Back row (L-R) Ivan Sen, Shari Sebbens, Warwick Thornton, Aaron Fa’Aoso, Hunter Page-Lochard; seated (L-R) Tasia Zalar, Penny Smallacombe, Elaine Crombie, Leah Purcell, Rob Collins, Rachel Perkins, Dylan River. Photo: Daniel Boud for Screen Australia.

Screen Australia head of Indigenous Penny Smallacombe today paid tribute to numerous filmmakers and artists at an event at Carriageworks to celebrate 25 years of Indigenous storytelling.

“When you tell your stories you are putting your hearts and souls out there and that takes a tremendous amount of guts,” she said.

Since launching in 1993 by the Australian Film Commission the department has provided $35 million in funding for more than 160 films, TV programs and documentaries.

“When you look around the room you can see all that progress personified,” she said, while acknowledging the legacies of her predecessors Wal Saunders, Pauline Clague, Sally Riley and Erica Glynn. “This is a significant year and milestone.”

She praised landmark productions Redfern Now and First Australians through to the movies Samson & Delilah, Goldstone, Sweet Country and the Mystery Road movie and series.

Among the talent she singled out were Warwick Thornton, Rachel Perkins, Wayne Blair, Ivan Sen and the creatives at Bunya Productions and Blackfella Films as well as emerging talent such as Dylan River, Aaron McGrath and Tasia Zalar.

She noted actors including Rob Collins, Hunter Page-Lochard, Aaron Fa’Aoso and Leah Purcell were in heavy demand.

Purcell told the audience that with no formal training her career as a writer and director would never have seen the light of day without the support of the Indigenous unit at Screen Australia and the AFC.

“When I grew up Indigenous characters were rare on TV and the storylines were written by outsiders. Indigenous characters were always the bad guys or they ended up in a very bad way,” she said

“I do remember seeing Aunty Justine Saunders. I can’t remember the TV show but I remember thinking how beautiful she was and how deadly it was to have a black woman that I could identify with.

“Now our screens show more Indigenous characters – cops, lawyers, parents, kids and superheroes. They resonate because they are created by and with Indigenous Australians. What we see now is a great start that we have to build upon.”

The ABC congratulated Screen Australia on the anniversary, noting their numerous collaborations including Redfern Now, The Gods of Wheat Street, Bush Mechanics, 8MMM, The Warriors and Mystery Road.

ABC MD Michelle Guthrie said: “Together with the ABC’s own Indigenous department we have ignited conversations and engaged audiences, building greater understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture. I would also like to pay special tribute to Sally Riley for her invaluable work in re-invigorating Indigenous content and storytellers.”

Riley, the ABC’s head of drama, comedy and Indigenous, said: ”At the heart of our work are Indigenous filmmakers – the visionary writers, directors, producers and crew who share their personal experiences and take our audiences into the world of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia.

“The ABC is extremely proud to be part of this journey that is far from over. Let’s keep making stories that push boundaries, defy expectations and are bloody entertaining.”

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