimes – and I made this film in 24 hours for the Alice Springs Lens Flair 24 Film Festival.

We did a bit of a re-cut later in the week – so this is the director’s cut: (original is here on Lens Flair vimeo).

Nocturnal Warriors from Alex Kelly on Vimeo.

We were stoked that our bilby super-hero anti-fracking film took home the coveted People’s Choice Award!


We plan to recut a 7 minute (or so) version to send out to some other film festivals this week.

In a wonderful case of life imitating art imitating art the day after the premiere of the film the peak body for the gas industry the APPEA was giving a deputation to the Alice Springs Town Council, which the bilbies attended in finest form. I suspect we might not have seen the end of the Nocturnal Warriors now that the gas industry is eyeing off the NT for fracking and pipeline expansion….

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Congratulations Muckaty Mob!


Huge congratulations to all of the Traditional Owners at Muckaty, the Beyond Nuclear Initiative, the ACF campaigners, the lawyers, the alliances and unions who worked together to achieve this great victory!

Not at Woomera, not at Muckaty, not anywhere!

Maralinga; a little known story

This blog was originally posted as a guest post on the Ruthless Jabiru blog ahead of their performance of Maralinga Lament in London.


Only 8 years after the world recoiled in horror at the devastation of the atomic bombs dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the British government commenced 12 years of atomic testing in the beautiful desert country of outback South Australia.

For over 12 years 1953-1965 – twice as long as World War Two – 12 large atomic bombs and over 600 so called “minor tests” contaminated the South Australian lands of the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Spinifex people.

The Australian Prime Minister granted permission for the tests without even consulting cabinet. Tapping in to the deep set fear and disregard for the vast interior of Australia and allowing an ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality to justify the toxic bombing of Australian citizens, most of Australia didn’t even know it was going on and still don’t.

The stories from Emu Field and Maralinga border on the absurd – leaflets written in English dropped from planes to warn nomadic indigenous people the tests were coming, Australian service men topless in shorts playing cricket on the testing fields while the Brits and American wore protective clothing, a pregnant indigenous woman found camped in a crater who lost her baby…..

What is perhaps most confronting of all is that this history is still largely unknown in Australia. Maralinga has been immortalised by our folk hero musician Paul Kelly, there was a royal commission into the tests in 1984/5, servicemen are still campaigning for compensation and huge tracts of the desert will be uninhabitable for ever more – and yet somehow it is still a hidden part of Australia’s history.

In the early 2000s I became aware of an inspiring campaign led by the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta – the Senior Women of Coober Pedy – against a proposed nuclear waste dump in South Australia. These women remembered the bombs from the 1950s and they didn’t want that poison on their country – they initiated the inspiring and victorious Irati Wanti – The Poison, Leave It campaign and prevented that waste dump.

Hearing their stories from Emu Field and Maralinga I was inspired to learn more about the story, and together with Scott Rankin and Trevor Jamieson established the Big hART Ngapartji Ngapartji project.

Ngapartji Ngapartji was based on Arrernte country in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) from early 2005 to mid 2010. Ngapartji Ngapartji had many layers involving language learning, teaching and maintenance, community development, crime prevention, cross cultural collaboration, and creating new literacy training models as well as film, art, policy and theatre making.

The stage production explored Trevor’s family’s experience with the atomic tests – many of them were moved west off their country in cattle trucks before the tests took place. This dislocation – becoming refugees in their own country – and its impact across subsequent generations was told beautifully in this award winning play.

As well as the touring theatre productions the project produced a documentary film for ABC TV in 2010, Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji, which followed Trevor and the team taking the play back to country in Ernabella community, South Australia. For many people this was the first time they had talked publicly about the bombs – as Anangu culture reveres the deceased with silence – and many of the stories had not been passed down to younger generations. Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji can be watched in full online.

It remains clear that the stories of Maralinga still need to be shared and acknowledged, and plays, music and storytelling play a critical role in drawing attention to Australia’s atomic history and shameful indifference to the desert and its people.

Ruthless Jabiru and Lara St. John perform Maralinga Lament at the Union Chapel, London at 19:30 on Monday 14 October. Tickets are £16 advance from the Union Chapel online store or £18 at the door.


Shifting the frames with gratitude


This blog might seem like a slight departure in theme for me, but actually it’s pretty connected to a lot of my thoughts around story, frames and social change.

Last November I participated in Capturing Gratitude – a photographic gratitude project – initiated by Dr. Lauren Tober. Lauren and I went to High School together and have stayed in touch in various and random ways over the years. I’ve been very inspired by her journey through life as a yogi and psychologist and I was curious to join in on the project last year, despite not feeling like I was in a particularly shiny or grateful space.

Essentially the project involved posting a photo a day on the Capturing Gratitude facebook group of something that you felt grateful for. It was an interesting process for me and crossed the boundaries of personal, internal and spiritual thinking with my more professional and outward thinking around communications, workplace cultures and framing.

At times other people’s photos (particularly of lovers and kids) brought up challenging emotions for me. Other times I wondered if I was showing off or over sharing as I was having a pretty flamboyant month last November with the launch of my film. Having a daily practice to reflect on what I have, what others have and to pay attention to what came up was a great process for me. What was initially challenging about other people’s (seemingly comparatively glowing) lives became a source of joy, not threat. A shift from not enough to enough.

Capturing Gratitude came off the back of a pretty huge pile of reading around healing and grief and so it was perfect timing for me to shift in to something practical. Over the month I really did start to notice that the way I was looking at the world, my perspective and my frames shifting; influenced by the requirement of the project to pay attention to things I was grateful for rather than the gaping ache in my chest.

This personal shift fed in to thinking I’ve been doing about how scarcity / siege mentality and abundance / possibility frames play out in teams and in workplace cultures. Having practiced on a micro level I came to see even more how relevant positive framing and paying attention to what is good and real here and now is to achieving justice in the world more broadly. When you see the good in the here and now it becomes easier to envisage what else is possible looking forward. And the ability to create ambitious, inclusive and radical new visions is critical to achieving deep cultural shifts and social change.

Lauren interviewed me after the project for her blog and my collection of 2012 gratitude pics are here on flickr.

Lauren has expanded the project this year to include lot of interviews about gratitude practice and is about to launch a new website. I’m really looking forward to participating again and encourage you to check it out too. Capturing Gratitude will take place in February 2014.

Oz Dox / DYHD? / VCA Lights, Camera, Action! Links

pole_london Sunday afternoon in London Town, April 2013

Thanks to Oz Dox, DYHD? and VCA for inviting me to speak so soon after landing back in Australia from my inspiring Churchill Fellowship travels. Here are some links to projects that I mentioned in the presentations.

Orgs & Projects

Big hART
Oz Dox
Churchill Fellowships
Center for Story Based Strategy
Ngapartji Ngapartji
Blackfella Films
Engage Media
Crossover Labs

Impact Producers & Grass Roots Distribution Orgs

Six Foot Chipmunk New York
Film Sprout New York
Picture Motion, New York
Active Voice, San Francisco
Working Films, Wilmington, North Carolina, New York, and London
Cause & Affect, Los Angeles
MocaMedia, Houston
NewFilmMarketing, Los Angeles, CA
Kartemquin Films, Chicago

Impact Funders

Bertha Brit Doc Connect Fund
Ford Foundation Just Films
Fledgling Fund
Chicken and Egg
Catapault Film Fund
Sundance Institute Documentary Fund


Trembling Before G-d – Films That Change the World
Just Vision Budrus and My Neighbourhood
Julia Bacha Ted Talk – Pay Attention to non violence
The Invisible War and Fitzgibbon Media impact report
Gasland & Gasland 2 – impact report on Gasland by Brit Doc
Age of Stupid
Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji iview and Culture Unplugged
Queen of the Desert
The Tall Man
Go Back to Where you Came From
Rise of the Eco Warriors – see also Cathy Henkel’s AIDC talk on independent filmmaking
The Interrupters
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Escape Fire
The House I Live In
God Loves Uganda
Blue Vinyl

Crowd Funding


Digital Distro & Video on Demand (VOD)

Distrify – video on demand platform you can embed in own site
Beama Films Australian online
Don’t You Have Docs – Melbourne based doc exchange group using Distrify
Hulu – VOD commercial
Netflix – VOD commercial
Gathr – Crowd booking theatrical distro
Tugg – Crowd booking theatrical distro
Screenburn – facebook video on demand platform; i haven’t researched many of these so not sure which ones are best


New Day Films – USA filmmaker distribution cooperative
Ronin Films – distributes all Big hART films
Antidote Films Australia

Evaluation and impact reports

• Brit Doc have published some great evaluations on the films An Inconvenient Truth, Gasland and Budrus among others.
Working Films – who are an all round inspiring outfit – have made a series of films about films making social change to answer How do social issue documentary films do more than just raise awareness?
• Harmony Institute have published this review of Bully’s impact on social media.
• Pray The Devil Back to Hell film has written a report on its impact
• Participant Media – who make feature films (Lincoln, Promised Land) and docos (An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc) and now have a TV channel – have also written about their impact

Measuring Impact and articles about impact

Sparkwise is a new data collecting platform that is free and enables you to capture then transform your data in to graphics; I’ve just started playing with this with Queen of the Desert’s social media so I’ll keep you posted on what I think
• The Fledgling Fund has published ‘Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact’ (PDF)
• Centre for Social Media has published ‘Social Justice Documentary Designing For Impact’ (PDF)
• Bay Area Video Coalition have just released their ‘Impact Playbook’ (PDF)
• Determining the Impact of Film and Video article regarding discussions at Media That Matters conference
• The Arts of Engagement interview with Working Films and Brit Doc about social engagement and impact

High cuisine at activist camp


CSS Advanced Training participants June 2013, pic Brooke Anderson

In early June I took part in the Centre for Story Based Strategys Advanced Practitioner Training.

