Do Indigenous stories require Indigenous filmmakers?

Yes says NITV & ABC. But it depends on the project, says SBS.

Is it essential the Indigenous documentaries and dramas are produced by Indigenous filmmakers, writers and creatives?

Or can they be produced by non-Indigenous filmmakers too?

Our three public broadcasters adopt different views, in part influenced by specialist funding.

Last week at the Australian International Documentary Conference, execs from ABC, SBS and NITV tackled the question.


Tanya Denning-Orman, Channel Manager NITV.

“In the early days NITV said ‘All Indigenous, that’s it,'” she explained.

“Our sector needed those breaks, and if we didn’t give them those breaks they wouldn’t be out and about now, doing what they are doing.

“They are coming back to us now and delivering us gold.

“So we can’t underestimate (its importance). It’s not just a tick in the box, it really helps your film and to get that collaboration right at the beginning is the perfect recipe for NITV.”


Kelrick Martin, Head of Indigenous ABC.

“I think it’s about giving Indigenous filmmakers a chance to breathe. It’s so dense out there, everyone is trying to tell their story,” he said.

“There are plenty of opportunities for mainstream Australians through international broadcasters to have those platforms. But for an Australian Indigenous person the avenues are very few and far between.

“There’s been an incredibly strong and concerted effort not just by ABC, SBS and NITV but also screen funding agencies Screen Australia, ScreenWest, SAFC, Screen Queensland, Screen Territory to really push for Indigenous voices. It is so difficult to be heard when you are a minority in your own country.

“(ABC Indigenous) is not the whole ABC. We’re just a tiny pocket of it, and that’s why we exist.

“To be honest if those strategies weren’t put in place a couple of years ago, would we have the depth of talent that we see now? Would we have Steven McGregor, Ivan Sen, Warwick Thornton, Rachel Perkins making those films? Maybe. At least we can give them a chance to come through, and the next gen as well.”

He added, “It’s pretty simple. If you’re looking for a firm definition from the ABC’s perspective it’s Indigenous stories, by Indigenous people.”


Joseph Maxwell, Head of Documentaries, SBS.

“It really depends on the project,” he said.

First Contact was made by Blackfella Films which is an Indigenous production company.

“As a broadcaster with something like that we want to be provocative but with a real purpose. It allows us to tackle some pretty difficult issues and I think we can bring some really broad audiences to that. First Contact was a massive ratings success.

“But other shows tackle all sorts of issues in the natural diversity of casting.

“We want Indigenous content across all of our shows. I think our shows need to reflect a natural Diversity and one of the key things we try and do is make sure that on screen you see that.

“We’re not saying ‘Here is an Indigenous story,’ but here are Australian stories that we are exploring, with Indigenous angles to them. Shows like Who Do You Think You Are? are great for that and we have a history series made by Joined Up in WA that explores the history of our suburbs and the land.

“(It) explores immigration stories and Indigenous stories. We really want them woven into the fabric of everything we’re doing.”

SBS also has a Diversity Talent Escalator which offers paid experience for emerging screen practitioners. on SBS productions across multiple roles.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily about giving someone a directorial break. I think it’s (about) bringing them up through the industry and doing that on a broad level,” he said.

“(SBS Escalator) is our biggest commitment and all the screen agencies have come in on it.

“I think everyone in the room has the common purpose of what we’re trying to do here: making sure there is Diversity behind the camera.”

3 Responses

  1. Rabbit Proof Fence is arguably one of the most important indigenous films and it was directed by a white guy.

    So I don’t think so. I mean it helps it was based off a book written by one of the girls in question, but I think the art of film and TV isn’t locked down by any skin colour or gender.

  2. I would think the people/culture/etc , should be involved in some way if the program is about them, remind me of the English tv series last year that ( I think ) was about the British arrival to Australia , but made no mention of the Indigenous people that were here first !! That was just dumb !!

  3. If the film maker is non indigenous, then when it comes to knowledge of indigenous ways, heritage and language, I think there should be at least a couple of indigenous people there to make sure what is said and done is truth. Its like when movie makers make a religious movie which puts people off because of the non-common thoughts and acceptance of religion. They don’t have religious people there to give guidance and the movie comes out as bent and twisted. So when it comes to native history I think having people from that culture would be a must.

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