Catriona McKenzie’s new company Dark Horse to be a platform for diverse voices
Catriona McKenzie launched her production company Dark Horse last month in part because she feels she’s now in a position to give practitioners from diverse backgrounds a leg up in their careers.
McKenzie has worked extensively as director, including feature film Satellite Boy, which she also wrote and produced, and on series such as Tidelands, Harrow, The Warriors, Dance Academy, The Circuit, Redfern Now and The Gods of Wheat Street, as well ABC iview’s Kiki and Kitty and Wrong Kind Of Black.
She is also the first Indigenous Australian woman to direct series television in the US, having recently worked on Shadowhunters for Freeform, and is a member of the Directors Guild of America.
While McKenzie already has several projects on her slate, Dark Horse won’t just be a vehicle for her own work. Rather, she tells IF she feels she’s now at stage in her career where she is able to share her knowledge and help bring other diverse creative voices to the forefront – whether they be Indigenous voices, queer voices or voices from working class backgrounds. In particular, she says working in the US means she is a “convenient bridge” for Aussie filmmakers to cross over into a global market.
“I feel I’ve reached a point now where I’m able to help other people tell their stories on a wider level. I’m ready for that,” she says.
The celebrations surrounding the 25th anniversary of Screen Australia’s Indigenous department in August also reinforced to McKenzie that there is still more do to continue to elevate Indigenous storytellers.
“We need to continue building on what we’ve already done. We sit on the shoulders of the people that have gone before us, and I feel like I’m ready to be stood on; to be a platform to raise a new generation of filmmakers and storytellers to get out there to do it.”
First on the slate for Dark Horse is feature film Stolen, which McKenzie has been writing with Patricia Cornelius (Blessed) for some years now, with development support from both Screen Australia and Create NSW. It is the story of a white baby girl who is brought into an Aboriginal community by a dingo, and the mystery of her and those around her unravels in reverse-chronological order to reveal who she is and how she came to be.
“It’s a film about characters that are left behind in the wake of this country’s history when it comes to the Stolen Generation,” says McKenzie.
The inspiration for the story came in part when McKenzie visited a community in the Kimberley while casting for Satellite Boy, where she says she met some fair-skinned Aboriginal boys whose parents had stopped taking them with them into town because they would get pulled up for kidnapping.
“When you look Azaria Chamberlain… one baby unfortunately was taken by a dingo and the whole world stopped. Yet there’s a generation of children that were ripped from their mothers’ arms in the Stolen Generation and it’s been too hard for Australia to really deal with.”
Also on the Dark Horse slate is another feature, Min Min, and a sci-fi series Unity. In addition, McKenzie is also developing several TV projects including a comedy and a dramedy which she says are close to sending out to market.
She is keen to produce genre work under the Dark Horse banner, particularly supernatural thrillers and horrors, as she believes it is “the next step for us as Indigenous filmmakers.”
McKenzie has enlisted Erin Bretherton, who has previously worked at Blackfella Films and as a script editor/writer for Matchbox’s Nowhere Boys, to work at Dark Horse as a development executive. She’s also collaborating with US-based writer Ligiah Villabobos (Go, Diego, Go!, Under the Same Moon, Firelight) on TV projects.
Having directed on Hoodlum’s Tidelands for Netflix and Harrow – a co-pro between the ABC in Australia and ABC Studios International, recently picked up by Hulu for the US – McKenzie says there is great opportunity to collaborate with practitioners from other countries to create stories that travel, whether it be to the States, Europe, China or India.
“I think we’re about to come into our own in Australia as content creators. There’s an opportunity to be making world-class television for a global market.”