I have taken to calling it ‘Activist Camp’ or ‘Activist School’ – and whilst there were S’Mores (marshmallows, chocolate and biscuits, crazy American camping cuisine!) and it was at a christian holiday camp in the Sierras complete with red woods, deer and squirrels, it had a lot more depth and rigor than me flippantly calling it ‘activist camp’ suggests.

Centre for Story Based Strategy are a communications and strategy training organisation. In their own words:

Center for Story-based Strategy (CSS) is a national movement-building organization dedicated to harnessing the power of narrative for social change.
CSS uses the power of narrative to advance a holistic vision connecting struggles for democracy, peace, justice, and ecological sanity.
We offer social justice networks, alliances and organizations the analysis, training and strategic support to change the story on the issues that matter most.
We’ve trained over 4,000 activists since 2002. Through collaboration consulting, and direct partnership we’ve supported over 200 innovative social change organizations to win critical campaigns.

I have followed the growth of Centre for Story Based Strategy (formerly known as Smart Meme) since its inception through a close friendship with one of the founders of CSS, Doyle Canning. Doyle came to Australia shortly after the Seattle protests in 1999 with a bundle of passion and a VHS tape of the ‘Battle of Seattle’ film. I was involved in Access News at the time and we screened the film at our regular Monday night event. Doyle and I became firm friends. Doyle is one of the most amazing educators and trainers that I have ever met and I was thrilled to finally be able to attend a training with the organisation she and Patrick Reinsborough have grown since 2002.

CSS have developed a methodology they call ‘Story Based Strategy’ which involves understanding the narratives, frames and stories at play around a given issue. Breaking down the dominant narratives, underlying assumptions, roles, conflicts and stories allows activists and movements to develop their messaging, stories and frames to intervene and create breaks in the dominant narratives and win the ‘Battle of the Story’ – which is critical to achieving change.

The training was rigorous and very cleverly designed. There were 40 of us from a great range of movements from unionists, to environmentalists to community organisers; including Iraq Veterans Against the War, National Immigrant Youth Alliance, Grass Roots Global Justice Alliance and many more inspiring folks. Most people had undertaken some training or engaged CSS in their campaigns before and were in communications or leadership roles within their orgs. So basically an unbelievably kick-ass crew to be hanging out with for a week!


Over 5 days we were taken through a range of practical tools from the ‘Story Based Strategy’ by a fantastic group of facilitators. We practiced them in a range of campaign simulation scenarios, facilitating the tools on issues we were working on ourselves and then spent a day and a half applying them to real life campaigns which we presented to a panel of expert judges on the final day of camp. There were a range of case studies and worksheets and lots of lots of butchers paper and textas!

I gained great working knowledge of a bunch of practical tools that I look forward to applying to my own practice and am happy to share with anyone who is interested. Most of all I loved having critical discussion on the the nuts and bolts of media, story and narrative for 5 days.

I highly recommend CSS’s great book Re:Imagining Change which is now in it’s 3rd print run and is available in hard copy from PM Press.

Pru Gell of Space for Change (Syd) and Holly Hammond from Plan To Win (Melb) have also taken this training, so there are now three of us in Australia as part of the Story Based Strategy Community of Practice, which is very exciting. I would love to see CSS run some training in Australia in the future as I think their approach is invaluable to social change movements and organisers.

The comraderie and solidarity that was developed over the short but intense time we spent together was priceless and filled me up big time. I left with a strong sense of ‘we’ve got this!’; that collectively we have the smarts, reach, passion and commitment to make profound impact on a broad range of issues. I left with a very full heart.

Big thanks to all the awesome trainers and CSS staff, to all the other participants and especially huge respect to Patrick and Doyle for the hard yards you’ve done to establish such a critical organisation and practice. Can’t wait to see what you do over the next 10 years!


My first ever S’more, CSS Training 2013. Pic by the fabulous Bernice Shaw.

Warm jets ahoy


Coney Island funtimes! June 2013

I head back to Australia tomorrow after (just shy of) 3 months of bloody amazing travels as part of my Churchill Fellowship. Tired blogging is never a good idea, but I am a bit behind in my writing so I figure I best write this now or it won’t happen!

I started in Alice Springs, visited the Pilbara and from Perth flew to London, on to Edinburgh, Toronto, New York, Boston, San Francisco, then to Los Angeles from where a friend and I road tripped through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and from Austin I flew back for a final few days at Frameline Film Festival in San Fran.

I have been to Hot Docs and Frameline film fests, met and interviewed over 60 amazing filmmakers, producers, funders, evaluators and activists, watched countless documentaries, undertaken amazing training with the Centre for Story Based Strategy and zoomed on rickety rollercoasters at Coney Island for my birthday!

I was lucky enough to have this time to put together a constellation of ideas around how film can make change – and how to make change in general – by talking with broad range of creative and talented people. Everyone I met was super open and generous with their stories, practice, experience, methods and models.

I’ve gained a good sense of the burgeoning ‘impact space’ in the USA, have gained some great new networks and friends and experienced the joy of being overtired from travel, stimulation, people, inspiration and ideas!

While I have been on the road my film Queen of the Desert has also been gallivanting around screening in; Sarasota, Rochester, Boston, Seattle and San Fransisco in USA and Switzerland, UK, Holland, South Africa, Israel and Brazil. Crazily enough our paths didn’t cross over anywhere, but it has somehow felt really cool to be on the road at the same time.

After this kick ass trip I definitely want to make more films, art and media, to continue to collaborate and make trouble and to be part of creating culture-lead change. I feel really proud of Big hART with my heightened sense of where our practice sits internationally and I am deeply inspired to build a stronger movement of social justice artists, activists and filmmakers in Australia. I also want to work out how I can do this for 3 months of every year!

I am keen to share the networks, ideas and inspiration I’ve come across and hope to see the ‘impact space’ in Australia take off in the way it is exploding elsewhere. Sydney got organised first and in a couple of weeks (eek!) I’ll be presenting at Lights! Camera! Action! hosted by Oz Dox – The Australian Documentary Forum on Wednesday 10th July. (Facebook event page here). Hoping to speak at similar events in other places, will post on the events page as things get organised.

Coming home after big travels is always a wee bit daunting, but I am very excited about the premiere of Hipbone Sticking Out next week and I really can’t wait to swap stories with my colleagues, friends and peers.

PS I highly recommend going for a Churchill Fellowship; having the time and resources to travel and meet people, talk about ideas, practice, models and theories of change has been a remarkable privilege and I suspect will have ripples for years to come. Rounds generally open in November and close in February. Happy to share my thoughts on the process, just get in touch.

Invisible War, pavements and tipping points

Invisible War (2012) is a harrowing film about sexual assault within the US military. I caught it at a community screening and discussion night at a university campus in London last month. It has had a huge impact; it is an incredibly powerful film with a very clever and well executed outreach and impact campaign making waves on a number of levels.

Two days after he screened the film, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta changed the reporting structure so that a service member’s immediate supervisor no longer is the only person to whom a victim can report an abuse.

“Clearly this film has changed the conversation,” former federal prosecutor and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told Woodruff, adding that at his request, the military is expected to release more reliable data on sexual assault in the military this spring. – PBS Article – Invisible War; changing the conversation on rape in the Military

Invisible War had great strategy; they brought influential and well connected Executive Producers on board, engaged a Washington D.C based dedicated media team, FitzGibbon Media, who specialise in leveraging policy change with media, worked with Film Spout to build a community screening outreach campaign which targetted students and military and managed an online campaign. FitzGibbon provide a good case study of their work and the impact of the film and Film Sprout publish a discussion guide on their site.

