‘Wrong Kind of Black’.
Catriona McKenzie was drawn to direct four-part web series Wrong Kind Of Black, based on the life and stories of Boori Monty Pryor, because of the man himself.
Wrong Kind of Black opens Series Mania Melbourne tonight at the Australian Centre of Moving Image (ACMI), the series’ first public screening. A Princess Pictures’ production, it takes audiences from the “the cops and the crocs of 1960s Palm Island to blood-spattered dance floors in 1970s Melbourne nightclubs”, and is narrated by Pryor, who co-wrote it with Nick Musgrove. Both are up for an AWGIE Award for their script.
Clarence Ryan plays Monty, a Birra Gubba and Kunggandji man from Townsville working as a DJ in Melbourne, while his brother Paul is played by Aaron McGrath. Lucy Flanagan and Tom E. Lewis star as their parents and Jacek Komen also appears a Russian gangster.
McKenzie (Satellite Boy) tells IF that Pryor, who is an author and activist that runs storytelling sessions at schools around Australia, is incredibly inspirational and that “if you met the man you’d want to do anything you could to work with him”.
“I’ve never sat down with him and not had my brain cracked open,” she says. “He takes something that seems very simple and illuminates it with a different way of thinking. I think that’s a really unusual quality.”
The director says Wrong Kind of Black is imbued with tragedy, but also has a message of hope. It’s fun – there’s music and ‘70s fashion – though the spine of the show is political.
“Australia has to wake up. We as a nation have not been able to engage with Aboriginal Australia, and that has to shift. This is just one story of millions of stories that are waiting to be told about the impact of white colonial Australia on Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal people; on real people.”
Given it was a period drama which required shoots in both Townsville and Melbourne, the budget for Wrong Kind of Black was limited, says McKenzie. They also had precious time – only a week in each place, and there was little opportunity for rehearsal time with non-actors Nihil Yasserie and Christopher Ketchup, who play young Boori and Paul respectively.
However, these challenges were made up for by the “heartfelt commitment” of the crew.
“Wrong Kind of Black was a much bigger idea than the resources available for it. It was really on the shoulders of the heads of department and the crew that we were able to get it done. It was a very ambitious idea,” she says.
Initially titled Maybe Today, the series was first funded via Screen Australia and the ABC’s Long Story Short initiative, which also spawned Other People’s Problems and Fucking Adelaide.
Screen Queensland and Film Victoria also invested and it was produced by Kelly West, who had previously made short Brown Paper Bag with Pryor at Youthworx. Andrea Denhelm and Melanie Brunt were also producers.
Besides Wrong Kind of Black, McKenzie has recently worked on two Hoodlum productions, the ABC’s Harrow and Netflix’s Tidelands. She has also started working in The States, recently directing Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments.
Wrong Kind of Black marks the director’s second foray into web series, having also shot Nakkiah Lui’s absurdist comedy Kiki and Kitty for ABC iview, which recently won two awards at Series Mania in France.
The director says the web is allowing some “audacious” stories to come onto screen. “You can be bold. The risk is, because the budgets can be low, you have to design the project for the budget level.”
Next up, McKenzie is writing a feature film with Patricia Cornelius, called Stolen, to be produced by Arenamedia.
Wrong Kind of Black opens Series Mania Melbourne tonight at the Australian Centre of Moving Image, and will premiere August 5 on ABC iview (as a four part series) and ABC at 9.30pm (as a one hour telemovie).