Kyas Sherriff on plans for revamped AFTRS Indigenous Unit

25 February, 2016 by Harry Windsor

Kyas Sherriff (Head of the Indigenous Unit) Guillermo Arriaga, Sue Elphinstone (Indigenous Unit Project Officer). Photographer: Graeme Taylor.


AFTRS' new Black Talk series launched last week, with the highly entertaining Guillermo Arriaga (Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) as guest.

Replacing AFTRS' Friday on My Mind program of Friday evening Q&A's, the series is hosted by the school's revamped Indigenous Unit, headed by Kyas Sherriff (formerly of Screen Australia's Indigenous Department).

Black Talk will be more irregular than Friday on My Mind, with a focus on "inspiring indigenous storytellers and filmmakers, and drawing them into the school", Sherriff tells IF. 

In addition "the series should be a place for industry to get a sense of what's going on in the black space".

Future sessions will be streamed, and AFTRS is looking at partnering with a major film festival to co-host the occasional talk.

Aside from the talks, the Indigenous Unit will also spearhead talent labs and outreach in a bid to beef up the number of indigenous students on campus.

"Neil [Peplow] coming in has allowed me as part of the Indigenous Unit to take stock", said Sherriff. 

"Now it's not to the side – it's a unit that's actively involved in the whole school. I'm talking to the faculty and they're asking about indigenous directors we could get in to teach". 

Sherriff says "AFTRS is a national school, but we haven't always had a national reach". 

Sherriff wants to change that, recently travelling to Perth, and soon to Alice Springs and Cairns. 

"There are vibrant and functioning radio and media centres all around remote and regional Australia. A lot of them do Certificate III and Certificate IV qualifications, and we want [students] to know there is a pathway after that".

"We don't know who that next storyteller is, but we need them to know there's a place for them at AFTRS". 

By being more present, Sherriff hopes that indigenous students will see "that school in Sydney" as an option. 

"Some might not want to leave the area they're in, but they have to know we're here and we have to make AFTRS a place that can support them once they get here. It's a new approach and I think it's the right one for the national school".

Sherriff hopes for an uptick in indigenous intake sooner rather than later. 

"Ideally we'd have three indigenous students coming in to do the BA, one coming in to do the masters, and one or two in each of the award course strands. And that's a very, very big ask". 

"I think many different parts of the community – indigenous or not, from multiple backgrounds – have not traditionally known how to get into particular areas. And film is elusive to a lot of people".

"We need that next wave of storytellers that represent what Australia is today".