The online campaign Invisible No More (#notinvsible) invites viewers to take action by signing a petition, hosting a screening, donating to the campaign or spreading the word via social media or email. It also encourages audiences to ‘Stand With Survivors’ and it’s three aims are to; raise awareness, effect political and cultural change and serve as a means of healing for survivors of Military Sexual Assault.

Through their partnership with Film Sprout (more on Film Sprout in an upcoming post, they do great work and can someone please start an org like this in Australia?) the film has been seen by over 266,000 service people (this is the conservative estimate) at over 350 screenings on military bases across the country. The film is now being used as a training tool within the military, which is huge. This community distribution was part of a year long community screening campaign that involved over 950 screenings across the US.

Invisible War also had great timing. The film was released at a time when there were senators who needed a way to amplify long standing campaigns to address sexual assault in the military and as the military were facing recruitment issues and need to bring more women in to the force to bolster numbers.

There is not doubt that the team behind Invisible War have done a remarkable job of generating impact with powerful film, but it is also important to place their campaign alongside other ideas and events in this space to really be able to understand how the tipping points came about.

Obviously there is an incredibly long continuum of activism, body of writing and film work responding to sexual assault, not just within the military, that is part of the ground on which Invisible War builds. At the moment I am focusing on how documentary films sit within the culture, so I have asked a number of people about films that came before Invisible War that also contributed to this debate and ability of this film to make such dramatic change.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful (2011) uncovers the outrageous water contamination at an army base and its impact on service people.

Between 1957 – 1987 an estimated 750,000 to 1,000,000 people may have drank and bathed in tap water containing extremely high concentrations of toxic chemicals at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It is believed to be one of the largest water contamination incident s in US history. – Semper Fi Website

The film and subsequent campaign resulted in President Obama signing the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act in to law in 2012.

Another important recent film regarding women in the military is Lioness.

Lioness (2008) tells the story of a group of female Army support soldiers who were part of the first program in American history to send women into direct ground combat. – Lioness Website

Official policy barred the armed services from assigning women to direct ground combat units in most situations, regardless of how well they perform under fire. Instead, when commanders want to put talented women soldiers on combat teams, they must do so by temporarily “attaching” them to those units, or sending them in a support role, rather than an official combat role. While Team Lioness was “attached,” but not “assigned” on paper, to combat arms units, they performed effectively in combat even without the combat MOS training that was exclusively available to males. As a result, the women performed in direct combat operations with less accolades, opportunities for advancement, recognition, and deserved VA benefits upon return. –Lioness wikipedia

Being ‘attached’ and not officially assigned to combat resulted in these women not having access the same post conflict support as their male counterparts. Lioness is now being used in Dept of Defense training for military healthcare personnel, was responsible for two new acts of legislation and played a pivotal role in ‘improving women veterans’ access to healthcare in the Veterans Affairs system’.

It’s also important to point to the work of grass roots organisations and social movements organising against war and their impact on the narratives around conflict and the military. Of particular note is the inspiring Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Their four day testimonial event, Winter Soldier, held in Washington D.C in 2008 was an incredibly powerful and important discussion of military process and policy.

EDITED NOTE: I met with someone from IVAW yesterday and he mentioned the role of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) in changing policy and running campaigns on military sexual trauma, so I wanted to make sure I linked to them too.

As Judith Helfand of Working Films noted when we met last week, no one film is a silver bullet. Change can be encouraged by a film and the most successful impact seems to involve a good story, well told, with a smart strategy for distribution, well thought out pathways for audience activation, good publicity, marketing and outreach.

My sense is that the best shot at making change with a film is to have all of this super strategic stuff in place and then hope that it lines up with that delicious aspect of luck, zeitgeist and timing that is the ever elusive spark of tipping points.

Invisible War is a great example of a powerful film which lined up all their strategy and hit at just the right time to really send sparks flying.

Films to change the climate

Social movements of all kinds use films as tools to advance their campaigns and in some instances films can be encourage campaigns to start up; such as Bag It (about plastic bags) and the Bag It Town campaign.

As the movement voicing concern about the climate crisis grows so does the body of films in this space.

An Inconvenient Truth was a breakthrough documentary for the climate change issue, released in 2006 it went on to win 2 Academy Awards, reach an audience of over 4.9M people, launch the Climate Reality Project and train over 1000 activists to deliver the climate science presentation featured in the film. In 2007 Al Gore was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.

In the USA, An Inconvenient Truth took just over $24 million at the box office and became the 6th best selling documentary of all time. Brit Doc published this great impact evaluation of the film.

An Inconvenient Truth demonstrates the power of celebrity, good backing (funded by Jeff Skoll former ebay president, founder of Skoll Foundation and Participant Media) and good timing on the success of a film. Personally I didn’t really feel deeply engaged by An Inconvenient Truth – I felt like I should watch it, even though I already knew the story and message; but then I probably wasn’t the target audience. There is no argument that this was an extremely high impact film which lead to a range of actions outside cinemas and lounge rooms.

Participant Media who produced An Inconvenient Truth make “entertainment that inspires and compels social change” and have gone on to make features and docs, launch a tv network and an online engagement portal Take Part. They recently produced Promised Land a feature film directed by Gus Van Sant with Matt Damon about fracking, which unfortunately is not a fantastic film (it rates 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, a renowned film review site). This is a good example of the need for a story to well told to make impact on an issue – I don’t think Promised Land is making waves in the climate change debate in part due to the fact it is not winning audiences.

Gasland was made for only $32,000USD and has gone on to have huge success in festivals, theatres and through movement and community based distribution. Whilst Gasland doesn’t boast high end production values it is a good story, well told and had fantastic timing; launching just as the issue of fracking was gaining traction and arguably contributing in part to the issue gaining traction.

The campaign around the film has cost at least $204,000USD to date – over 6 times the cost of making the film – and is ongoing. Gasland 2 is currently being launched in a grass roots tour before premiering on US television in July.

According to the Brit Doc impact evaluation Gasland hoped to;

  • Put fracking as an issue on the map
  • Enable viewers to connect with activist/grassroots organisations via social media
  • Lobby elected officials and institutions at the highest levels in order to curtail frackin

I’d say it has done a remarkable job of doing that; with over 250 screenings across the United States alone, 100,000+ petition signatures, celebrities enlisted, media appearances, etcetera.

Due in part to the massive movement that grew around the film, hydrofracking bans were enacted in Pittsburgh, PA; Tompkins County, NY; Cooperstown, NY; Licking Township, PA; Baldwin, PA;. France, Quebec and extended hydrofracking moratoriums were placed in NY State and South Africa. – Gasland website

Age of Stupid is a remarkable example of a well executed crowd funding and crowd distribution and a film which launched additional campaigns including 10:10. I am meeting with Lizzie Gillet (producer) this week, so will write more about this remarkable project in another post.

Additional films in this space worth checking out:
Chasing Ice is a visually stunning film (wish I had seen it on the big screen). It’s a good character driven doco which follows National Geographic photographer James Bolag on his ambitious and obsessive mission – the Extreme Ice Survey – to capture the melting and ‘calfing’ of glaciers on film.
The Island President is a great portrait of the charismatic former President of the Maldives Mohammed Nasheed with a particular focus on his role in the negotiations at the UN climate change meeting in Denmark in 2009.
Carbon Nation is a documentary about carbon change solutions with unusual suspects such as former CIA staff and the US military which demonstrates ways we can respond to the issue. I found this film a relief when I watched it as it was framed in a very positive light, but I don’t think it has been very well received and not sure about its impact.
Bidder 70 is an inspiring film which follows the non violent action and subsequent legal battle of climate activist Tim DeChristopher. The filmmakers are building an outreach & impact campaign around the film which includes a speaking tour alongside it’s theatrical release. The film is very much geared towards encouraging civil disobedience and community organising as a response to climate change and is very connected to grassroots movements, however I think the way that it tells this story will reach beyond ‘the choir’.
End of Suburbia ‘Oil depletion and the collapse of the American dream’. End of Surburbia was a significant film in bringing the discussion around peak oil to a wider audience. Launched in 2004, I think this film had a considerable impact and was distributed widely by grass roots activists.
Do the Math is a bit different from the other films as it was commissioned by an NGO within the climate change movement, Two independent filmmakers made the film which has now become a major campaign tool for 350.

