ABC rejects Once My Mother plea

02 October, 2014 by Don Groves

The ABC has rejected a campaign orchestrated by the filmmakers to allocate an earlier timeslot to Once My Mother.

Sophia Turkiewicz’s documentary, in which she investigates why her Polish mother abandoned her and uncovers the truth behind her wartime escape from a Siberian gulag, will screen on Sunday October 26 at 10.20 pm.


Producer Rod Freedman begged the ABC to schedule the feature-length film at 9.30 pm or earlier, fearing it would be ignored in the ‘graveyard’ timeslot.

He wrote to ABC TV director Richard Finlayson, who he says declined to get involved, so he appealed to ABC head of programming Brendan Dahill.

Dahill replied, “I am happy with the slot that we have chosen for the show and the context and the environment within which we have placed it.”

So Freedman launched a campaign, expressing his anger and disgust and asking industry colleagues to lobby via email Finlayson and Dahill.

All to no avail. Asked for a response this week, an ABC spokeswoman reiterated Dahill’s statement and pointed out the doco will be available to view in full and for free on iview for 14 days after its premiere and at whatever time viewers choose.

Freedman told IF today, "In the past, I've had great support from ABC publicity and have felt we were working together to maximize audience reach. Now, with the most successful and critically acclaimed film I've produced, we have zero support and publicity. Why isn't the ABC showcasing this film? We've already proved there's a huge audience."

In his letter to colleagues Freedman said, “Once My Mother was originally knocked back twice by ABC before Phil Craig arrived as Head of Documentaries and commissioned us to produce a one hour TV version, after we had finished shooting and secured Screen Australia funding after years of development and production. Phil has been consistently supportive since he came on board and we thank him for that.

“Some months ago, having won several awards for the feature version, we convinced ABC to transmit the feature, rather than the 57 minute version, arguing that the film which had been recognised was not the one they intended to broadcast.

“However, we were recently informed that Once My Mother will be broadcast on Sunday 26 October at 10.20pm. We knew from this non-prime-time, graveyard timeslot, that the ABC would do little to promote the film. Prime-time shows are the only ones to get publicity, including from television reviewers.

"Our concerns were confirmed when we heard yesterday that we would receive no support from ABC publicity and no promo. This means that most viewers will be unaware that the film is screening that night. The TV guides don’t even have a description of programs at that time, merely listing the title. Yes, there’s iview, but you have to be aware of the program in the first place to record it or catch up.

"I ask you to consider what this says about ABC’s attitude to one-off documentaries and in particular, one which they have invested in financially, which has achieved 5 Australian Awards, 2 International Awards, a successful national cinema release since July 24 in every capital city and is now enjoying a lively season in regional cinemas. This is rare for a documentary. We were recently listed as 15th in gross box office takings.

"We enjoyed universally positive reviews, including enthusiastic recognition from ABC media – Richard Glover, Phillip Adams, Margaret Throsby, Julie Rigg and many regional radio stations. We had 4 Stars on At The Movies. From our many Q&As around Australia and country regions, we know our audiences are in the mainstream ABC demographic. They respond with warmth and emotion and always ask, when will it be on TV?

"And now we are to be hidden from view, with no support at all."