Robyn Kershaw and Annika Glac.

Writer-director Annika Glac and producer Robyn Kershaw will further develop their six-part drama based on the life of cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein after being selected for TorinoFilmLab’s TV development platform SeriesLab.

The series, titled Helena I Am, follows Rubenstein, a woman born into a Jewish Orthodox family in Krakow Poland, who was then banished to outback Coleraine, Victoria.

Without an education, money or connections, she pioneered a makeup empire from lanolin, the grease from sheep’s wool – and would go on to become one of the world’s richest women.

The series is one of nine selected for this year’s SeriesLab which mentors European creatives (Glac is Polish-Australian).

Helena Rubenstein.

Glac and Kershaw started developing the project around two years ago. In the last six months, UK-based producer and script editor John Yorke has been mentoring Glac.

The writer-director was drawn to the pioneering nature of Rubenstein’s story – a true rags to riches tale.

“At first I had lots of questions about why did she come here, what propelled her to create make-up and how did she make her first face cream?” Glac tells IF.

“I soon realised her story was unwritten and needed to be told. It also felt in a lot of ways like the classic immigrant story, which is also my story. Only 90 years after Helena, my family and I escaped Poland and arrived at an immigration camp in Melbourne with a couple of suitcases, no family and no familiarity, ready to build an entirely new life.”

Kershaw is a natural producing partner, having previously developed a docu-drama about Rubenstein. The research for that project meant she has accumulated a significant library of documents, articles and academic theses about Rubenstein and her life in Australia that are now providing a foundation for the series.

Being selected for SeriesLab will allow the team focused time on the project, as well as market visibility.

Each project is assigned a script tutor and story editor to create and consolidate story structure and the creation of the series bible. The lab culminates in a presentation to a selection of broadcasters and distributors in Rome, held in conjunction with October market MIA (Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo).

In November 2019, with the support of Screen Australia’s Enterprise program, Glac was mentored by the Oscar-nominated Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland during post-production of her film Charlatan. Holland, who is also the president of the European Film Academy, introduced Glac to a number of potential co-producing partners.

Kershaw also aims to finance production with European and Canadian partners after pitching the project at the 2019 TAP program held in Berlin and Halifax, Nova Scotia, an initiative which supports trans-Atlantic film and high-end TV dramas.

“The challenge now is how to actualise this experience with the reality of co-producing during a global pandemic,” Kershaw tells IF.

Glac hopes to ultimately assemble an all-female team of directors, including herself.

“Helena was really the queen of reinvention, but amazingly in the process of reinventing herself by creating a new life and her make-up, she helped all women to reinvent their place in the world, by creating the modern woman,” she ways.

“Melbourne was a global leader in the fight for women’s rights through the suffragette movement. Wearing make-up meant freedom, power and independence – and a new way of being seen.”

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