I haven’t seen these, but also worth looking at; How Cuba Beat Peak Oil (a break through movement film, 2006). Hungry Tide (Tom Zubrycki’s film about the impact of climate change on pacific island Kiribati) and Everything’s Cool (which looks at messaging around climate change) .

Coming soon is Cooked (by Judith Helfand who made Everything’s Cool and works with Chicken and Egg and Working Films);

Cooked is a feature documentary investigation into extreme heat, the politics of disaster and survival by zip code. This story is framed by two heat waves, one that Chicago was ready for and the other that took the City by surprise – when 739 residents, most of them old, poor, and African American died over the course of one very hot week. – Cooked facebook page

And lastly I am really looking forward to the release of Naomi Klein’s book and Avi Lewis’s film The Message in 2014. My understanding is that this film and book will frame the climate crisis as an opportunity to respond to the interconnected issues we face and radically change our systems to create more justice for all.

Climate change is more than an issue. It’s a message telling us that our ideas about our place in the world are no longer viable. By threatening our very survival, climate change can serve as the catalyst for us to finally rise to the challenge.” – Naomi Klein’s website

All of these films seek to raise awareness, share the science and potentially shock or inspire audiences to action. Many of them have associated campaigns which filmmaker teams have built and coordinate themselves and/or are connected to climate change movements, grassroots organisations and NGOs. Some try and engage audiences in petitions or link in with local campaigns who often host community screenings. Many climate change activist groups will screen these films at campaign fundraising screenings and use them as tools to inspire and engage more people in their campaigns.

There is a long tradition of environmental campaigns and activists using films, books and art – from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to An Inconvenient Truth  – as tools to get their message out to and activate the broader the community. It’s is a great demonstration of the power of story – especially when coupled with strong grassroots movements, face to face meetings and actions in day to day life.

I think that these films have to have a connection to hope, either in the film itself or through the connection to an inspiring movement or campaign, for them to really gain traction with audiences. There is a saturation and compassion fatigue at play and very few audiences want to be hit with devastating facts without an avenue for responding or a sense of possibility.

Films and media are great tools. The hard work is in harnessing the inspiration that people feel as they leave the cinema and building community to respond to these issues.

None of us are free until all of us are free

new-jim-crow_pbThe New Jim Crow cover image

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking at media projects that explore injustice in the criminal ‘justice’ system in the United States of America and its disproportionate impact on people of colour. Exploring the intersection of race, class, law enforcement and the criminal justice system is complex terrain. I’m not setting out to cover this in depth, but to introduce some films and projects in to the mix of the film & social change research I’m doing as part of my travels.

There are many parallels between the United States and Australia. This week news broke in Australia that indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody – already high – have both risen over the last 20 years.

The Australian Institute of Criminology has just released its latest report on deaths in custody, focusing on all deaths in the 20 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. – The Australian

Indigenous people comprise 2.5 per cent of the total Australian population but they now account for more than a quarter (26.1 per cent) of the adult prison population and almost half (46.2 per cent) of youths in juvenile detention (and 97% of youth in detention in the NT). – Bendigo Advertiser

I have been looking at the ‘War on Drugs’ in the USA and the crippling impact that it has, predominantly in communities of colour affected by poverty. The parallels with the alcohol laws and the Intervention in the NT are chilling.

The New Jim Crow book by Michelle Alexander is an incredible read on this subject, I haven’t finished it yet, but already I can see great value in applying her analysis to the Australian context.

One of the fascinating things that Alexander points out is that in the 1970s mainstream thinking in criminology was that prisons were on the way out, they were not seen to be a deterrent to criminal behaviour. To the point were the US government was advised in 1973 by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice that no new prisons be built. What is astonishing is that instead of phasing out prisons the ‘War on Drugs’ has drastically expanded the prison population, and the prison industry, to over 2,000,000 people.

The House I Live In is a documentary film which explores the origins and effects of the War of Drugs and has built an impact campaign in response to the issue;

“As America remains embroiled in conflict overseas, a less visible war is taking place at home, costing countless lives, destroying families, and inflicting untold damage on future generations of Americans. Over forty years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer, and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet for all that, drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available today than ever before.” – The House I Live In website

The fact that prisons were not seen as the solution to crime is expanded in The House I Live In. One historian notes that President Nixon invested two thirds more money in treatment than policing of drugs and was seeing a greater return on the rehabilitation investment than the “hard on drugs” policy. However, he was seeing a greater political return on a tough on drugs stance and this is when the ‘War on Drugs’ really took off – to be expanded exponentially under President Reagan.

This is paralleled in the NT where law and order politics frame all responses to social issues and the Intervention is justified as a tough necessity to fight crime (in this case child abuse). Elections are won on law and order campaigns and yet the policies make things worse. This is heartbreaking. The policies “tough on crime” and “zero tolerance” etc get politicians elected but they make the actual problems on the ground that are driving crime worse.

A ‘Grog Crisis Rally’ was held in Alice Springs this week by People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) in response to the scrapping of the ‘Banned Drinker Registry’ and the creation of new alcohol policies in the NT (more here).  PAAC argue that the new laws criminalise addiction and will, again, make things worse especially the new Mandatory Alcohol Treatment Bill passed last week.

To add to the heartbreak once people, especially more marginalised people, enter the criminal justice system they rarely get fair representation and support. At Hot Docs I saw Gideon’s Army a documentary which profiles the hard work of public defenders; who are similar to legal aid workers in Australia.

Gideon’s Army follows the personal stories of Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick, three young public defenders who are part of a small group of idealistic lawyers in the Deep South challenging the assumptions that drive a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point. – Gideon’s Army website

In the Australian context I highly recommend The Tall Man; an incredibly powerful documentary from ever inspiring Blackfella Films based on the book by Chloe Hooper;

The Tall Man is the story of Palm Island, a tropical paradise in Australia’s Far North. It is the story of Cameron Doomadgee, who in 2004 was arrested for swearing at Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley – the ‘tall man’ of the title. 45 minutes later, Doomadgee was dead. – Blackfella Films website

Making an impact on racism, perceptions and behaviour is often harder than making legislative changes and in fact, sometimes the creation of anti-discriminatory legislation can mask the fact that discrimination is still happening within a system. We need to identify why a disproportionate number of indigenous people and people of colour are coming into contact with the justice system and make the effort required to change this.

Some reasons for increased contact with the criminal justice system include; poverty, over policing of certain communities, different laws for different drugs (ie crack and cocaine attract different penalties, crack is cheaper and therefore more accessible to people with lower incomes), over crowding pushing people on to the streets (and related public drinking laws in the NT for example), racial profiling and the list goes on…. The other huge area for discussion is why crime is being used as a means to control a particular portion of the population? This can also be seen playing out in the application of anti-terror laws and increased police powers.

Change includes legislation and policy, yes, but it also requires attitudinal and behavioural change especially in the institutions within the system; the police force, court and prisons. For this to change we, the community, need to demand greater justice and equality.

In this context the power of story becomes ever more potent. Storytellers must tell powerful stories, in engaging and persuasive ways to make these stories visible. This will help to create the kinds of cultural shifts required so that these kinds of injustices can not continue, because we come to value all people in our communities equally.

I’m finding hope amidst stark tragedy and racism in the activism of filmmakers I’ve mentioned above as well as groups like Deaths in Custody Watch (WA), Flat Out (Melb), Abolition Collective (Melb) and the myriad other abolition, prison support and criminal justice activists out there.

I’m also finding great inspiration in the work of my colleagues in the Pilbara who are working in the Roebourne community, the local prison and with the Pat family on the Yijala Yala project.

hipbone banner

Big hART’s new stage production from this project is Hipbone Sticking Out and explores the relationship between globalisation, the resources sector and criminal justice through the story of John Pat, who died in a police cell in Roebourne in 1983. His death triggered the 1987-1991 Royal Commission in to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The team are working closely with the Pat family and I look forward to returning to Australia in time to see the premiere of this work in Canberra in July. If you are in Canberra (or Sydney/surrounds) you should really make the effort to come and see this new work. I think it will be deeply moving, very unusual and an important way to bring another story into this much needed conversation.

September 28th 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of John Pat’s death. There will be actions held across Australia.

If people have examples of additional films, theatre productions, books etc that respond to the criminal justice system, the prison industrial complex and use story and narrative to respond to racism please let me know.

I’ll come back to the campaigns around the films, for today I just wanted to link to them all as I’ve been pretty stirred up by this viewing, reading and the release of the new figures on indigenous incarceration in Australia.

Further reading and viewing:
The Right to Drink in Alice Springs – Eleanor Hogan
The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
The Tall Man – Chloe Hooper
Deaths in Custody Watch
Yijala Yala Big hART project
People’s Alcohol Action Coalition Alice Springs
Abolition Collective Melbourne
Roll Back the Intervention Action Group (IRAG)
UTS Jumbunna Research on alternatives to the Intervention
Guardian article re OAS new drug policy report which advocates prohibition
How Does Change Happen? Angela Davis speech

And I am looking forward to seeing the upcoming film Cocaine Prison by United Notions (in production now) which looks at the War on Drugs through the personal stories of prisoners incarcerated in Bolivia.



Crowds, Distro, Digital A-Go-Go


Moss, Costa Rica 2009

Things are changing fast; when I took SKATV films to Europe in 2002 I had a (bloody heavy) backpack full of VHS tapes, when we were submitting Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji to festivals in 2010 we primarily posted DVD copies to festivals for consideration and now for Queen of the Desert most festivals are happy to review a secure online screener.

It’s an exciting time to be making media as new technology & ideas emerge rapidly that are changing the way that we use media; both as makers and as users. It follows that there are considerable opportunities for independents to control their own distribution, potentially generate new revenue streams and be in more direct contact with their audiences.

Vimeo has just announced its Video on Demand (VOD) program and youtube are rumoured to be about to launch their version. Distrify is an interesting model where you can use their platform to embed VOD in to your own site. More and more films are offering digital downloads direct from their sites either for personal use or to run public community screenings. Crowd funding and crowd distribution are creating new ways of financing and marketing films with all kinds of models being experimented with. (One of the projects that I love in this space is the climate change doco Age of Stupid, more on that soon.)

This week the A2E Direct Distribution lab took place at the San Fransisco international Film Festival, Indie Wire writes a great summary of the lab and asks Is Digital Distribution the Future for Indie Film?

At the recent Australian International Documentary Conference in Adelaide Tim Sparke from Mercury Media (UK) argued that digital distribution opportunities signal the end of broadcaster control and that it’s the most exciting time ever to be in film. Documentary filmmaker Cathy Henkel also spoke at AIDC and passionately painted an exciting vision for the future with more control and different funding models opening up for independent filmmakers in her session Riding the Freedom Streams (see the Screen Hub review). Cathy is currently working on Rise of the Eco Warriors a feature doc aiming for cinema release which she hopes to use to change palm oil legislation to prevent logging in Borneo.

In Australia VOD has not taken off as it seems to have in other countries where Netflix, Hulu and itunes lead the charge. This could be a combination of audience habit, crappy internet and there not being many players operating in the market in Australia yet. As a side note check out this neat comparative NBN policy simulation; yet another reason why we really don’t want Abbott in government folks.

For all the excitement, I think in Australia at least we are only at the very start of this shift in media consumption. I had assumed audiences were watching more stuff online than perhaps they are, yet.

I was surprised when I got my viewer info from ABC for Queen of the Desert, they estimated 110,000 watched it when it was broadcast on ABC2. I was super excited to hear what the iview stats were as almost no-one I know has a tv; most people I know watch everything online. So you can imagine my surprise when ABC let me know there had only been 4500 views on iview!

Still, when we get a decent broadband connection in Australia I suspect that viewer habits will change dramatically.

I agree that it is a very exciting time to be making content. I like changing landscapes; there is a great sense of possibility.

PS Whilst this is not actually a distro platform or model Linklib is a really cool looking tech tool that I heard about at Hot Docs. It allows you to embed data in your content that brings up the links and references on the viewer’s second device while they watch it. Neat.


Hot Docs: Which Way to the Front Line?

Which Way to the Front Line from Here? is a moving portrait of photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Heatherington who was killed whilst working in Libya in 2011.

He was clearly a super lovely, engaged and enthusiastic guy with a great talent for disarming people and capturing beauty amidst chaos.

His first conflict zone work was in Liberia where he was shooting video and stills at the same time whilst travelling with the guerillas towards the capital. He was so taken by the relationships he built he spent the next 8 years working in West Africa not just in media, but as a teacher and for the UN etc.

Civil war in Liberia

He had a deep commitment to reframing the face of war. He spoke about war zones as a space where the extremes of the human experience and human spirit were illuminated.

He commented that whilst he was motivated by moral righteousness he didn’t think this is what would shift people, that this is not what he should be showing audiences from the front lines. He rarely filed traditional conflict photos. Instead he focused on the intimate, the human and surprising moments of connection.

He was also fascinated by manhood, masculinity, risk, love and connection between men in combat. There are some interesting parallels here with Big hART’s Drive project which explored autocide, young men, cars and risk in North West Tasmania.

In 2007 he worked in Afghanistan where he followed an american military platoon from their deployment and throughout their service in the Korengal Valley. He spent 12 months living with these young men alongside filmmaker Sebastian Junger (who directed this film). Together they made the documentary Restrepo.


The sleeping US soldiers series he produced in Afghanistan is particularly moving as it conveys a vulnerability that we rarely see in coverage of soldiers at war . His portraits of the friendship and love between the soldiers are deeply touching. I’ve not thought much before about the deep bonding and love that arise in conflict zones and he captures it beautifully. It was also a shift for me to sympathise with american soldiers on the frontlines; I have thought a lot about returning soldiers, but not so much about life at the front.


I wept a lot through this film; at war, at trauma, at the loss of such a whole-hearted person, but mainly at the joy of watching a life of integrity lived large and full. It is a joy to watch someone work across difference, build respectful and real relationships and based on that capture images and stories that change the way that we see the world. A beautiful film.

Check out some of his photo essays here.


Hot Docs: religion and reason

Two films I saw this week at the amazing Hot Docs doco festival made me think differently about the role and influence of religion and religious institutions on society. I really know and have thought very little about religion, different denominations or practices having grown up without any form of religion and not knowing many people with strong religious practices. Religion was ridiculed and treated as a joke in my childhood so I’ve always kind of shrugged off thinking about it and just laugh at things ridiculous things the pope or Pell say without giving it any more thought. It’s interesting in all my activism and political organising and wracking my brains about social change I’ve never really thought much about religion in the mix. I am now realising this has lead to a kind of naivete on my part about how much influence religion actually has on the world…..

God Loves Uganda explores the disturbing role of American evangelical missionaries in Uganda, in particular their influence on the proposed anti-homosexuality bill. It’s a deft and worrying film. I met with Allie, one of the Outreach Coordinators from Picture Motion (who are a new org that works on social impact campaigns for films) at Hot Docs and will be meeting with some more folks who working on this side of the film in NYC as part of my research trip.

When I watch these church sermons with their rock bands and crying young people or when I’ve heard about churches like Hillsong etc in the past I’ve tended to assume they are some loony fringe with little clout. I am really shocked when I hear about the scale of their reach and the size of their membership. One of the orgs profiled in God Loves Uganda hope to have reached every community in the world by 2020…

The Unbelievers is a clever and funny “rock n’ roll film about science” which follows evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on a global speaking tour about the importance of science and reason. It’s totally engaging, which is maybe not surprising given the ideas, but it’s not a particularly visual topic, so I thought the filmmakers did a great job.

Until watching The Unbelievers I didn’t realise that talking about evolution was even remotely controversial. I kind of feel like I’ve been just a wee bit blind here and feel kind of silly in some ways not to have thought about this much before! I suppose I move in largely non religious circles and religion does not seem to have the same grip on public life in Australia as it does in the USA.

I was surprised to learn of 535 members of the US Congress only 1 identifies as an atheist and that the other 534 say that they follow a religion of some kind. Dawkins contends that many of them are lying about their beliefs because they would not get elected if they did not affiliate with a religion. Gillard is the first Australian PM to declare herself an atheist although others have been non believers (more about Aust PMs and religion here). Apparently this just wouldn’t wash in the States.


I was even more surprised to learn that there are gatherings of atheists called ‘Reason Rallies‘ in the USA and that there is actually a need for them. The Unbelievers shows footage from a 30,000 strong atheist gathering in Washington D.C which received no mainstream media coverage. Crazy stuff.

Watching the fervour and power of the churches portrayed in God Loves Uganda (deliberate non naming and non linking here!) made me angry and worried. Watching The Unbelievers was a kind of antidote and it’s relief to know that ideas of reason to counter the disturbing religious right are also doing the rounds.

Highly recommend both films! And am very open to more education about the influence of religion, but I am also kind of hoping if I ignore it is will go away?!

EDITED NOTE: I have certainly thought about religion and colonisation especially observing its impacts in Central Australia. However I think I’ve thought of religion as a thing of the past, not of something of growing contemporary influence and this is where I think these films gave me an important reality check.

On Ngapartji Ngapartji

Ngapartji Ngapartji Project Video: NGAPARTJI NGAPARTJI 2007 from Big hART on Vimeo.

All this thinking about impact and cultural driven social change campaigns has prompted much reflection about my experiences at Big hART. I plan to write more about a few of our projects and thought I would kick off with Ngapartji Ngapartji.

Ngapartji Ngapartji was based on Arrernte Country in Mbantua (Alice Springs), Central Australia between 2004-2010. We worked in town camps in Alice Springs including Little Sisters, Kartne and most often Abbott’s Camp as well as Pitjantjatjara communities in WA, NT and SA; most frequently in Ernabella, SA.

Like all Big hART projects it worked on many levels and involved film, dance, music, play, collaboration, travel, campaigning, community development and friendship across the arc of the project’s 6 years. This included a one year ‘entry process’ the body of the project and an 18 month ‘exit strategy’. Whilst there is often a broad project design sketched at the outset the entry process is a time of discovery, relationship, trust and partnership building where the direction of the project is honed with participants. For instance we didn’t know we would be making an online language site or a language policy campaign when we started the project. A good blog about the genesis of the language policy campaign can be found here.

Once we were underway we were at once focusing on the opportunities for the core participants – a group of 6 young people from Abbott’s Camp – and our big picture social change agenda. We were constantly managing the tension between our on-the-ground process and delivering high quality and high impact work out in the world.

We had a core team of five with some changes over the years; a creative producer (me), a community producer, a filmmaker, a language producer, an artist/language worker and a literacy worker. We worked closely with a group of elders and Pitjantjatjara language advisers, with other Big hART producers, key performer Trevor Jamieson and creative director Scott Rankin providing advice and guidance from interstate. When we toured the stage show the company would expand to 27 people and when we staged the production in Ernabella we swelled to 54 people camping for 3 weeks (with the donkeys!) on an outstation 12 kms from the community.



Trevor on the road to our camp at Itjinpiri Outstation, SA

The project produced;

  • An online Pitjantjatjara language learning website ‘The Ninti Site’ made with videos from young people (teaching an indigenous language online in an Australian first)
  • Over 75 short films some of which are archived here created in workshops with over 250 young people
  • Two bilingual touring theatre works, which were performed at Sydney Opera House, The Dreaming Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Sydney Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Perth Festival, Canberra Theatre Centre and at Australia House, London and ICAF, Rotterdam
  • A language driven literacy and crime prevention program
  • 6 albums, in reggae, gospel and traditional inma
  • Attempts to shift the perception of young indigenous people in the local community and nationally through touring the show and associated positive media profile,
  • Staging of the theatre show on-country in Ernabella
  • Award winning dance performances at the APY Lands schools dance off
  • Presentations at a diverse range of conferences
  • An evaluation paper ‘The Consequences of Kindness’ from Murdoch University
  • Many academic papers and chapters in books about the project
  • An award winning documentary Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji which premiered on ABC TV in 2010
  • 2000 ‘Ngapartji Ngapartji Memory Baskets’ distributed to every project participant and partner, all major libraries nationally and every Pitjantjatjara community school and arts centre
  • A campaign to establish a national indigenous languages policy – which was announced at Garma Festival in 2009
  • We won a Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Achievement in Theatre, Trevor won a Sydney Theatre Award for Best Actor and the project was shortlisted for an NT Innovation Award
  • Two legacy projects; Nyuntu Ngali and Namatjira

All of this activity was interwoven; workshops in filmmaking built literacy training in, touring theatre shows were opportunities for local and national media profile, script work enabled language exchange and every presentation of the play was used to leverage the language policy campaign. Across all of these activities was in-depth thinking about ways to encourage identity shifts; in individuals (both project participants and workers), in local communities and in audiences.


It was a remarkable, dynamic, complex and layered intercultural project.

One of the most exciting aspects of Ngapartji Ngapartji was the collaboration; across cultures, across language, across areas of expertise and the sharing of leadership across these differences. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts; it was an amazing network of people to be part of.

The theatre production explored the impact of the Cold War and the British Atomic Tests (1953-1965) on Pitjantjatjara people through prism of the remarkable actor Trevor Jamieson’s family experience in the South Australian desert.

It’s a magical piece of theatre” – Sybil Nolan, Herald Sun
The most important event for local audiences to see this Festival” – Andi Moore, Artszine
It does honour to the festival that has presented it” – John Slavin, The Age
“An inclusive plea for understanding and justice” – Miriam Cosic, The Australian”

Ngapartji Ngapartji means ‘I give you something, you give me something’ and is a Pitjantjatjara concept of reciprocity and exchange. In many ways the exchange was almost invisible to people, which was fascinating. I don’t think the Pitjantjatjara members of the project realised how profound teaching their language and sharing stories was for the audiences. At the same time I don’t think audiences realised the importance of listening and of learning language to the Pitjantjatjara company. There was a benign simplicity in the act of teaching ‘Kata Alipiri Muti Tjina” (heads shoulders knees and toes) to audiences in the show, disarming people so completely and creating a beautiful moment of awkwardness and openness that set the scene for much of the broader project.

An important aspect of Ngapartji Ngapartji was to allow this exchange to take place between audiences and cast – online and in performance spaces – and to avoid Big hART being gatekeepers or intermediaries as much as possible.

The indigenous languages policy campaign built slowly alongside the community relationships and touring work. Achieving the language policy was incredibly satisfying and important. We continue to keep pressure on the government to match this policy commitment with more resources, to include indigenous language in the national curriculum and to put languages at the centre of the Close the Gap agenda.


Measuring the impact of Ngapartji Ngapartji across the breadth of the project is quite a task. As I said my recent post on impact – you often ‘know’ what works but it is often harder to actually articulate it. Dr. Dave Palmer from Murdoch University wrote this fantastic evaluation ‘The Consequences of Kindness’ which looks in detail at the projects plan and outcomes.

The success of the language policy campaign is easy to identify by the launch of the policy itself in 2009.

The success of the theatre show and documentary can be measured by its’ sell out seasons, standing ovations (every single show commanded standing ovations except the outdoor presentations on country where standing ovations are not part of cultural practice), positive reviews and audience feedback.

However, the social impact at an individual level, on the choices and social trajectory of participants and the attitudes of the broader community of Alice Springs and Australia is much harder to track.

As Big hART see our work as highly collaborative and not top down we are more reluctant to claim high levels of impact on the lives of young people we work with than say a more traditional NGO or government agency might be. We are not always very comfortable claiming that our projects ‘turned people’s lives around’ or ‘saved’ them.

That said it is clear that a six year project that provides this range of opportunities, training, travel and life experiences achieves impact. I certainly observed sustained growth in many people involved in the project, myself included.

Dr. Palmer’s report concludes, ‘There is also very good evidence that young people’s involvement had a powerful impact on their levels of self confidence, pride, social identity, self discipline levels, sense of possibilities for the future and hope.’

Big hART are participating in an ARC longitudinal research study with Murdoch, QUT and Durham Universities to assess the long-term impact of our projects in the communities in which we have worked. I am looking forward to having more language and ways of speaking about that aspect of our work when the study is completed later in 2013.

It is hard to capture in a short post just how much I learned from this project and where is sits in my heart. Suffice to say that I really came to understand collaboration across difference and that small groups of people can leverage enormous change with the power of a beautifully told story.

I have so many enduring memories from bush trips, from tours, from language learning and from road trips or camp outs. It completely convinced me of the genius of the Big hART model and of the capacity for culture-lead social change to have sustained impact on individuals, communities and at a policy level.

There is a huge part of my heart full up with six years of stories, language and experiences that made up Ngapartji Ngapartji, and so so much love for everyone involved. Wiru mulapa!

The project website is archived here and has a wikipedia page here. There is a chapter in Art and Upheaval which explores the development of the project and an essay in ReAwakening Languages about the language maintenance aspects of Ngapartji Ngapartji.

The Ninti site is currently undergoing maintenance but most of the language videos are on Big hART’s vimeo channel here

You can watch the documentary Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji here

The Ngapartji Ngapartji Memory Basket is in most state library collections, every library in the NT and the National Library in Canberra.

I’ve posted a couple of reviews of the stage production here and the documentary here.


 Pics by Brett Monaghan, Keith Saunders, Heidrun Lohr




What’s your impact?


Excellent exploding mud pools, NZ; summer 2012

How do you measure the impact of your arts, media, story and culture driven projects?

How many people came to workshops? How many news stories ran? How many facebook likes? How many retweets? How many people saw the show or film? Unsolicitated feedback? Policy change?

How do you measure social change? Attitudinal shifts? Cultural impact? Change in a participant’s life?

Evaluation is often a requirement of funding, but it is also really useful internally when you ask the right questions and can really understand how and what worked.

You often ‘know’ what works, but it is sometimes hard to capture and articulate this gut feeling.

There are some things you can measure with figures and stats and some things that you have to capture through story, reflection, anecdotes and interviews. I am not very academically minded so sometimes I find this area tough to navigate, but I do know that action-research, reflecting on your process and changing, reviewing, updating how you work is important in honing your practice.

There are no templates for making change – if you could perfect a plan for change, you’d be pretty popular. There is always much debate as to what created the tipping points in any social movement, behaviour change or major public shift. There are so many theories about how social change is encouraged and achieved – I’m not going to try and address them all in one blog post as fascinating an area as it is. I might come back to this though!

That said there are a couple of things I firmly believe. Firstly everyone will always try and claim that their project or campaign made the change. I think you have to take a systems approach when understanding any major change. Although there is often a catalytic moment (often cultural) this usually sits against on a backdrop of diverse lobbying, good timing, zeitgeist, community opinion, viral ideas etc. Secondly culture and story are fundamental to making change as story and culture are what we do and who we are. This to me is the guts of why art and story matter; and this is what we need to get better at understanding and measuring our impacts.

One approach that I really like in analysing what worked and why is “appreciative inquiry; solving problems by looking at what’s going right. As opposed to the concept of “debriefing” which often errs on the side of the negative ie ‘what went wrong and how can we avoid repeating that’, appreciate inquiry is an interrogation of ‘what worked and what were the conditions that allowed for success’. I highly recommend checking out some reading and methods on this approach – I use it a lot and find it to be really useful.

It seems that there is a kind of explosion of thinking and methodology in the area of impact around social change film making. I am sure that I will write about this again, but for now here are some great online resources I’ve been working my way through.

Evaluations and impact reports;

• Big hART have some great evaluations of our projects up on our website (which we really need to overhaul when we are not so busy on projects!) These are for the most part quite long and after looking at some other evaluations, particularly the Brit Doc ones, I am thinking of distilling some of these in to shorter documents. We’re also taking part in a longitudinal study with QUT, Murdoch and Durham Universities looking at the impact of our projects on young people we’ve worked with over many years.

• Brit Doc have published some great evaluations on the films An Inconvenient Truth, Gasland and Budrus among others.
Working Films – who are an all round inspiring outfit – have made a series of films about films making social change to answer How do social issue documentary films do more than just raise awareness?
• Harmony Institute have published this review of Bully’s impact on social media.
• Pray The Devil Back to Hell film has written a report on its impact
• Participant Media – who make feature films (Lincoln, Promised Land) and docos (An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc) and now have a TV channel – have also written about their impact


Fledgling Fund Impact Diagram

And here are some resources for measuring impact;
Sparkwise is a new data collecting platform that is free and enables you to capture then transform your data in to graphics; I’ve just started playing with this with Queen of the Desert’s social media so I’ll keep you posted on what I think
• The Fledgling Fund has published ‘Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact’ (PDF)
• Centre for Social Media has published ‘Social Justice Documentary Designing For Impact’ (PDF)
• Bay Area Video Coalition have just released their ‘Impact Playbook’ (PDF)
• Determining the Impact of Film and Video article regarding discussions at Media That Matters conference
• The Arts of Engagement interview with Working Films and Brit Doc about social engagement and impact

It seems that the documentary field is charging ahead in this area particularly in the USA. I am less familiar with resources for measuring the impact of community cultural development or theatre projects.

If you know of any other work in the film or CCD or theatre spaces I’d love you to share them. (Click the little speech bubbles at the bottom right of this post to leave a comment).

The Bully Project – Film and campaign


Bully is an American feature length documentary which follows five kids and their families over one school year and explores the impact of bullying on their lives. It is also an important conversation starter on a deeply insidious issue.

This year, over 13 million American kids will be bullied, making it the most common form of violence young people in the U.S. experience. Through the power of these stories, Bully aims to be a catalyst for change and to turn the tide on an epidemic of violence that has touched every community in the United States—and far beyond.

Bullying is so common in schools and workplaces that it is often normalised or accepted as ‘just how it is’ or ‘kids will be kids’ or ‘this workplace is just really high pressure, sometimes people get stressed’.

Bullying is insidious, often hidden, or if witnessed observers often fear that they will in turn be targetted if they say anything, so they remain silent.

According to a recent Australian Government report 1/4 students will be bullied at school. The Australian Human Rights Commission estimates between 400,000 – 2M Australians will be harassed as work. That’s some frightening stats.

I experienced some fairly nasty bullying in high school. For a couple of years I avoided walking around school by myself or going certain places outside school as I was scared I would be attacked by a group of girls who were constantly threatening me. Watching this film brought back the memories of chest clenching fear and constant low level anxiety.

I have also been the target of workplace bullying, once on a voluntary activist campaign and once on a film project. Both of these experiences required a substantial amount of work to get past. Bullying can have a big impact on your self esteem, mental health and general well being.

On top of my personal experiences with bullying I’ve witnessed bullying in a range of workplaces; in NGOs, political offices, environmental organisations, businesses and sporting associations. It seems that no institution is necessarily exempt just because of their politics or ideals.

I found watching Bully pretty emotional at times and yet inspiring because of the transformative campaigns and conversations that is it initiating.

The Bully Project is the filmmakers’ portal for their outreach and social impact campaign. Young people who featured in the film have gone on to become high profile anti-bullying advocates and the site provides a range of ways in which people can get involved in or start their own campaigns.

The film claims to have reached over 800,000 people to date and is making headway in schools and at a policy level initiating peer education and supporting schools to set up programs to counter bullying.

The filmmakers have also developed anti-bullying curriculum in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves.

Stand with the Silent is a parallel campaign that was initiated by parents of young people who had taken their own lives as a result of bullying. Also worth having a look at The Bully Effect a ‘where are they now’ follow up film that CNN put together.

Bully is another impressive example of a film about an important issue that has developed and executed a strong social impact campaign. Hurrah!

If you see someone being bullied offer them support. If you are being bullied please seek support.
It is not always possible to find that in your school or workplace, but there are a range of other places to go;
Reach Out counselling services
National Centre Against Bullying
Bullying No Way (a school resource)
Australian Human Rights Commission Bullying at work fact sheet
These are Australian links, but most countries have school and workplace bullying support services set up and are fairly easy to find online.

Kicking off in London town


It’s been a very exciting week in London town, not least with the passing of Thatcher, and I’ve been hitting the ground running with a stack of meetings with producers, presenters, venues, theatre companies and artists regarding possibilities of bringing Big hART projects here. We’re looking at touring shows, screenings films and running training as well as potentially setting up an ongoing residency through which we could start a long term project in the UK.

On top of the Big hART meetings, catching up with friends and zipping around on the tube (can we please get some decent public transport in Australia already!) I’ve had a couple of meetings to kick start my Churchill research and thinking.

Yesterday I met with Mark Atken one of the producers of Crossover. I took part in a Crossover Lab in Adelaide five years ago that was incredibly useful and inspiring. I am still in touch with a number of people I met there including Emma of Homage to Uncertainty fame and Fee from Really Big Road Trip amongst other fantastic folks. I also continue to use a lot of the idea generating processes we played with at the Lab in my practice. Talking with Mark reminded me of the ways in which thinking about audience and how and why they use technology, can and should be a big part of how you design cross platform projects. Seems obvious, but sometimes you can get so swept up in a project you can forget about where you want it to go, what you want it to do and who you want to see it when you finish making it.

This morning I met with Beadie Finzi from the Brit Doc Foundation. What a powerhouse! It was so exciting to talk with someone who clearly articulates the power of film, role of partnerships, new models of funding films, ways of measuring impact and was so open with ideas, knowledge and contacts. The sense of being part of a movement and network was palpable and really affirmed the focus of this trip.

Aside from the fantastic rapid fire overview of the work of Brit Doc and a bunch of recommendations of models, impact assessments (read these they are great) and organisations to check out there were a couple of stand out ideas.

The first is how essential the quality of your work is to your capacity to have a powerful influence. We talk a lot about this at Big hART where we are committed to high production values in the work that we make. Especially as it comes from a community process it needs to stand on its own as a work and not be supported out of a generosity from an audience – it needs to stand alongside commercial and mainstream work despite its very different process of creation and broader social change agenda. Beadie made a strong point as to how fundamental this is to an impact campaign working and I completely agree.

The second big take home for me was the title of Impact Producer. Actually having a name for the role of designing and executing a social impact campaign is fantastic: of course that’s what the role is! It’s not straight producing and it’s not just distribution or marketing or outreach – I love this title and am really keen to start using it where relevant.

Brit Doc Foundation do a lot of things – I recommend digging through their website – but one of the major live events they have initated is the Good Pitch.

Good Pitch brings together documentary filmmakers with foundations, NGOs, campaigners, philanthropists, policy makers, brands and media around leading social and environmental issues – to forge coalitions and campaigns that are good for all these partners, good for the films and good for society.

Good Pitch², which is not dissimilar to the TedX model, allows local groups to stage a Good Pitch event. The training/handover for this involves bringing a producer to shadow a Good Pitch process before committing to organising one. I am very excited about the idea of a Good Pitch² taking off in Australia and when I got home from meeting Beadie I shot off emails to Big hART, AIDC, Adelaide FF, Sydney FF and Antenna FF as well as a number of Australian filmmakers excitedly encouraging the idea!

I think an event like Good Pitch would encourage a greater network of and language for social change filmmakers in Australia.

To wrap up this post here are some docos I am excited about. I haven’t seen any of these films yet, but I’ve been looking at their social impact campaigns and look forward to checking them out:

The Invisible War The Invisible War is a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of America’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling  picture of the extent of the problem—today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 22,800 violent sex crimes in the military in 2011. 20% of all active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted. Female soldiers aged 18 to 21 accounted for more than half of the victims.

God Loves Uganda God Loves Uganda explores the role of the American evangelical movement in Uganda, where American missionaries have been credited with both creating schools and hospitals and promoting dangerous religious bigotry.
The film follows evangelical leaders in America and Uganda along with politicians and missionaries as they attempt the radical task of eliminating “sexual sin” and converting Ugandans to fundamentalist Christianity.

Budrus Budrus is an award-winning feature documentary film about a Palestinian community organizer, Ayed Morrar, who unites local Fatah and Hamas members along with Israeli supporters in an unarmed movement to save his village of Budrus from destruction by Israel’s Separation Barrier. Success eludes them until his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, launches a women’s contingent that quickly moves to the front lines. Struggling side by side, father and daughter unleash an inspiring, yet little-known, movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that is still gaining ground today. In an action-filled documentary chronicling this movement from its infancy, Budrus shines a light on people who choose nonviolence to confront a threat.

Great article “Shifting Narratives Through Documentary Film: A Case Study of ‘Budrus'” by Julia Bacha from Just Vision.

MIDWAY; tragedy and beauty


I’ve landed in London and to avoid the snow (from the Pilbara to London is quite a temperature change!) and recover from jetlag I am staying inside today doing research around social impact film. I’m reading all kinds of impact assessments, looking up stacks of filmmakers and organisations, digging up loads of inspiring things. A standout find for today is MIDWAY.

Whilst reading about Impact Partners I came across MIDWAY (due out late 2013).

Photographer Chris Jordan and team shot the film in the Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean. According to Jordan the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system.

The MIDWAY film project is a powerful visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy. On one of the remotest islands on our planet, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch. Returning to the island over several years, our team is witnessing the cycles of life and death of these birds as a multi-layered metaphor for our times. With photographer Chris Jordan as our guide, we walk through the fire of horror and grief, facing the immensity of this tragedy—and our own complicity—head on. And in this process, we find an unexpected route to a transformational experience of beauty, acceptance, and understanding.

MIDWAY looks beautiful and tragic, I look forward to seeing it and the associated impact campaign. You can follow the film here on facebook and twitter.

Midway trailer

Granito – How to Nail a Dictator; trial of General Montt starts


“Granito” means “tiny grain of sand,” and is a Maya concept of collective change, about how all of us persevering together over time can cause change and bring justice to society.

Granito is a unique story of destinies joined by Guatemala’s past, about how a documentary film intertwined with a nation’s turbulent history emerges as an active player in the present…

Granito is a fascinating film by Skylight Pictures that explores the relationship between Director Pamela Yates’ 1982 film When the Mountains Tremble and the current campaign for justice in Guatemala. It is at once a powerful lesson in history and a compelling film about the power of film itself; the power of bearing witness and the power of film to contribute to social justice.

Yates was young and brazen when she made When the Mountains Tremble 29 years ago. She managed to infiltrate both the guerrillas and the military during the genocide that lead to the deaths of over 200,000 Guatemalan people, mainly Maya indigenous people. Some of her footage, including interviews with former military leaders, is now being used as key evidence in the trial of former military General Efrain Rios Montt. The trail has just started and will run over the next few weeks.

Not unlike Pray the Devil Back to Hell the subject matter is saved from being utterly devastating by the dignity, hope and stories of those have continued to struggle for justice. Not only within the film, but also around the film. Knowing that the film is working on other levels – as evidence in the trial and campaigning for human rights more broadly – makes hearing the trauma of the past easier to handle because there is a sense that justice will win out.

Skylight Pictures do much more than make films; their films are connected to and part of human rights movements and campaigns. Their documentary The Reckoning about the International Criminal Court was linked to a campaign to which Skylight created; International Justice Central. IJ Central “is a resource, developed by Skylight Pictures, for concerned citizens around the world who want an effective International Criminal Court to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.”

Skylight have also created an open publishing digital space for the sharing memories of the Guatemalan genocide; Granito; Every Memory Matters. And they are launching a digital toolbox of campaigning tools later this year.

Skylight make fantastic feature length docos on tough complex issues, get large scale exposure for these films through festivals, television broadcast and distribution and they embed their films in smart campaigns to create more pressure and leverage on the issues that they look at in their films. This approach is not dissimilar to the Big hART model and I am keen to learn more about the how of what they do.

I saw The Reckoning at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2009 and have been following Granito since supporting its kickstarter campaign a couple of year ago. I’m a big fan of their work and I’m really looking forward to meeting up with these filmmakers.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell; impact tracking

Liberian women demonstrate at the American Embassy in Monrovia at the height of the the civil war in July 2003_72dpi_credit_Pewee_Flomoku

I recently watched Pray the Devil Back to Hell, an inspiring documentary about a women’s movement in Liberia, West Africa that campaigned for peace amidst a terrifying civil war. Their movement managed to have a significant impact on peace talks taking place, the outcomes of the peace talks and the election of Liberia’s (and Africa’s) first female leader.

A film which detailed the atrocities, bloodshed, the horror of child soldiers, rapes and fear across the country would have been too heartbreaking to watch. However, hearing these horrifiic truths alongside the uplifting power of a social movement and seeing in action the power of hope, love and peace over fear and violence was uplifting stuff. It made me think about the role of feminism in Central Australia and across other areas of my practice.

More than simply being a film about a social issue Pray the Devil Back to Hell designed a campaign to maximise its impact after release and this is the area I am most interested in learning more about on this Churchill Fellowship trip.

It is one thing to make a film that will inspire, but who do you want to see it? Why? What do you want them to do once they have seen it? What is the impact that you want to create? Awareness? More members of your campaign? Political pressure? Policy change?

A film can do a lot more than just tell a story. These filmmakers say “We firmly believe that (our strategy) has turned what would have been an ephemeral bit of media into a genuine engine for political and cultural change.” They had a three pronged approach to the impact they wanted to make – 1) target a US audience to inspire them in their own activism, 2) target those with international influence including media so they would take role of women more seriously in future and 3) to reach out men and women in other conflict zones to inspire them through this story of courage and hope. A summary of the impact and distribution plan is on the film’s website including details of the 9 month Global Peace Tour of the film which saw them hold over 350 community screenings all over the world.

A number of films I have worked have had ad hoc distribution and created some exciting ripples, but not a considered, rigorous plan for getting the film out to targeted audiences for targeted impact. Learning about savvy thinking around where a film goes and what is done with it once it is completed is very exciting.

New site for new adventures


Welcome to my new blog and website.

This blog is kicking off just before I head off on a 3 month trip to the UK/USA to look at marketing and distribution models in social change documentary film making as part of a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travelling fellowship.

I’m going to visit some super inspiring organisations, do some training, pick lots of people’s brains and hopefully pop my head open and get lots of new ideas.

I’m going to do my best to capture some of these ideas and adventures here as I go.

I have a long history with and interest in social change media with zines, indymedia, DIY publications, grass roots event organising, self publishing, community television and film making. I think story has unparalleled power to influence culture and society and therefore the role of media makers and artists is incredibly important.

I don’t think media makers and artists think enough about how to leverage greater change, influence and ripples with their work. Or they think about it but are not sure how to make greater waves. This is where I most want to sharpen my skills and broaden my networks; how to make and distribute media and art for social impact and social change.

Thanks to Colette at Goodling for all her help getting my site ready to go, Tom Civil for this great header image and to the ever remarkable Big hART for the flexibility to take off on this trip.